Steve Cansdell … former member for Clarence.T he award for the most outstanding public escape act of recent times must surely go to the former member for Clarence, Steve Cansdell.
You recall Cansdell: he was the former professional boxer and parliamentary secretary for police who became the O’Farrell government’s first political casualty only months after it took office.
The then 60-year-old quit Parliament after his admission that he had falsified a statutory declaration to claim a staff member was driving when his car was snapped by a speed camera.
Cansdell was trying to avoid losing his driver’s licence. Despite the incident occurring back in September 2005, he fell on his sword in September 2011, amid a chorus of sympathy from his Nationals colleagues.
Cansdell was ”paying a very heavy price for a lapse of judgment six years ago”, the leader of the Nationals and Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, said at the time.
Only later did it emerge that shortly before Cansdell put his hands up, the staff member in question, Kath Palmer, had blown the whistle on the episode to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
So if Cansdell was not quite pushed – he claimed he quit to save the government and the party from embarrassment – he was very firmly nudged.
Not only had Palmer alleged the statutory declaration fraud, she alleged that Cansdell had also rorted a parliamentary staffing allowance by wrongly claiming it for the period she worked on the 2010 campaign of a Nationals colleague, Kevin Hogan, who was contesting the federal seat of Page.
And so began a very strange – many would say disturbing – series of events involving the ICAC, the police and the Speaker of the NSW Parliament that remain unresolved to this day.
In October last year, just over a year after Cansdell walked into Grafton police station with his lawyer to make his admission, police announced they had concluded their investigation into the statutory declaration matter.
”NSW Police Force will not instigate criminal proceedings,” they said in a statement.
What had happened? The statement explained police from the Coffs-Clarence local area command had identified the woman who signed the declaration but that ”she declined to be interviewed by officers”.
Futhermore, it added, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions had said it was ”not satisfied there are reasonable prospects for conviction for a Commonwealth offence”.
For the NSW police, that was the end of the matter. But they omitted a couple of key details.
While it was true Palmer, through her lawyer, had refused to be formally interviewed, she had offered to make what is known as an ”induced statement” – one given in return for indemnity from prosecution.
According to Palmer’s lawyer, Mark Spagnolo, the police had earlier made it known they intended to charge Palmer with perverting the course of justice for her role in the false statutory declaration. Any admission in an interview was likely to lead to her being charged.
Police deny she was threatened with a charge but their decision to refuse her offer to supply an induced statement was rather ambitiously twisted to become Palmer ”declined to be interviewed”.
Second, the Commonwealth DPP claimed it had been verballed. It said it had simply advised the NSW police that they were not satisfied it was a Commonwealth offence – a subtle but important difference.
Things became even more intriguing when it emerged the ICAC had referred the allegation that Cansdell had rorted his parliamentary allowance to the Speaker of the NSW Parliament, Shelley Hancock, who was technically Palmer’s employer.
The ICAC referred the matter ”for action as considered appropriate”. But no action was taken for a year by Hancock, until Spagnolo released the letter publicly through Fairfax.
After that Hancock, who is also the Liberal member for South Coast, promised that parliamentary officers would ”review the material” sent by the ICAC. This included a spreadsheet containing the dates on which Palmer alleged Cansdell submitted claims for the allowance that differed from the days she worked. That was last October.
What has happened since then? Hancock passed the matter to the executive manager of the Department of Parliamentary Services, Rob Stefanic, who responded that he was ”unable to reach any conclusions regarding the veracity of the claims made by the former electorate officer”.
Stefanic added that because, in his opinion, the allegations were ”of minor significance”, that so much time had elapsed and that both Palmer and Cansdell had resigned, no further action should be taken ”in the absence of more conclusive information”. (Never mind that the allegations, if proven, are similar to those which saw two former Labor MPs, Angela D’Amore and Karyn Paluzzano, branded corrupt by ICAC.)
When Hancock was asked if the Parliament would contact Palmer to request ”more conclusive information”, she said it would not.
”As Ms Palmer did not make a complaint directly to the Parliament, the Parliament will not be contacting the complainant for further information.”
So, 18 months since Palmer made her official complaint, there the matter lies: a tangled mess of contradictory claims, dead ends and official inertia.
Palmer is understood to be considering whether to pursue the matter with Parliament or drop it altogether to get on with her life.
Spagnolo has called for an inquiry into the police handling of the matter. The silence has been deafening.
Cansdell now says he has gone bankrupt.
And, while there is no suggestion he is implicated, the man he is alleged to have helped out by fiddling his taxpayer-funded entitlements, Kevin Hogan, has won Nationals preselection to contest Page at this year’s federal election.
As a lesson in the frustrations of being a political whistleblower, it doesn’t get much more instructive than that.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.