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Digance parliamentary inquiry blocked after crossbench revolt

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A Government-led parliamentary inquiry prompted by explosive claims from former Labor MP Annabel Digance – who has since been arrested and charged with allegedly blackmailing Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas – will not proceed after crossbenchers agreed to block it.

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Digance aired damning claims against her party, seven years after her campaign in Elder distributed leaflets targeting her Liberal opponent Carolyn Habib (now Elder MP Carolyn Power), asking: “Can you trust Habib?”

In an interview with The Australian in March, Digance claimed she was told by a Labor “boys’ club” that she could not “say anything about it” publicly, lamenting “that I stayed silent out of some misplaced sense of loyalty to the party”.

“Whenever I raised anything I was belittled and bullied by the Labor boys’ club and, in the end, I think they just came to regard me as an annoyance,” she said at the time.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman successfully moved for a parliamentary inquiry into the issues raised – and refused to abandon it despite Digance and her husband last month being arrested and charged with attempting to blackmail Malinauskas in an alleged bid to revive the former Elder MP’s political career.

But it’s understood state parliament’s five crossbenchers – including former Liberals Sam Duluk, Fraser Ellis and Troy Bell – have unanimously decided not to support the inquiry, a move that effectively leaves it unable to proceed.

Independent Frances Bedford told InDaily: “I can confirm we did agree [that] there was no keenness to pursue something that’s before the courts.”

“There was unanimity that we did not want it to proceed while it’s before the courts.”

It’s unclear whether the five would join Labor to formally overturn the committee or simply refuse to take part, but either action would make it impossible for the Government to proceed.

“We’re unsure of the exact mechanism of who’s moving what,” Bedford said.

“But we don’t think it’s appropriate, if it’s before the court, for the parliament to be running a committee.”

The move is a blow for Chapman, who had insisted the inquiry and the criminal charges were “distinct events”, arguing parliament “must know what the standard is going to be for the 2022 election”.

“The parliamentary inquiry relates to the publication in 2014,” she told ABC radio last month.

“Anyone who may be called to give evidence at the select committee, of course, can get legal advice… if it were to impinge on any events from last year.”

Leader of Opposition Business Tom Koutsantonis told InDaily: “Vickie Chapman’s attempt to investigate the minority has been stopped – the independents will not form this committee.”

“It was a mistake to start with,” he said.

“Vickie Chapman needs to explain why the first law officer of the state was attempting to investigate a matter before the courts.”

In a statement, Chapman noted that the Committee had not been listed for discussion this week in parliament, which resumed today for the first time since April 1.

“However, the question has to be asked – what is the Labor Party hiding?” she said.

“This 2014 pamphlet was undeniably racist and no one from the Labor Party has taken responsibility for it.

“This is a chance to finally get to the bottom of who wrote it, approved it and distributed it, and to ensure this behaviour is not tolerated in future election campaigns – the Labor Party’s determination to put this inquiry on hold raises many questions – namely, who are they protecting?”

It’s understood the motion will remain on the notice paper for now, however today’s development will likely ensure it languishes there indefinitely.

InDaily revealed last week that Digance had herself blocked a Labor colleague from making public comment about the Elder campaign in a 2015 speech.

Labor MLC Tung Ngo sent Digance a draft of his proposed speech, in which he criticised the leaflet but defended the MP, but was told in an emailed reply: “I am of the view, as is my legal counsel, that at this point I do not want my name in conjunction with the flyer raised anywhere at all… so please do not talk about the Elder incident in parliament at this point.”

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