Scott Driscoll faces unsympathetic Queensland Parliament
SCOTT Driscoll was far from his usual confident self today.
There was no hint of a smile and only drooping shoulders as he positioned himself in a doorjamb behind his lawyer, both men sporting wary faces as they fronted the Bar of the House to address some 49 charges of contempt.
If he was looking for sympathy Mr Driscoll had knocked on the wrong door with both sides of the house effusive in their condemnation and standing firm on the decisions made by the Ethics Committee.
In all, he had allegedly extracted more than $500,000 in undeclared funds much of that from community organisations doing invaluable work, and if hearts were bleeding today they were not for him.
The former member of Redcliffe let his lawyer Peter Russo do the talking, not that it was delivered in a very convincing fashion.
There was a plea for the house to go easy on Mr Driscoll citing his ill health, changed financial circumstances and lack of intent as reasons to limit the fine for his misconduct to $12,000 instead of the almost $90,000 recommended by the Ethics Committee.
"My client has lost his prestige in the community, lost his ability to be a member of parliament, forever will be remembered for his error of judgment in this house, he has lost his political career and this is a significant consequence to himself. He will leave this parliament a broken man," Mr Russo said.
"He did intend to mislead anyone and not declaring his privileges in the members register was an oversight and misinterpretation and the errors would have been rectified if not for Mr Driscoll's ill health."
Mr Russo added that a clear distinction had to be made between Mr Driscoll's wrong doings and those of disgraced former MP Gordon Nuttall whose case was used as precedence to determine the penalties to be imposed in this instance.
"There is a fundamental presence of justice in our legal system," said Mr Russo.
"The punishment should suit Mr Driscoll's crime and should not be based on Nuttall's indiscretions."
Leader of the House Ray Stevens gave little credence to Mr Driscoll's statement quickly moving for the members present to uphold the recommendations made by the Ethics Committee.
"The explanation we just heard does not discharge Mr Driscoll of his gross and negligent behaviour," Mr Stevens said.
"The reputation and character of the Queensland Parliament is at stake here as well as the character of the members of the house. And Mr Driscoll's behaviour sullies that, it is up there with the worst behaviour ever seen from someone representing a Queensland electorate."
Premier Campbell Newman was quick to agree but was also at pains to explain the government's initial support of Mr Driscoll.
He said that late in 2012 the CMC had investigated a different set of allegations made against Mr Driscoll and found no case and so when new charges surfaced early this year his colleagues felt it was their duty to give the former MP the benefit of the doubt.
"Of course we did not ignore the new allegations or the newspaper articles," Mr Newman said.
"He was asked about them on a number of occasions and he always had an explanation, always had an answer so we defended him," he said.
"In terms of what Mr Driscoll has done is a breathtaking, staggering deception on the people of Queensland and the members of this house. I have been looking for some sign of remorse, for some sign of contrition when I saw reported stories on Facebook pages and Twitter pages, seeking to almost mock this process, (that) he was off for a happy retirement on the beach, I was further sickened.
"The penalty is appropriate and proportionate and reflects the magnitude of his actions. Hopefully the process will give Queenslanders confidence in the parliamentary system."
Mr Driscoll has until 30 June 2014 to pay the fines totally $84,000.
A by-election for Redcliffe is not expected to be held until early next year.