Looks like it might be illegal to bring sexual harassment charges against public officials – it might cause them embarrassment or harm them.
MAL Brough faces a federal police investigation into allegations he encouraged former speaker Peter Slipper’s staff to leak sensitive diaries in a “political conspiracy” to bring down the government.
The Gillard government has authorised a Queensland Labor MP, Graham Perrett, to refer the matter to Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus, claiming the Liberals may also have breached laws prohibiting the harming of a public official, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, or acted as an accessory to the conspiracy.
Here is the section of the Act:
147.1 Causing harm to a Commonwealth public official etc.
Causing harm to a Commonwealth public official
(1) A person (the first person) is guilty of an offence if:
(a) the first person engages in conduct; and
(b) the first person’s conduct causes harm to a public official; and
(c) the first person intends that his or her conduct cause harm to the official; and
(d) the harm is caused without the consent of the official; and
(e) the first person engages in his or her conduct because of:
(i) the official’s status as a public official; or
(ii) any conduct engaged in by the official in the official’s capacity as a public official; and
(ea) the public official is a Commonwealth public official; and
(eb) if subparagraph (e)(i) applies—the status mentioned in that subparagraph was status as a Commonwealth public official; and
(ec) if subparagraph (e)(ii) applies—the conduct mentioned in that subparagraph was engaged in by the official in the official’s capacity as a Commonwealth public official.
(f) if the official is a Commonwealth judicial officer or a Commonwealth law enforcement officer—imprisonment for 13 years; or
(g) in any other case—imprisonment for 10 years.
Looks like a get-out-of-jail-free card for Commonwealth public officials. Anyone lodging a complaint against any official is themself guilty of a crime. Mind you, I would be surprised if that was the Parliamentary intention. If that were the case the wording of the letter Graham Perrett wrote to the AFP may itself violate that section:
Graham Perrett is a writer of pornographic novels. It’s honest work and hopefully will sustain him after his political career ends. The more interesting thing that he has written is paragraph 3 of his letter:
“… a fabricated sexual harassment claim …” is a big call. Going to be a bit of a problem if Ashby’s claim is upheld.
What about the politics in the paragraph? Would a Liberal in the seat cause the government to change? Well, no. We may recall that Slipper was elected as a Liberal and held the seat as a Liberal before becoming Speaker – yet the government did not fall. A by-election would simply restore the seat to the Liberals. They would still be short of votes to bring down the government.
So this is political grandstanding to allow the government to make some hay at the Liberal’s expense leading up to the election. They may even get lucky and have the AFP drag the chain on rejecting the investigation or even actually investigating. Mind you, hard to see any investigation until Ashby has actually had his day in court – something the government were very keen on in Thompson’s case.
The other point to remember is that while this sort of thing is grubby everyone plays the game. Sending Pauline Hanson to prison was disgraceful.
Update: Gerard Henderson explains the political calculus:
The Prime Minister formed government after she obtained the support of two rural and regional independent MPs – Rob Oakeshott (Lyne) and Tony Windsor (New England). Both were one-time Nationals members who represent seats in the House of Representatives and whose electorates clearly preferred the Coalition to Labor when they had a choice between the two parties in the 2010 Senate election.