The Queensland Parliament has been asked to consider whether a Labor MP is eligible to amid questions over a business transaction through his legal practice.
The Queensland Parliament has been asked to consider whether a Labor MP is eligible to amid questions over a business transaction through his legal practice.

Labor MP may not be eligible to sit in parliament

THE Queensland Parliament has been asked to consider whether Labor MP Peter Russo is eligible to sit in Parliament.

Speaker Curtis Pitt today released his decision on whether the Toohey MP breached the Parliament of Queensland Act by transacting business with the state through his legal practice, which has a preferred supplier agreement with Legal Aid Queensland.

Questions were raised last year around Mr Russo's legal practice, Russo Lawyers, and whether he had breached integrity rules by not declaring his personal business links to Legal Aid Queensland in chairing the parliament's Legal Affairs and Safety Committee.

But in a decision tabled in Parliament late today, Mr Pitt found one of the questions raised should not be treated as a potential contempt of Parliament, but as a question of whether he is eligible to sit in Parliament.

"As such, the process should be for the House to determine (via motion) whether the matter should be referred to the Court of Disputed Returns under section 153 of the Electoral Act 1992," he wrote in a written decision tabled to Parliament late today.

"Alternatively, if it is considered that a disqualifying event has occurred, the House could (via motion) pursuant to s.73(2) resolve the disqualifying ground to be of no effect.

"But whether a disqualifying event has occurred is ultimately a question of law for the courts or the House for an exemption under s.73."

Mr Pitt said both Mr Russo and Opposition frontbencher Jarrod Bleije, who referred the matter, had provided conflicting legal advice supporting their opposing positions.

 

Queensland member for Toohey Peter Russo. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)
Queensland member for Toohey Peter Russo. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

 

He said that legal advice was complicated by the fact it was provided before Mr Russo admitted to the House that he had personally undertaken work on behalf of Legal Aid Queensland while a member of Parliament.

Mr Pitt said due to the complexity of the matter, he had sought independent legal advice from interstate constitutional law expert Bret Walker SC that providing a service for an accused person was not acting for financial reward from the state.

"On the basis of the advice of Mr Walker, that the Member for Toohey has not breached the POQA, I am not taking any further action in the matter," Mr Pitt wrote.

"If the House accepts Mr Walker's advice then no further action by the House would be required."

Mr Bleijie called on Mr Russo to stand aside while matters were considered.

"Today's extraordinary ruling from the Labor Speaker referring Labor MP Peter Russo to the Parliament's powerful Ethics Committee is another blow to the integrity of the Palaszczuk Government," he said.

"Mr Russo should do the right thing and stand aside as Chair of Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee, while under investigation."

Mr Pitt has referred another allegation that Mr Russo failed to disclose an interest to the legal committee to the Parliament's ethics committee for consideration.

Comment is being sought from Mr Russo.

Meanwhile Speaker Curtis Pitt has warned the House that it can not debate allegations Gladstone MP Glenn Butcher failed to declare free accommodation for the opening of Wilson Island, because it had been referred to the Ethics Committee.

It comes after Burnett MP Stephen Bennett called on Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to order an investigation into Mr Butcher for allegedly not declaring accommodation and hospitality at Heron Island last year for the official opening of Wilson Island.

Originally published as Labor MP may not be eligible to sit in parliament