Monday, 27 April 2015

When Acts Done For Political Expedience Amount To Breaking The Law

Accessing and distributing restricted child support documents and information of now Independent MP Billy Gordon and his former partner, Kristy Peckham, for political expedience has become a very serious issue.

On Friday 24 April 2015 it was reported that:

  • A few hours before the A Current Affair interview [on Thursday 23 April 2015], the Liberal National Party (“LNP”) handed documents to journalists detailing some of [now independent MP] Mr [Billy] Gordon's child support payments and naming his two young children.

(News)


  • The Queensland Opposition has attempted to divert attention away from its release of confidential child support documents relating to Billy Gordon, instead pointing the finger at the Premier and the questions it says she still needs to answer.
  • Deputy Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek repeatedly told journalists the issue wasn't that the LNP had released child support documents, which revealed Mr Gordon's children's names and were potentially a breach of the law.
  • The documents partially shown on the program and released by the LNP to the media on Thursday ahead of its airing, show Mr Gordon is potentially once again in arrears, for more than $700.

(Brisbane Times)

On Monday 27 April 2015 it was reported that:

  • Mr Springborg today defended the release by his office of copies of Mr Gordon's former partner's child support statements to journalists.
  • He said the information was for background, not publication.
  • "Those documents were distributed to actually indicate quite clearly that this matter, which Mr Gordon and the Premier had said had been dealt with, was not dealt with," Mr Springborg said.
  • "They were distributed by way of background information, with no expectation that they were being published, and that was the information that was given to the [media] gallery at the time."

(ABC News) (The Guardian)

Comment
If the reports are accurate the Liberal National Party may be in some difficulty. The release of documents to journalists detailing some of the child support payments of Mr Gordon and naming his two (2) young children would appear to breach section 150AA(1) of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 (Cth). The Penalty for such a breach is Imprisonment for up to one (1) year.

The subject revelation could hardly be said to be without knowledge as there was controversy previously about the revelations of the criminal history of Mr Gordon and that such behaviour might be unlawful. Before that fellow LNP member Mal Brough courted significant controversy when he admitted to receiving the diary of Peter Slipper, the then Speaker of the Federal Parliament and his then political rival, from James Ashby. A police enquiry was then called for in respect of Mr Brough and his behaviour.

Mr Springborg seems to admit the subject communication of relevant information behaviour.  Thus far he has demonstrated no basis in connection with relevant Child Support proceedings to be in possession of the documents and then to communicate relevant information in respect of them. Prima facie it would appear an offence has been committed and a confession to that offence has been made, albeit in an attempt to distance himself from the allegedly offending behaviour. On that basis there is substance in the call by Mr Gordon for the police to investigate the subject communication of relevant information.

Prosecution
Prosecutions in this field are not without precedent. On Monday 24 March 2014 the owner of The Courier-Mail newspaper, Queensland Newspapers, was sentenced in the District Court in Brisbane for breaching restrictions on publishing court proceedings. In 2012 it identified a family involved in a Family Court parenting dispute by publishing names and photographs of the mother and four (4) children involved.

The Court fined the newspaper $120,000 and allowed it one (1) month to pay the fine.

The Rule of Law
A significant issue in the 2014 election was the attack upon the Rule of Law by the LNP government during its term in office. The approach of the LNP to the Billy Gordon matter can be said to be a continuation of that attack. It speaks to the judgment of the LNP that it would persist with an approach found by the electorate to be repugnant. It is also curious why the LNP thinks it should be entitled to breach the law and in turn benefit from those breaches to achieve a new election and possibly return to government.

Conclusion
It is disturbing that the LNP leader can access restricted documents and distribute them as he sees fit. His explanation for so doing is not satisfactory and his behaviour and that of his party is akin to the tail trying to wag the dog.

It should not be normal practice for Queensland politicians to access any confidential data they wish. They should be subject to the law and the Rule of Law in the same way as the rest of the community.

Whilst in the circumstances the release of the documents in question on this occasion might have been attendant with more circumspection, that they were not is the responsibility of the LNP and Mr Springborg. Both have sought to pursue the Billy Gordon matter for all the political expedience they can achieve from it. That motivation is another relevant consideration when assessing the subject access to and distribution of the documents and information in question.

Prima facie an offence appears to have been committed and, in the explanation for the behaviour, Mr Springborg appears to admit to both the behaviour and the offence. There is also an issue as to public confidence in both good governance and the police. The matter is entitled to be properly investigated and on the material to hand to date, there is an understandable expectation for Mr Springborg to be prosecuted for breaching section 150AA(1) of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 (Cth).