JOHN FERGUSON THE AUSTRALIAN JUNE 02, 2014
THE Victorian Coalition’s tenuous grip on power is under mounting pressure as a Nationals MP faces the threat of more criminal gun charges and the constitutional crisis over rebel Liberal independent Geoff Shaw deepens.
Nationals MP Peter Crisp will face court this week over nine potentially career-ending criminal charges after being accused of keeping unauthorised weapons at his farm on the NSW side of the border in that state’s far west.
Mr Crisp has also been under separate investigation by Victoria Police over whether he committed offences on the southern side of the border in relation to firearms registrations and the notification of theft. If he is found guilty of an indictable offence with a penalty of five years or more, the member for Mildura would be ineligible to remain in parliament.
It is understood that Mr Crisp expects the prosecution to pursue at least some of the nine charges already laid, exposing the Napthine government to even more instability. The Liberal-Nationals coalition, which is facing an election in November, relies on the vote of Mr Shaw to remain in power. Victoria Police has refused to comment on its investigation into any offences on the Mildura side of the border but The Australian understands the matter was referred to the police Licensing and Regulation Services Division for investigation about four months ago.
That complaint was lodged by opposition Victorian legal affairs spokesman Martin Pakula, who said yesterday that police had not contacted him since the complaint, suggesting it was still ongoing. “The people of Mildura are entitled to know whether their MP has observed Victorian law,’’ the Labor MP said. The Nationals declined to comment yesterday before Mr Crisp’s court appearance.
He now lives in Mildura but has for years farmed on the NSW side of the border and was the victim of a break-in where guns were stolen, leading to him facing the charges. Mr Crisp’s backers hope the most serious charges — in the event of being found guilty — are downgraded to enable him to remain in parliament. His problems come as the battle between Mr Shaw and former Speaker Ken Smith intensified as they fought publicly yesterday over the independent’s future.
The Victorian parliament is expected to vote in the last week of the month on whether Mr Shaw should be suspended after being exposed rorting his expenses. A motion can be amended by Labor, and probably will be, to censure Mr Shaw for wrongly allowing his parliamentary car and petrol card to be used for personal gain. Mr Smith, who lost his job as Speaker after a falling-out with Mr Shaw over security at parliament and the expenses scandal, yesterday again unloaded on the independent and vowed to vote with Labor.
He told radio station 3AW he had no doubt Mr Shaw was guilty of rorting his allowances and that he should be punished severely by parliament. “He’s got to pay the price,’’ Mr Smith said. “He’s taking away (the) integrity of the parliament.’’ He said most MPs were honest and, unlike Mr Shaw, were “not setting out to dud the system’’. Mr Smith said he would vote with Labor to have Mr Shaw censured and probably suspended from parliament. The usual numbers are Labor 43; Coalition 44; and Mr Shaw.
The parliament is seeking constitutional advice to determine what action to take. Mr Shaw challenged Mr Smith yesterday to vote against the government, declaring: “Do it or don’t do it.’’ The constitutional questions about the privileges committee report into Mr Shaw’s rorting are believed to be so complex that debate will be delayed in parliament to ensure the issue is dealt with properly.