29 June 2021

Liberals blast Speaker's impartiality after no evidence Milligan misused emails

| Dominic Giannini
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James Milligan

Liberal MLA for Yerrabi James Milligan was referred to the Standards Commissioner. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The Standards Commissioner could not find any evidence Canberra Liberals MLA James Milligan inappropriately used his parliamentary email list, which led to Liberal MLA Jeremy Hanson rebuking Speaker Joy Burch in the Legislative Assembly.

The Commissioner also found that because Mr Milligan was not an MLA at the time, he was not subject to the code of conduct.

The Member for Yerrabi referred himself to the Commissioner after he emailed constituents thanking them for voting for him, adding that he was “in the process of re-establishing my business JM Publishing” as he failed 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 Australian Democrats, suggested Mr Milligan’s action may have crossed a line and queried whether asking for business in his email contravened privacy principles.

The Commissioner’s report said: “I find it difficult to accept that, in including this suggestion, Mr Milligan was wholly uninfluenced by any desire to solicit business.

“Of course, any former member of the Assembly is legally entitled to conduct and promote a business. The issue with which I am presently concerned is whether in doing so he used email addresses derived from his constituent list.”

The Standing Committee on Administration and Procedure, which reviewed the Commissioner’s report, also found no further action should be taken but that it would need to consider the need for an effective means to ensure that former Members are bound to not misuse information after they leave.

Jeremy Hanson

Jeremy Hanson has attacked the Speaker’s impartiality. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The allegation led to a robust stoush between Mr Hanson and Ms Burch.

Ms Burch moved the motion in her capacity as a member, not Speaker. Mr Hanson labelled the motion a “smear campaign” and “little more than a fishing expedition”.

Mr Hanson called the proceedings a kangaroo court in the Assembly that would undermine the Commissioner’s independence.

Tabling the Standards Commissioner’s finding that the complaint is dismissed in the Assembly on Thursday (24 June), Mr Hanson said the motion was an attempt to embarrass Mr Milligan.

“It is a baseless attack on a Liberal from the Greens and Labor … that have nothing better to do than cast aspersions and come in here and try and sling mud,” he said.

“The problem is when it is done by Ms Burch, who in another guise is the Speaker … I think that that is of significant concern to the Canberra Liberals and to the Assembly.

“Regardless of which political party the Speaker comes from, I think it is very important that they are seen to be above the fray. I have to confess this has caused some loss of confidence from the Opposition in terms of impartiality.”

Joy Burch

Speaker Joy Burch moved a motion to refer Mr Milligan to the Standards Commissioner back in May. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Mr Hanson said the Liberals had considered moving a motion of no confidence in the Speaker. Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury called the comments out of order and said Mr Hanson should “put up or shut up”, accusing him of knowing full well he has to move a motion to comment on the Speaker’s actions.

Greens MLA Andrew Braddock, who spoke in support of Ms Burch’s motion, welcomed the report and said it was important to note that the Commissioner did not find the referral was politically motivated or vexatious.

“He has drawn our attention to an area where we need to strengthen the standing orders and the code of conduct in terms of examining the misuse of information by ex-Members of this Assembly.

“I look forward to working on this matter as we undertake this review during the middle of this [parliamentary] term.”

Ms Burch was not present in the Chamber at the time the findings were tabled.

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