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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Government accused of trying to gag Kevin Rudd at royal commission | World news | theguardian.com

Government accused of trying to gag Kevin Rudd at royal commission | World news | theguardian.com


Government accused of trying to gag Kevin Rudd at royal commission



Former prime minister's appearance sparks furious legal argument over redacted parts of his statement




Kevin Rudd arrives at the royal commission.
Kevin Rudd arrives at the royal commission. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP


Before he had said a word beyond giving his name, Kevin Rudd's
evidence to the royal commission into his former government's home
insulation program descended into a legal circus over accusations the
government was trying to gag Rudd.


The extraordinary debate late on Wednesday afternoon centred on the former prime minister's heavily redacted 31-page statement.

Almost
a full day behind schedule, Rudd appeared in Brisbane magistrate's
court but did not speak a word beyond giving his name as the
commissioner, Ian Hanger QC, and legal representatives held a heated
discussion about the huge portions of Rudd's statement which had been
redacted on request from the commonwealth due to parliamentary
privilege.


The current government set a precedent when prime minister Tony Abbott and attorney-general George Brandis released Labor cabinet documents to the royal commission earlier this year. The documents were intended for the eyes of the commission only.

"I
note that prime minister Abbott and attorney-general Brandis in a
departure from a 113-year-old convention made the decision to provide
cabinet documents to the commission and that the commission already has
those documents," Rudd wrote in an unredacted paragraph of his
statement.


"It is in any event in my view important for the families concerned that this material be considered."

The
request by Rudd's legal representatives that the cabinet documents now
be released to the public could set another precedent, well beyond what
was intended by Abbott and Brandis. The government's lawyers opposed the
request; the lawyers of the victims' families supported it.


Rudd's
legal representative, Bret Walker SC, told the commission the former
prime minister had "no problem" with all his statement being publicly
disclosed, but the decision was the commission's. He described it as
"intolerable" that Rudd could be asked to give evidence with the story
being so heavily truncated.


"My client is here ready immediately to verify his 31-page statement and all of it," Walker said.

Tom
Howes, for the commonwealth, requested the unredacted documents be
submitted in a closed session, not to the public. Hanger questioned
whether that was legally possible, and if he could then use the evidence
submitted in his final report.


Walker suggested Hanger's final
report would be "impossible" should Rudd not be allowed to fully answer
"suggestions" made by the current government that the home insulation
scheme was created in days.


"We want to answer that suggestion and we should be able to do so truthfully and fully," Walker said.

"The
present government can't have it both ways. It can't require you to
report faithfully on that matter and prevent you from pursuing the
evidence about it," he said.


"No other government has ever decided to ask a royal commission … for cabinet processes to be inquired into like this."

Hanger questioned the reasons for the requested secrecy.

"It's not like it will affect our relationships with other countries" he said of the information contained.

The commission adjourned until Thursday without making a decision.

Despite
sitting in the box for an hour, Rudd made no statements to the
commission other than to say he had a flight booked for Thursday
afternoon, but could stay late if requested.


Earlier on Wednesday
the former environment minister Peter Garrett told the commission he
took shared responsibility for the scheme which has been linked to the
deaths of four workers, but refused to describe it as a a fundamentally
flawed program when the suggestion was put to him. The same assessment
had been put to former parliamentary secretary Mark Arbib the day
before, and Arbib said in hindsight it was correct.


He denied the scheme was "flooded with shonks"
but said he underestimated how many people –including some who failed
in their duty of care to employees – took the money-making opportunity
presented by the home insulation program.



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