MICHAEL SUTHERLAND is the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and MLA for Mt Lawley. In today’s SPEAKER’S CORNER he reflects on the disendorsement of two candidates in the last federal elections and says they were harshly dealt with.
ONE of WA’s greatest premiers Sir Charles Court is reported to have said, “Parliament should be made up of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker”.
Elected members should broadly reflect the society in which they live. This includes them having the same talents, failings and shortcomings as their constituents.
During the last federal election campaign there were a number of candidates who after being endorsed by both the Liberal and Labor parties were dis-endorsed. There were also howls from both sides calling for candidates from the other side who had made various comments, deemed inappropriate, to be dumped.
The WA seat of Fremantle was unique as both the Labor and Liberal candidates were dis-endorsed.
The ALP initially endorsed Maritime Union of Australia official Chris Brown and the Liberals Shery Sufi the then chair of the Liberal party’s policy committee.
Brown, who was not the pick of the local ALP branches, never disclosed convictions, from the 1980s when he was 19, for assaulting a police officer and driving under the influence as they were “spent”. These were “mysteriously” brought to light after his endorsement and he was unceremoniously dumped by Labor’s national executive.
A “spent conviction” is and should be exactly what is it means, “spent!” The aim of the Spent Convictions Act 1988 is to allow a person who has been convicted but who has not reoffended during a specified period to be rehabilitated by limiting the effects of the conviction. A judge or the commissioner of police, for lesser offences, can declare a conviction to be spent. The person is entitled to put their criminal conviction behind them and do not have to declare it. It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees who have a spent conviction.
In Brown’s case the ALP national executive conveniently used the failure to disclose the spent convictions against him as an excuse to replace Brown with Wilson, their preferred candidate.
Shery Sufi was my electoral officer during 2012. One night he went out with a colleague and her husband. They had a few drinks in Sufi’s colleague’s backyard where he used foul language while mimicking my South African accent, he also used foul language while mimicking my wife. This lasted all of 45 seconds, the longest 45 seconds of his life! He then played a telephone prank on three local Liberal party members; it was exactly that a prank.
Sufi’s silly antics were filmed on a mobile phone by the colleague’s husband. I bet Sufi wishes mobile phones with cameras and recorders had never been invented! The colleague and Sufi had a fall out, the colleague’s husband sent the clip of the incident to the department of premier and cabinet. They alerted me to the incident. Sufi had to resign and lost a good job. He apologised profusely to both my wife and me. As far as I was concerned Sufi had received his punishment and the incident was over. But like Brown, the clip mysteriously landed with the press who made a meal of it and Sufi was gone, a victim of the blowtorch of bad publicity.
There was nobody willing or able in the Labor and Liberal parties to “go back for the ammo box” for Brown or Sufi, they were hung out to dry. Vale Messrs Brown and Sufi. They have now learned we live in the world of political correctness, one of “goody two shoes”, of micro sensitivities, micro insults and in a political milieu which is unforgiving. Irrespective, their political careers were finished before they started. They should be reminded of what Paul Keating said, “If you want a friend in politics go and buy a dog!”
Contrast the stories of Sufi and Brown with that of Thomas Walker whose portrait I see whenever I walk down the speakers corridor in Parliament. Thomas Walker was speaker of the WA Legislative Assembly from 1924 to 1930 and attorney general from 1911 to 1916.
Born in the UK in 1858 and after immigrating to Canada where he was involved in séances, he was found by a Canadian court to have been responsible for a fire that killed a man at a séance. He left Canada ahead of the police and subsequently landed in New South Wales in 1877 where he earned a living as a “controversial lecturer”. He was elected to the NSW Parliament in 1887. In 1892 while he was travelling in a train carriage he pulled out his pipe, tobacco and a revolver. The revolver discharged and he shot a clergyman in the back. Witnesses gave evidence he was hopelessly drunk. He was subsequently acquitted. Walker told the court he had the revolver to destroy a dog and when he pulled it out of his pocket it went off by mistake. The judge said in his judgement that, “It was a pity to see a man of Walker’s position and undoubted ability setting such a poor example” After this episode Walker gave up drink and became an avid worker for the Temperance Union.
He lost his seat in the NSW Parliament in 1894 and moved to WA where he lectured and worked as a journalist and editor. In 1905 he was elected as a Labor member of the WA Legislative Assembly and remained a Member of Parliament until 1932. He had in the days of much poorer communications managed to escape and leave his past behind. He became a powerful and well respected member of the WA Parliament who made a considerable contribution. The question was often asked why he did not put himself up for the position of premier. He was lauded for his intellect, faith in human nature and as a prison reformer. Walker died in his Inglewood home in 1932.
Walker would not know whether to laugh or cry if he was around today and witnessed what happened with the two Fremantle candidates. Parliament should be a place which is made up of ordinary people, not sinless people or people without blemish. Politics should be about who has the best ideas and not about past indiscretions or about who can best hide their past. If our political culture continues we will lose the “butchers, bakers and candlestick makers” from our parliaments. What happened in Fremantle is a worry.