Suspending independent MP Gareth Ward from NSW parliament if he retains his seat of Kiama could be seen as defying the wishes of voters, who had made their choice with “eyes wide open”, leading constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey says.
The former minister was suspended from parliament last year after he was charged with historical sexual assault, which he denies. He was also suspended from the Liberal Party and sat on the crossbench until forced out of the parliament.
Premier Chris Minns and former premier Dominic Perrottet both vowed during the campaign to move a new suspension to ensure Ward could not sit in the chamber if re-elected.
Ward, who has been the Kiama MP since 2011, is inching ahead of Labor challenger Katelin McInerney on first preferences in the South Coast seat, and is expected to claim victory after initially slipping behind in the count over the weekend.
Minns on Tuesday ruled out negotiating with Ward if Labor is in minority government and needs to rely on crossbench support. But the new premier would not be drawn further on his intentions if the MP is successfully returned to parliament.
“We’re not going to negotiate with him at all,” Minns said. “I want to wait and see what the outcome of the ballot is. We’re still very hopeful and I think in the commanding position to win that seat. I think that will be good for the parliament.”
Ward pleaded not guilty in the Local Court in August and was committed to stand trial in the District Court, where he was formally arraigned on Tuesday on one count of sexual intercourse without consent, three counts of indecent assault, and an alternative count of common assault.
Twomey said Ward’s suspension last year was done under different circumstances and at a time when voters could not cast their own judgment on the MP.
“People had not had a chance to say if they thought it was appropriate,” Twomey said.
“If he is voted back in when people know there are these charges against him, you can’t really say people have in any way been deceived. They made a choice.”
Twomey said that if Ward was returned as the Kiama MP, voters had made that decision knowing he could “be disqualified if he were convicted”.
“But he may not be, the reality is we don’t know [and] whoever is voting for him would have to take all those factors into account,” Twomey said.
‘If he is voted back in when people know there are these charges against him, you can’t really say people have in any way been deceived. They made a choice.’
Professor Anne Twomey
“We also have to appreciate the views of his constituents may be different to the rest of the population who don’t know him and may be feeling his continuing presence in the house brings it into disrepute.
“They could suspend him again but the circumstances would be different.”
Twomey was unsure if a legal challenge to a fresh suspension order would be successful, but added “courts don’t like interfering in the internal proceedings of parliament”.
Former Holsworthy MP Melanie Gibbons contested Kiama for the Liberals, having been parachuted in to the seat at the last moment following her preselection loss. She received a primary vote of 11 per cent, which left her only just ahead of the Greens candidate Tonia Gray.
With Angus Dalton
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