The Canberra Liberals say the Chief Minister could be held in contempt over an extraordinary exchange in which he appeared to threaten a Liberal MLA’s position.
Last November, Andrew Barr appeared before the Economic Development Committee which is chaired by Liberal MLA and former opposition leader Jeremy Hanson.
The discussion became heated as questions turned to management of ratepayers’ money.
But Liberals are most upset about an exchange that took place after Mr Barr was questioned on negotiations between the ACT and Commonwealth.
Mr Hanson: I get to run this committee and I am asking you-
Mr Barr: For the time being, yes.
Mr Hanson: Was that a threat?
Mr Barr: It is, yes.
Mr Hanson: You are making a threat to me, are you?
Mr Barr: I am, yes.
Opposition Whip Andrew Wall said those comments could be seen as attempt to improperly influence another member, in contravention of the assembly’s standing orders.
“Clearly the Chief Minister was making threats to the chair of the committee because he didn’t like the way questions were being asked,” Mr Wall said.
“In any workplace that kind of behaviour would be unacceptable.”
Mr Wall will call on the Legislative Assembly to establish a Privileges Committee to investigate the comments.
Such a move would require the support of either Labor or the Greens, though Mr Wall argued that hurdle could be passed.
“The Greens have always tried to hold the standard of Parliament to the highest level,” he said.
“This is a fairly black and white case in the Opposition’s view.”
‘Do I have to take this outside?’
Mr Barr’s comments last year came off the back of an exchange earlier in the session, where Mr Hanson declined to withdraw comments about the Chief Minister.
During discussions about increasing revenue, Mr Hanson argued Mr Barr would pocket increases in stamp duty.
“While you are Chief Minister, it all goes into your pocket rather than ratepayers’,” he said at the time.
That set off a heated argument between the pair, with Mr Barr interpreting the chair’s comments as an accusation of personal profit.
Mr Barr: Do I have to take this outside?
Mr Coe: I have got a supplementary.
Mr Hanson: Thank you. Mr Coe.
Mr Barr: Do I have to take this outside-
Mr Hanson: Mr Coe.
Mr Barr: into the other chamber?
What is a privileges committee?
The Legislative Assembly, like the Federal Parliament, has the power to establish select committees to report on a range of issues.
One such type of committee looks at privileges — the special powers and immunities offered to members — like protection from legal action for things said or done in parliament.
It can also look at contempt, which involves the obstruction of a Member from discharging their duty.
If found in contempt, a committee can recommend penalties — though this has rarely occurred.