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Australia

CCC boss threatens to quit as WA's constitutional turf war escalates

A constitutional turf war between WA's Upper House and the McGowan government escalated on Thursday as Corruption and Crime Commissioner John McKechnie threatened to "consider his future" and Parliament launched investigations into the state's most senior bureaucrats.

In a letter to Attorney General John Quigley, tabled in the Legislative Council, Mr McKechnie backed Department of Premier and Cabinet director general Darren Foster, who released the emails of former Liberal MPs to the CCC without Parliament considering whether they were privileged.

Corruption and Crime Commissioner John McKechnie will consider quitting if Parliament investigates him for contempt.

Corruption and Crime Commissioner John McKechnie will consider quitting if Parliament investigates him for contempt.Credit:Nathan Hondros

But he warned the Upper House would have obstructed the CCC's investigation if it insisted on reviewing the documents before they were handed over.

Both Mr McKechnie and Mr Foster will be hauled before Parliament's powerful privileges committee on Friday.

In his letter, Mr McKechnie said he was concerned the committee might try him for contempt.

"In that event I will seriously consider my future leadership [of the CCC] as I put the interest of the Commission well above my own," he said.

"It would be wrong for the Commission to be vilified for fearlessly carrying out its functions."

Mr McKechnie said Mr Foster was required by law to hand over the emails when ordered to by the CCC.

But Legislative Council president Kate Doust blasted Mr Foster's decision to hand over the documents to the CCC in a damning report tabled in Parliament on Thursday.

She accused the pair of striking at the heart of our democracy with their "cavalier" attitude to parliamentary privilege.

If you learn anything, you've got to learn about correct procedure and the 80s told us, if you take shortcuts, then there are consequences. And many of the consequences aren't nice.

Political analyst Peter Kennedy

On Thursday evening, the Legislative Council voted to investigate Mr Foster and his deputy Emily Roper, who had refused to reveal to Parliament which emails had been sent to the CCC.

Labor tried to block the investigation, but lost a series of votes in the Upper House when every other MP from across the political spectrum lined up against them.

University of Notre Dame political analyst Peter Kennedy said the stoush between Parliament and the government was a turf war over who was responsible for confidential information kept by MPs.

"People approach members of Parliament for all sorts of reasons and often whistleblowers approach members of Parliament and expect their dialogue, their conversations, or correspondence to remain confidential," he said.

"The problem with this issue is that the Upper House doesn't know what documentation the Department of Premier and Cabinet intends to provide to the CCC.

"The Department of Premier and Cabinet has access to all sorts of information from MPs, quite a lot of it is privileged. They are the guardians of it, in one sense, but they're the executive government and the CCC is asking for information and it appears that the Department of Premier and Cabinet will pass over information to the CCC without Parliament deciding whether it's privileged or not.

"That's why the Upper House is concerned; they believe they should be the ones to decide whether information is privileged or not and what information regarding these relevant MPs should be passed over to the CCC."

Mr Kennedy said Ms Doust, a Labor MP, was standing up to government to force them to follow a process that was derived from a democratic principle that had been established for centuries.

"If you learn anything, you've got to learn about correct procedure and the 80s told us, if you take shortcuts, then there are consequences," he said.

"And many of the consequences aren't nice.

"It's always wiser to follow the correct procedure and that's why Kate Doust has spoken out."

The CCC will commence public hearings related to their investigation on Friday morning.

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Two members of the state's Salaries and Allowances Tribunal, which sets salaries and entitlements for MPs, are scheduled to appear.

The CCC has said it is investigating allegations of "serious misconduct and corruption in relation to the use of parliamentary electoral allowances".

Parliamentary electorate allowances are amounts of between $78,000 and $103,350 a year paid to MPs in addition to their salaries.

It is meant to pay for "expenses incurred to assist with serving the electorate", including communications and IT equipment, mobile phone use, stationery, printing and "hospitality and entertainment associated with a member's official business".

It is understood MPs pocket any unspent parliamentary electorate allowance and are not required to account for expenses.

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