Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chris Finlayson is in contempt of Parliament

The Registrar of Pecuniary Interests, Margaret Bazley, has ruled that Chris Finlayson broke the rules when he repeatedly failed to declare his directorship of a company in his annual return of pecuniary interests. Which is pretty obvious. The rules are crystal clear, stating:

(1) Every return of pecuniary interests must contain the following information as at the effective date of the return:

(a) the name of each company of which the member is a director or holds or controls more than 5 percent of the voting rights and a description of the main business activities of each of those companies, and...

Note: "each company of which the member is a director" - not "each company of which the member is a director which makes money". Only a lawyer could convince themselves to ignore the plain reading of the words for a perverse, self-serving interpretation.

So, what happens next? At this stage its worth remembering Standing order 401(h):

Without limiting the generality of Standing Order 400, the House may treat as a contempt any of the following:


(h) as a member, knowingly providing false or misleading information in a return of pecuniary interests

There's no question the information was false, and Finlayson has admitted he did it knowingly. He has therefore committed a clear contempt of Parliament (and, I might add, the public, who the pecuniary interest rules are designed to protect). This is unacceptable for an MP; it is even more unacceptable in a Minister, who must, in the words of the Cabinet Manual, "act lawfully and... behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards". And the Attorney-General needs to be held to an even higher standard than that - the lawfulness of their behaviour must be beyond any doubt.

The question is whether Parliament will act on this, or whether Lockwood will find a way (again) to ignore a clear breach of the rules by one of his mates.