Ministers may face contempt charges

Three Turnbull Government ministers have been threatened with contempt charges for their public criticism of Victorian judicial system.

Last week, Greg Hunt, Alan Tudge and Michael Sukkar, all qualified lawyers, accused the Victorian legal system of conducting “ideological experiments”, focusing on terrorists’ rights rather than victims, and claiming that some judges were “divorced from reality”.

They’ve suggested that the judicial system in Victoria is too lenient when sentencing terrorists.

The ministers have been threatened with contempt charges, because their comments were made public prior to decisions in two appeal cases. If found guilty, the ministers could lose their parliamentary seats.

The three have retracted parts of their statements, but have refused to apologise.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has backed his ministers’ actions, saying: “It’s a matter of real public interest and my ministers are focused on public safety.”

Mr Turnbull also said that courts are “not immune from public criticism” and that the courts had, in the past, called on the public to keep them in check.

The crossbench senator who has the most experience with contempt charges, Derryn Hinch, slammed the court for threatening the trio of outspoken senators.

“The three ministers were well within their rights to do what they did,” said Mr Hinch. “If I was the minister I would have told them to go jump. Courts are not inviolate.”

“I watched the performance yesterday and those guys up there in their black robes, it was like something out of Kafka.

“If that’s contempt of court, I couldn’t give a shit.”

Franz Kafka’s The Trial is a story about a man who is arrested and must defend himself against a bureaucratic court system despite not knowing what the charges against him are.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce took a more sensible tack, saying: “If the court says that there’s an issue here then I’m going to shut up”, adding that not commenting was “unusual for me.”

Melbourne lawyer Rob Stary has filed a complaint with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, alleging that the MPs had “scandalised the court”, that their comments were designed to influence the court and that they warrant contempt of court charges.

“We say there’s been a flagrant breach of that doctrine, particularly from people who should know better,” said Mr Stary.

“It’s not open slather,” he added.

“Judges are independent and they should be free from any political interference.”

Opinion: Ministers should focus on their own jobs

Whatever cases in which the Victorian Supreme Court system is currently involved should not be worrying Federal Government ministers. They should be focusing on their own portfolios and leaving the courts to administer the law.

Greg Hunt, Alan Tudge and Michael Sukkar have enough to worry about without taking on the Victorian judiciary.

Health Minister Greg Hunt should be concerned about the sustainable funding of health care, with a special focus on maintaining the wellbeing of an ageing population.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge could do with keeping his face out of the media, especially after his ongoing mismanagement of Centrelink’s robo-debt fiasco, calling the welfare system “poison” for anyone who actually depends on it and the unjust leaking to the media of a welfare recipient’s personal details.

Michael Sukkar is the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer and he should be worried more about the nation’s bottom line than court sentencing in Victoria.

It almost seems as if the Federal Coalition is conducting a bit of a witch hunt against the Victorian Labor Government. Premier Daniel Andrews is running a tight ship in Victoria, with successful environmental and economic initiatives that are making the Coalition Government look like a second-rate operation. Unlike the Federal Government, Victoria is showing a healthy surplus. The Government still hasn’t forgiven Mr Andrews for pulling the plug on the East West Link. One can’t help but think that this is an attempt by federal MPs to sully the state’s reputation.

Regardless of their right to an opinion in the sentencing of terrorists – and they may well have a point – these men all have a job to do, and this all reeks of distracting the public from their inability to do their jobs.

And Mr Hinch couldn’t be more wrong about his correlation to Kafka’s The Trial. In Kafka’s novel, the protagonist is not aware of his charges. These three ministers are lawyers who should know the lines they can and cannot cross. They should know better.

Let’s face it. Commenting on terrorism is all the rage at the moment and these federal ministers appear to have hopped on the populist bandwagon.

It’s the equivalent of political sleight of hand.

When our federal politicians start doing their jobs well, then they can start telling other people how to do theirs, leaving the courts to determine and rule on the legislated laws.

Do you think Mr Hunt, Mr Tudge and Mr Sukkar should stick to their own tasks instead of butting in on others? Or were their comments warranted? Is it fair that they may be charged with contempt? Or is this all another distraction from the real issues at hand? Is the Victorian Supreme Court being a bit sensitive and over-reacting?

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