Stand-off between WA parliament and top public servant headed for Supreme Court

By Shannon Jenkins

August 29, 2019

The Supreme Court of Western Australia. Source: Getty Images

The fight between Western Australia’s top bureaucrat and a state parliamentary committee will continue at the Supreme Court, with Premier Mark McGowan continuing to back his head staffer.

The move comes after the committee accused Department of Premier and Cabinet director-general Darren Foster of breaching parliamentary privilege by handing documents to the Corruption and Crime Commission as part of an investigation, rather than letting them have first dibs.

The committee said it warned Foster “repeatedly in no uncertain terms in writing … that he personally, and other officers of the Executive, risked being in contempt of Parliament” if they handed the emails directly to the CCC. It also told Foster he had legal grounds to refuse the CCC’s request for the documents, under the respective laws governing both the watchdog and parliamentary privileges.

READ MORE: Corruption commissioner might resign, senior public servants caught in constitutional crossfire

Foster has alleged in a writ that State Legislative Council president Kate Doust and the privileges committee abused their powers by attempting to ban Foster from giving CCC the emails, according to the West Australian.

While the Legislative Council has called upon two Queen’s Counsels for the privileges hearings, Foster will not be represented by the State Solicitor’s Office as the committee reportedly objected to this and has employed his own lawyers.

Following the initial stand-off, Commissioner John McKechnie said Foster acted “very professionally and cooperated with the commission to the fullest extent” by seeking assistance from the State Solicitor’s Office in sorting through which emails could go to the watchdog’s investigators. McKechnie, McGowan and the SSO all back Foster.

“I would have thought it’s blatantly obvious to everyone the government should comply and work with the CCC in corruption inquiries,” the Premier told reporters on Wednesday.

“Obviously, the upper house committee has a different view of the law and taking it to the Supreme Court is designed to try to get clarity.

“I personally think the government should comply with orders of the CCC and that we should work to deal with any potential corruption that might be present, in particular some former MPs that you might be familiar with.”

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