The saga of Billy Gordon

On January 31 this year, Billy Gordon joined a very select group — indigenous members of parliament in Australia. He won the seat of Cook in far north Queensland from the LNP and joined the Queensland parliament as part of the minority ALP government. Late in March, the State parliament sat for three days and effectively confirmed that the minority Palaszczuk government had the confidence of parliament.

Queensland parliament sits again this week. During the month of April information relating to Gordon’s past criminal convictions, structuring financial affairs to avoid the payment of child support and claims regarding domestic violence in a previous relationship were given publicity. Palaszczuk, in what could be considered to be a gutsy political move, as she needs the seat to govern in her own right, moved to expel Gordon from the ALP and pressured him to resign his seat. Opposition Leader Springborg wasn’t far behind when talking to 4BC’s Patrick Coldren. Gordon resigned from the ALP prior to the expulsion and has chosen to remain in parliament as an independent, supporting the Palaszczuk government.

Along with a number of other jurisdictions around the world, Queensland has legislation that wipes the slate of certain criminal offences if they were committed a number of years ago. In Queensland the legislation is known as the Criminal Law (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act 1986 and the cleansing of people’s records occurs after 10 years. Gordon’s convictions are considered wiped under this legislation. Gordon is understandably investigating legal action against those who publicised the information.

For some reason, we expect a higher standard of ethics and morality from our politicians than we do of others. Gordon, who also ran for the ALP in the seat of Leichhardt in the 2013 federal election should have disclosed his record, despite obviously not being proud of it. As Gordon was working for an ALP senator, the ALP should have been aware of the convictions in any case. Palaszczuk certainly ‘jumped the shark’ by calling for his resignation from parliament — and we’ll get to the LNP’s response in a minute. Unfortunately it is fair to suggest that Gordon’s life story is not uncommon amongst indigenous people in north Queensland as this government report to a 2014 Crime Enquiry documents. Gordon and the ALP could have declared his history and run his campaign on the basis of how well he understood his community and was a wonderful role model because he had turned his life around.

Up until January 31, the seat of Cook was a LNP seat held by David Kempton. The Guardian, while reporting a potential second government MP being involved in a domestic violence issue, observed:

Meanwhile, the Australian newspaper is reporting that the Liberal National party frontbencher defeated by Gordon at the state election was behind the initial complaint made by his ex-partner.

David Kempton, who lost Cook to Gordon in January, helped the woman make a complaint about unpaid child support in the days after the election, the paper says.

The independent Speaker, Peter Wellington, on Tuesday said it appeared Gordon’s former partner was being “used” by political forces in an orchestrated attempt to bring down the Labor government.

The Australian says Kempton was the first of three current or former LNP MPs to have had close contact with Gordon’s former partner in the weeks leading up to the child support allegations being sent to the premier and ultimately leaked to the media.

The LNP MP Warren Entsch, whose federal electorate of Leichhardt overlaps Cook, has rejected Wellington’s claims but confirmed he helped the woman with the child support issue after he was approached by Kempton.

Asked about rumours that Kempton, a lawyer, is now representing the woman, Entsch said: “He could well be.”

Entsch defended releasing to the media details of his correspondence with the woman, including the abuse allegations and Gordon’s criminal record, saying he had been forced to act because of the premier’s inaction.

The paper says the former LNP MP Gavin King, who until January held the neighbouring seat of Cairns, was also in contact with the woman for three weeks before the initial allegations were made public last Friday.
We should be applauding how the LNP is demonstrating the care and concern it has for the welfare of Gordon’s ex-partner as well attempting to restore faith in the political system — Yeah right!

At the January 31 State Election, the last seat to be declared was Ferny Grove, located in Brisbane’s north west. The seat was held by the LNP and the ALP had a small lead after the distribution of preferences. The fly in the ointment was that the Palmer United candidate was an undischarged bankrupt and therefore ineligible to stand for parliament. The brouhaha was all to do with the preferences of the ineligible candidate and if they had enabled the ALP to get over the line. With the Electoral Commission discussing whether the result should be taken to the court of disputed returns, and Premier Newman losing his seat at the election, the de-facto leader of the LNP at that stage, Lawrence Springborg, ‘kindly’ offered to run a ‘caretaker’ government until the situation became clear which, based upon the last time a similar occurrence happened in Queensland, could take seven months. William Bowe at Crikey explains the issues here and why Springborg was ‘dreaming’ (to pinch a line from The Castle).

Australian political tragics may remember the “Utegate” affair. One of the Rudd government’s responses to the GFC was to propose an alternate vehicle financing system to support car dealers, as some traditional financiers had suddenly removed themselves from the business. Rudd was in possession of a ute donated by an Ipswich car dealer (and fellow Norman Park resident). The car dealer subsequently approached the ALP MP representing the Ipswich area for access to the alternate vehicle financing system; the MP sent an email to Treasury; and suddenly then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull was producing evidence that the car dealer was receiving preferential treatment due to his donation of a car to the prime minister. The documentation produced by Turnbull was later proven to be fraudulent and assisted in the downfall of Turnbull’s leadership. The car dealership is no longer trading after being inundated by the 2011 south-east Queensland floods.

At the same time as Billy Gordon was elected in the seat of Cook, Rob Pyne from the ALP replaced Gavin King from the LNP (and mentioned above as helping Gordon’s accuser) in the neighbouring seat of Cairns. Rob Pyne self-disclosed an email he received asking for details of a past conviction, which was obviously sent to him in error.

Springborg has claimed that his party will not accept the support of Gordon: an interesting concept considering the government he was a minister in changed parliamentary procedure to one where the major parties’ whips first advise the speaker of the number of votes for and against, before the independent MPs are asked for their vote. In short, the sight of Springborg or Langbroek running from the parliament to ‘void’ the vote of Gordon (in a similar way to Abbott and Pyne running from Craig Thomson) won’t occur — unfortunately!

There are two questions here.

The first is the morals and ethics of those who seem to be involved in promulgating false or damaging information. Churchill is quoted as suggesting ‘A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.’ Are the various constituents of the conservative political parties in Australia so morally bankrupt that the ends justify the means or are they so simplistic that they believe that people will swallow the information provided without question? While there is no doubt the ALP would have damaging information on many LNP MPs across the country, they seem not to publicly release information that is irrelevant to the MP’s current role in life.

The second is how do we expect the disadvantaged to gain a voice in the management of our society unless past ‘sins’ are forgiven. Alecia Simmonds, writing on Fairfax’s ‘Daily Life’ website states the case far more eloquently than I can:

That Billy Gordon may also be a product of a racist society where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are poorer, sicker, more disadvantaged than any other group in Australian society seems to have escaped us. In our rush to pronounce upon his character we have strangely forgotten about his context; one where one in every 43 Aboriginal adults are in prison and Aboriginal people are eight times more likely to be taken into police custody.

It's hypocritical for us to ask Aboriginal politicians to redress their communities' problems and then be shocked when it turns out that they have experienced those problems. Or, in Gordon's case, that they are living examples of them. Many, like Gordon, may come from what he calls a 'troubled and fractured past.' And his past is our own past; Australia's 'troubled and fractured' history of colonisation.
While arguing that, if in fact Gordon is convicted of domestic violence, he should resign, Simmonds finishes her article with:

Finally, if we are to ask politicians to tell voters about their criminal pasts then I would suggest that we also ask politicians to tell voters about any civil matters that they've been involved in. Because it doesn't take a genius to work out that we have two systems of justice in this country: one for the rich and one for the poor. If you're a sandstone-educated white man, sipping mimosas harbour-side in Point Piper, then you're unlikely to have had any underhanded dealings channelled through our civil courts where you'll get a slap on the wrist and a fine. If you're Billy Gordon, cutting sugar cane or working in pubs in Far North Queensland, then you can exchange the fine for a prison sentence and the law's casual disinterest for hawkish vigilance.

If we genuinely want a democracy where our political representatives reflect the diversity of our population, and if we genuinely want these representatives to have had life experiences broader than undertaking an Arts/Law degree at Sydney University, then we need to treat people like Gordon with more empathy. After all, his context is our context; it's a product of our shared history and we need those who have suffered its worst effects to help change it.
What do you think?
2353 questions the ethics of those politicians who use another's past indiscretions for political advantage and the final quotes from Alecia Simmonds raise issues about the 'type of person' we want in parliament. They are important issues. Please let us know where you stand.

Next week, as a prelude to the Budget, Ken asks 'Are budgets worth the paper they're written on?'

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3/05/20152353 You have given us a sensitively written, factual, and well argued piece about Billy Gordon. I was unaware of the details until I read your account of Gordon’s past life. It’s a replay of the old, old story. The well off have the money, the contacts, and the professional legal support to minimize their misdemeanours. Moreover, their privileged upbringing gives them advantages that the less well off do not have, and allows them to avoid the disadvantages that the less well off so often suffer. It’s inequality all over again, this time on the social and legal scene. You are right when you say that it is not just the individual, in this case Billy Gordon, who must take responsibility for his situation, but a society that allows such situations to occur and be dealt with in the way society has dictated. Victim blaming circumvents blaming the social and legal systems that impose penalties without proper consideration of the social circumstances that have contributed to the situation in which the disadvantaged find themselves. Thank you for offering a convincing argument in support of Billy Gordon.


3/05/20152353 The piece by Alecia Simmonds that you quote raises issues that you also raised in your piece 'Instant experts'. Why type of people do we want representing us in parliament? As you pointed out last time, so many now are 'professional' politicians, going from university party organisations, into the mainstream party organisation, and eventually into a winnable seat. They have no experience of life except what they have seen from a political office. Someone like Billy Gordon has lived life - in his case the life of a disadavantaged group in our society. He has been a cane cutter. He has had problems that he has had to overcome. Surely he brings a more realistic view to our parliaments. But, no, the powers that be are worried when someone 'different' is elected, someone who doesn't come from the 'accepted' political mould. It reminds me of when England first introduced the 40 shilling franchise (you had to hold freehold land to the value of 40 shillings to be able to vote). It was introduced because the 'powers that be' were concerned that the 'right type of person' needed to be elected to parliament. We are supposed to be a democracy and to have moved beyond that but 'the saga of Billy Gordon' suggests that perhaps we haven't, that we just find out other ways of making sure pariliament is dominated by the 'right type pf person'.

Pappinbarra Fox

4/05/2015In my view Billy Gordon really has to demonstrate that has reformed, that he has genuinely turned his life around and is now devoting himself to making others' lives better. This is something that would require some years of doing just that. There should be plenty of evidence to support this position. One should not be able to simply join a political party and gain endorsement to be elected. Although the party is at fault for either not knowing Billy's past or for not caring about it or for not investigating his reformation since - if such exists - we simply do not know. But Billy is also at fault for not outing himself - after all he wants to represent his community and should be proactive in demonstrating his reform. In other words he should lay himself bare for all his electorate to see and let the community make its judgment. As Hilary said "Bill's not perfect, if you don't like what you see don't vote for him." On another matter - I like the new look but cannot access comments from my mobile and now do not have access to Ad's Links to other websites- which I used every day. Can we have that bit back please?


4/05/2015It is not a matter of what Billy Gordon should have done. Premier Palaszczuk or her party should have researched Billy Gordon's history and character as thoroughly as for all potential MPs, already known of his past and presumably regretted 'crimes' and would now be able to defend him and what is his legitimate right to sit in Parliament, aside from keeping her government team intact. I imagine that many people in his electorate would know him well and if they judged him unfit to serve could have 'outed' him much sooner, long before the balance of power in a 'hung' parliament became an issue. Having had a personal experience of split families with maintenance issues and new claims from 'dependents' when the support payer seems in a suddenly 'wealthier' income group, I have some sympathy for Mr. Gordon.

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4/05/2015PF I'll talk with Web Monkey about making the links facility available again on [i]TPS[/i]. It's good to know that they were being used. Thank you for your interest in the site.


4/05/2015A week is a long time in politics. To see an update to 'The saga of Billy Gordon', hop across to the TPS Extra site for a commentary on the last week of political muckraking. The link is here ->

Web Monkey

5/05/2015Hi PF, I can confirm that comments work on the iOS platform. I can't imagine it not working on Android or Windows mobile as we are using a very cross platform system with a responsive mobile first bent but please let me know what platform you are using (Android/Windows mobile etc). I am unfortunately up to my eyeballs in work so I'm not sure how soon I can get the website links done (maybe next month). I have just spent time to transition TPS and TPS Extra to a SSD drive to increase site performance (3-30x increase in I/O's) which took more time that I expected...but I can already notice the difference which is positive. :o) WM


5/05/2015This comment is posted from an android tablet.


5/05/2015This comment from an Android phone. PF , if you'd like to email me, I'lI see if I can help.


5/05/2015And now back on a PC - much easier :) I'd like to move a big vote of thanks to Web Monkey for his amazing work in transferring TPS onto the updated version of the blog software - thanks WM!


6/05/2015I'll second Bacchus' comment. Web Monkey does a lot behind the scenes so that TPS looks as good as does.

Pappinbarra Fox

7/05/2015Good evening gents, I use an iPhone5, what is missing is the little comments speech bubble link at the top right hand in the same line as the date and category tags.


7/05/2015Good evening PF. My Android phone is the same - no speech bubble. Try "clicking" on the title of the piece - on my Android phone, this allows me to go down to all of the comments already made on the piece, allowing me to comment at the end of those previous comments. If this doesn't work on the iPhone, we'll need Ad or WM or another iUser to help...


7/05/2015Hi Comrades 2353 I must admit to a degree of horror and exasperation when the stories about Billy Gordon broke. That seems to have been Annastacia Palaszczuk's reaction too. Whatever Billy Gordon's personal attributes and history, I am astounded that the Labor Party ever preselected him, apparently in ignorance of his past - Gee my Party does some dumb things in places where it REALLY matters. Remember the disgusting Joe Bullock's preselection costing Labor a Senator? Wikipedia: 'Bullock was blamed by figures from Labor's left faction for the party's poor showing in the Senate re-vote. United Voice, a left-wing union, called for Bullock to resign his Senate place.[10] Alannah MacTiernan accused Bullock of costing the party votes. "There are booths that six months ago we were leading and now we're coming third," she said. "We need people who can sell the message; we need to make sure we have people capable of inspiring people." Former Senator Chris Evans said "there's no question that the Labor Party has a serious problem with its preselection processes, particularly in Western Australia."[11]' Remember how Jon Sullivan gifted the seat of Longman to Wyatt Roy in 2010, costing *J*U*L*I*A* an infinitely precious seat for the rest of her incumbency? Wikipedia: "Prior to the election, there was speculation that the Liberal National Party did not want Roy endorsed as the candidate for Longman, because of his youth. However, both Liberal leader Tony Abbott and Nationals leader Warren Truss publicly endorsed Roy.[4][5] Roy's campaign was not without incident. His electoral success may have been helped by a gaffe made by his Labor opponent and incumbent member, Jon Sullivan. In the closing week of the 2010 federal election campaign, Sullivan gained national media attention due to a blunder where he criticised the father of a seven-year-old child with a disability for waiting two years on a Queensland Health waiting list, responding to a question at a candidates' forum with a counter-question.[6] " I'm quite happy to give anybody second and yes nth chances, indeed I'd be a hypocrite otherwise. (That's another story!) But in public life, for the Labor Party in particular, candidates need to be squeaky-clean, it's not about the individual any more. Failure by Labor candidates to disclose records such as Billy Gordon's, or failure by the Party to discover them prior to preselection, is so infuriating, so stupid, it makes me despair. Of course the Right is going to take advantage of every gaffe, every misdemeanour - Hell we'd do it to them if the RW Media gave us the sort of run they give their own side! In each of those three cases - Bullock, Sullivan and now Gordon - the numbers have been of critical importance. Dog Albitey I hope the Labor Party takes the need for immaculate candidates to heart.

Pappinbarra Fox

8/05/2015Bacchus thanks for that tip works a treat.


8/05/2015Have people seen this: Maurice Newman, the sort of person Abbott appoints to senior advisory positions. I suppose he also believes that the US Army is about to take over Texas - Chuck Norris does. May be Norris is the sort of man Abbott sould bring out and appoint to another senior position. I just can't believe that there really are people who believe this crap!!!!!
How many umbrellas are there if I have two in my hand but the wind then blows them away?