Doorstop Interview Transcript: Gareth Ward; Blockade Australia; Sydney Trains

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CHRIS MINNS: Few things on this morning. First up, I want to say categorically that NSW Labor will support the suspension motion moved by the Deputy Premier, later today. I think it’s worth noting that I think it would be reasonable for most people to assume that when the Premier made the announcement three days ago that the Member for Kiama would be expelled from the NSW Parliament, the homework would have been done, that the information supplied to the opposition, the people of New South Wales, the media would have been correct, and that that motion could have gone ahead without alteration. It seems clear now that that is not the case. I’ll also say that the NSW Opposition will seek independent legal advice to pursue a referral to the Privileges Committee of the NSW Legislative Assembly, to see whether there is evidence to justify unworthy conduct and therefore expulsion from the Legislative Assembly, but also to investigate the suspension of the salary for the Member for Kiama pending his legal trial in the NSW District Court, the appropriateness of the Member for Kiama, attending his electorate office, in the suburb of Kiama; whether he should have access to the communication allowance that members of parliament have, as MPs; whether he should have access to postage and information sent out to tens of thousands of people that live on the New South Wales south coast; whether he should still be adjudicating the International Women of the Year Award for the electorate of Kiama and also hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of community building, partnership grants that are allocated by members of parliament in the Legislative Assembly. All these things should be dealt with and investigated by the NSW Legislative Assembly Privileges Committee. It’s the reason it has been set up. We do believe and we do acknowledge that this is a complicated legal case, we want to make sure that that referral is completely in compliance with the obligations of the NSW Parliament, not to stumble into subdue to say, and to make sure that the Member for Kiama has access to and is afforded a fair trial in the NSW District Court. We believe the best way of doing that is to independently assess – legally assess a motion to refer that to the Privileges Committee, and I stress that privileged committee investigation can be held in camera confidentially and therefore not interfere with the good order of any potential criminal trial or investigation of the actions of the Member for Kiama.

Secondly, in relation to Blockade Australia, which has disrupted severely Sydney for the last three days, I want to say this, it’s almost impossible to think of anything more disruptive, or damaging to the environmental cause, or the cause for climate change than the actions of these people. At the very moment when we’re trying to build a coalition around climate change, to make it a mainstream issue and to ensure that it has bipartisan support and the support of millions of people right across Australia, but in particular in Sydney, in Western Sydney, this is one of the most damaging things that anybody could do. It is so disruptive to the environmental movement, to the action – to the movement for action on climate change. It’s worth repeating here, that they’re not disrupting billionaire coal barons, they’re actually hitting ordinary Australians who are just going about their work. And when I’ve seen their actions on the news over the last three days, I’m watching and fearing that votes are draining away from action on climate change, right when we need people focused on this very important issue, which no doubt will be front and centre at the upcoming federal election. So the NSW Opposition will support proposed changes to fines and potential imprisonment as a result of Minister Toole, the Deputy Premier’s announcement earlier today. And I’d say to people that the fines are serious, it’s potentially – there was a protester in Newcastle, who got a 12 month jail term, six months minimum for blockading a train line in Newcastle, it’s not worth doing, you’re undermining your cause. I had cause to go on to Blockade Australia’s website and see whether they had a call to action or any demands and they don’t. So this just seems disruption for disruption’s sake, right when we need community cohesion. And I guess a sense of bipartisan support for this most urgent and important of issues.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: So you’re happy sending Gareth Ward away on what your deputy leader called a taxpayer funded holiday yesterday?

MINNS: No, but at the end of the day, we do acknowledge that these are complicated issues. We don’t think that the NSW Government has gone far enough simply with their suspension motion. We do acknowledge that the NSW Parliament has obligations to investigate potential conduct that could make – that could see a member tumble into unworthy conduct or diminish the standards of the Legislative Assembly. It’s important to note the Minister – Mr Ward, not Minister Ward – is not just a private citizen. He’s also a member of parliament. And the parliament has an obligation not just to Minister Ward or Mr. Ward, but the 80,000 people that live in the electorate of Kiama. All of these complicated things need to be investigated properly. We believe the Privileges Committee is the right place to do that. We want to do it right.

JOURNALIST: Just on the people of Kiama. What would be acceptable to you if the suspension motion will obviously happened, they’ll be left without a representative. What would you like to see there?

MINNS: Yeah, I’m not – I mean, first of all, Mr. Ward should resign. I mean, his position as a member of parliament is untenable. He has to think about his constituents at this point, under no circumstances and in no way will he be an effective member of parliament if he can’t set for it into the Legislative Assembly. So in the first instance, he should resign, we can get a new member of parliament for the seat of Kiama. The second thing is, I’m not convinced if the proposal from the NSW Government is to put some half asleep upper house MP with a casual interest in the people of Kiama is a serious solution to that problem. Now, we’re going to have to deal with that, but I don’t think every stone has been turned upside down to determine whether we’ve explored whether Mr. Ward has met the standard for expulsion from parliament. The right way of doing that is the Privileges Committee.

JOURNALIST: So parliamentary secretary isn’t good enough?

MINNS: You know, I mean, my understanding is that it could be a parliamentary secretary or potentially an upper house MP that doesn’t have obligations and responsibilities to his or her own electorate. I mean, I know a lot of upper house MPs, they didn’t elect – the people of Kiama didn’t elect that person. They’ve elected somebody else. And they should have a say on who their member of parliament is. And that should happen soon.

JOURNALIST: Just on the protests. Do you support the introduction of of these new, harsher measures – seem to be [inaudible] you know, is this not the beginning – do you feel this is the beginning of a police state in New South Wales?

MINNS: No, I don’t think so. I mean, there are enforceable penalties at the moment that are quite severe. But extending it from Harbour Bridge to other critical infrastructure in New South Wales, we believe is appropriate because it’s putting serious, it’s making serious damage to the New South Wales economy. It’s disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, especially from Southern Sydney, which I’m a local representative. That’s an ancillary reason to the motivation for the protest, which apparently is about climate action, but in my opinion, is doing the exact opposite of that. It’s actually alienating support for what is an important common sense, bipartisan position at the moment, which is action on climate change. So no, we support it. I don’t think it is consistent with the articles of a police state. These provisions are in place for critical infrastructure already in Sydney, as it relates to Sydney Harbour Bridge. My understanding is that they were implemented as a terrorism measure not long after the September 11 attacks in 2001, to extend it to other pieces of critical infrastructure, like our ports is important in this instance.

JOURNALIST: Just to confirm you had a statement that came out yesterday from your office saying the party was in to seeking independent legal advice to inform your position? Is that the case then that that legal advice suggests you should support suspension as opposed to expulsion?

MINNS: The independent legal advice I mean, if we’re going to break it down, the independent legal advice from the government, from DPC and my understanding formed by the Crown solicitor, looked at a few issues. So it looked at the potential – It questioned whether the NSW Legislative Assembly could employ it could apply a censure in a punitive way. And I think that’s pretty straightforward. Can’t do that without due process. The second part of it related to the action associated with whether it would imperil a free and fair trial in the NSW District Court. Now, there’d be various interpretations about whether the imperilling of that district court trial was severe or acute or less so than that. My point is an in camera Privileges Committee inquiry, wouldn’t imperil, we don’t believe a district court inquiry. But we want to make sure that that’s the case. And I want to draw a distinction between the actions of the Premier in the last three days, who went ahead with a statement saying that he would be expelled and that he would have to face, Mr. Ward that is, would have to face these charges as a private citizen and then had to rapidly backtrack. And the reason I do that is because I acknowledge that these are complicated issues. There are various branches of the government that are involved, but we need to make sure that we get it right and that’s why we believe this is the best process of ensuring that Parliament can execute its responsibilities to uphold the standards of the Legislative Assembly without imperilling any criminal trial.

JOURNALIST: Did the Premier ever actually say the word expel, according to the statement that was ‘remove him from parliament’, the only people who have said expel is the Labor Party.

MINNS: No, that’s not right. I mean, he said – I think any fair minded reading of his statement, which included that Mr. Ward would have to face these charges as a private citizen, leave absolutely no ambiguity that they meant expelling him from the NSW Legislative Assembly.

JOURNALIST: Just completely off topic a couple – a couple of nights ago, there was absolute chaos on the city’s train network, again, has the government completely forgotten about the idea of whether it’s a Fare Free Friday discounting the school holiday, seems to be no discussion from the government or even you guys lately on what’s happened to that?

MINNS: Yeah, I’m not sure about that. I mean, there was certainly a thought bubble early on that there’d be some kind of recompense to the New South Wales travelling public for the major disruptions that have occurred on the New South Wales public transport system. If the government – we think that that’s reasonable, given that people spend a lot of money getting to and from work on the public transport system, and given that you’re putting it – taking it out of your back pocket, the service wasn’t available to you, customer practice in New South Wales has been that there would be a fair free day associated with that. Now, if the government isn’t going to do that, fine. That’s their choice. I think they’ll you know, potentially face the wrath of the community public at some point. What I would say to them is they do need to focus on a functioning transport system in Sydney because the most important thing is that we get people to and from work, particularly as we’re trying to rebuild a New South Wales economy and get people into the CBD into small businesses and medium sized businesses who have been so devastated over the COVID pandemic.

Thanks, everybody.

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