MLA James Milligan, has been referred to the Commissioner for Standards following an email he sent to constituents. But the Member for Yerrabi had already referred himself, prompting a stoush over transparency and procedures in the Assembly.
Mr Milligan’s email, sent on October 30 last year, thanked his constituents for voting for him, but added that he was “in the process of re-establishing my business JM Publishing” following his failure to secure a seat at the 2020 Territory election.
“As such if you have any projects or referrals that you think may benefit from affordable, efficient and expert business support, please do not hesitate to put them in touch with JM Publishing,” the email said.
One constituent, a former member of the Greens and the Democrats, said Mr Milligan’s action may have crossed a line and queried whether asking for business in his email contravened privacy principles.
Speaker Joy Burch was prompted to move a motion in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday (13 May) calling on Mr Milligan to state whether any information was obtained through his actions as an MLA.
The motion noted that that the Electoral Act provides penalties for the misuse of protected information and that the Legislative Assembly’s code of conduct for members states “that members should respect the dignity and privacy of individuals”.
Ms Burch called on Mr Milligan to detail how many emails were sent promoting his business, where and how he obtained the email addresses, personal names and addresses, and how many responses he received.
He was also asked to confirm how many responses he received that were a request for quote or tender for business, how many business transactions were agreed to, and any advice he has sought regarding possible breaches of the Privacy Act.
Speaking to the motion, Canberra Liberals MLA Jeremy Hanson called it a “smear campaign” and “little more than a fishing expedition”, expressing his outrage that the Speaker of the Assembly would ask for confidential legal advice and business in confidence information to be tabled.
Mr Hanson said Mr Milligan had already referred himself to the Commissioner on Tuesday (11 May) and that a kangaroo court in the Assembly would undermine the Commissioner’s independence.
“The Labor Party … is trying to push forward a process that potentially prejudices the independent actions of the independent commissioner,” Mr Hanson said.
Mr Hanson said the protected information in the Electoral Act was the electoral roll, which did not contain emails.
“How is it possible that somehow this smear campaign is going to conflate what is protected information with emails?” he said.
Labor and the Greens supported the motion and passed a subsequent motion referring him to the Commissioner for Standards.
Greens MLA Andrew Braddock said a private referral meant that the Assembly would not have visibility of proceedings and would therefore not be assured of the completeness of the process.
Mr Milligan was not present in the Assembly when the motion, which called on him “to make a statement to the Assembly”, passed. The Liberals argued that a statement tabled by Mr Hanson addressed the issues and he did not have to provide an oral update.
Mr Milligan supplied a statement saying no emails were sent promoting his business, no responses were received and he did not receive any advice on breaching the Privacy Act.
Mr Milligan previously denied any wrongdoing and said he did not use information from the electoral roll, Liberal Party or the same lists he used for member’s business, but rather it was sent to people who had some contact with him over the years.
The Assembly adjourned for 10 minutes. Mr Milligan was still absent when it recommenced. The Assembly then adjourned for the day following the passage of Ms Burch’s second motion.
Mr Milligan had already also been referred to the Information Commissioner.