Although the elections in New South Wales are not until 26 March 2011, Parliament was prorogued on 22 December, 2010 by the Governor, Professor Marie Bashir, acting on the advice of the Premier, the Hon. Kristina Keneally.
According to Alexandra Smith in The Sydney Morning Herald, “Turn off: Keneally blocks probe into power sale by closing parliament “ 22/12, this would have the result that committees cannot hold hearings before the election, especially the planned Legislative Council inquiry into the government's controversial $5.3 billion sale of the State's electricity assets.
The announcement of the sale had led to the resignation of eight of the 11 board members of state-owned companies Eraring and Delta Electricity.
Electricity sale inquiry
It was anticipated that the former board members would be called to a hearing of the inquiry. Their testimony could have been embarrassing for the government.
While attempts are being made to open the inquiry, witnesses would be advised by their lawyers to give no or limited co-operation. This is because of the fear that the hearings may not be privileged, leaving witnesses open to defamation actions. Hence The Sydney Morning Herald editorial (29/12), “Prorogue, then intimidate “
Ms. Smith said that in a bid to stave off expected criticism of its timing, the government's statement highlighted other occasions when Parliament was prorogued well before an election.
This included the prorogations on 7 December, 1994 before the 1995 election and 31 January before the 2003 election.
The Opposition had planned to reveal the details of the inquiry that very day including the proposed terms of reference and the expected t date of the first meeting. This was said to have been as early as 10 January 10. The inquiry had the support of the Greens and the Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile. Ms. Smith said this meant the inquiry could have started as soon the procedural issues had been resolved.
Mr. Nile says the inquiry began before the prorogation.
Moreover, Parliament was not expected to be prorogued until late February, according to the official calendar on the NSW Parliament’s website.
But as Ms. Smith said, the government will have the benefit of not being in caretaker mode until the writs for the election are issued after 4 March 2011, which means the Premier can still make major policy announcements.
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