Revelations of parliamentarian’s past raises privacy question

April 24, 2014 |

Digging into the past of a political opponent has been a practice as old as politics itself. Whether it is effective depends on what is dug up and, most importantly, whether the voters are interested.  Sexual escapades amongst United Kingdom and French politicians barely raises an eyebrow these days.  Not so in the United States.  Financial impropriety can bring down the wrath of the voters.  Then there is the evidence of a criminal record or even a finding of guilt with a record.  That can be fatal but

The World Today in Revelations about Qld MP’s past prompt privacy questions reports on the use of charges laid against a politician 15 years ago in a political fight.  It clearly raises both privacy and reportage questions.  Not an easy issue.

It provides:

ELIZABETH JACKSON: In Queensland, revelations about an MP’s criminal history by a political rival have prompted questions about just how forthcoming politicians should be about their pasts.

Disgruntled former Liberal National Party member turned independent candidate Scott Elms, has released documents showing that Queensland MP David Gibson was charged with theft 15 years ago and was placed on a good behaviour bond.

Mr Gibson argues he wasn’t convicted and the matter isn’t relevant to his current position.

At least one ethicist agrees, saying a certain amount of privacy is crucial for a healthy democracy.

From Brisbane, Stephanie Smail reports.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: The documents show David Gibson faced the ACT Magistrates Court in 1999, charged with stealing more than $7,000.

Mr Gibson was an army officer at the time.

No conviction was recorded but he was placed on a 12 month good behaviour bond.

But Independent candidate Scott Elms argues the public has a right to know about Mr Gibson’s criminal history, whether he was convicted or not.

SCOTT ELMS: I’m not being judge and jury on this; I’m saying that the community has the right to be judge and jury on this when they go to the polls. David can come out now, he can give us all his records; he can give us his army record; he can give us any of his legal records, and the community can go to the polls and the community can decide.

If they forgive him, I believe that that is entirely up to them.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: David Gibson served as Queensland’s Police Minister for two weeks in 2012, but he was forced to resign after failing to pay speeding fines and driving without a licence.

He’s now the chair of the ethics committee that’s investigating whether the acting head of Queensland’s corruption watchdog misled a parliamentary committee.

Scott Elms says Mr Gibson should have disclosed the theft charges.

SCOTT ELMS: I think that the public would think that there are two offices that they would for people to be in where they are fully allowed to know about what their history is. And that’s a police officer and it would definitely be the Police Minister, if not, all politicians, should be able to have the scrutiny of the public so that they know the type of calibre of the people they’re dealing with.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: Scott Elms was recently expelled from the Liberal National Party over a pre-selection dispute, and will run as an independent candidate in the Queensland seat of Gympie in next year’s election.

Mr Elms says he brought David Gibson’s past to the attention of the Liberal National Party nine months ago, but they didn’t respond.

Mr Gibson has hit back today, saying Mr Elms is engaged in a “personal campaign of malice”.

DAVID GIBSON: Yes charges were laid; it went before a magistrate. All things were considered and at the end of the day, I was not convicted of those matters. So that then leads to the question: if there has been no conviction, does that in any way limit me from serving as a member of parliament or serving as the chair of the select ethics committee? And very clearly, the answer to that is no.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: Independent Queensland MP Peter Wellington has weighed into the argument, saying the allegations do raise serious concerns about whether David Gibson is fit for office.

Dr Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre disagrees.

He says the matter happened a long time ago and isn’t relevant to Mr Gibson’s current role.

Dr Longstaff says politicians have the right to keep some parts of their life private.

SIMON LONGSTAFF: I think that actually it’s for the good, not so much of the politician, but of our democracy as a whole that every citizen, irrespective of what office you hold, be entitled to a core amount of privacy in your life.

If we begin to strip away privacy for people who are rich or powerful or who are in public office, then we can start stripping it away for others and make it a normal part of our society, and I think that our society would be weakened as a whole if we did that.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: Simon Longstaff says Australian politicians generally tend to steer clear of airing their opponent’s past.

SIMON LONGSTAFF: You see this kind of thing quite commonly done in the United States where people go through with a fine tooth comb on the private lives of people entering into politics, and it’s pretty tawdry the way it’s done in the States and in Australia there has, for the most part, been a convention in place that those things which are not strictly relevant to the political campaign be left aside as part of the private world of the individual.

And, I would not be very happy, I don’t think anybody would be very happy, if we moved closer to the US style of politics in this country.

STEPHANIE SMAIL: David Gibson says he hasn’t tried to hide or deny the theft charges.

He argues lots of people make mistakes, but he’s entitled to move on.

DAVID GIBSON: I’m not denying that I made a mistake 15 years ago, but the question is, should that mistake prevent from serving or from doing anything for the people of Gympie. And, I don’t think that’s the case.

We don’t want a parliament that is not reflective of the people and of Queenslanders.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: That’s Queensland MP David Gibson ending that report from Stephanie Smail.



One Response to “Revelations of parliamentarian’s past raises privacy question”

  1. Revelations of parliamentarian’s past raises privacy question | Australian Law Blogs

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