The Sydney Morning Herald published the following story by Tim Barlass on March 27, 2016.
Volunteer firefighters have accused Emergency Services Minister David Elliott of misleading Parliament over claims he had threatened to sue them if they revealed he had likened them to Dad’s Army.
In an exchange recorded in Parliament’s Hansard for March 16, Opposition Leader Luke Foley asked: “Did you ask Parliamentary Secretary Rick Colless to inform the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association that you would initiate legal proceedings against them unless a planned media story critical of you was pulled?”
Mr Elliott replied: “I think that is a very strange question from somebody who has taken no interest at all in our volunteer firefighters. The answer to your question is: No, because the allegation that you are referring to, which I would love you to table, was incorrect.”
Executive members say the comments were made at a private meeting in November attended by three members of the firefighters’ top brass and the minister. Their concerns were aired at a meeting of the volunteers in Murrumbateman, in the Southern Tablelands earlier this month.
President of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association Brian Williams said a phone call was received with a message from the Minister for Emergency Services that he was going to initiate legal proceedings against the association if the “Dad’s Army” comment was published.
“The VFFA’s Executive was astonished upon hearing that the Minister in Parliament denied making that threat,” he said.
Volunteers say they were told in the phone call from Mr Colless that “if that story goes out, he’ll [Mr Elliott] take legal action against you all on Monday morning, he wasn’t kidding”.
But the minister’s office has said that Mr Foley’s question referred to the association and it wasn’t possible to sue an association.
Mr Colless told Fairfax Media he wasn’t about to “confirm or deny” what was said in a confidential conversation.
Stuart Littlemore, QC, said he had been contacted by the volunteers the same day as the telephone call and had offered to represent them.
“They came to me and said he [Mr Elliott] had threatened to sue them if [they said] he had likened them to Dad’s Army in a meeting. I volunteered to represent them in any suit he chose to bring,” he said.
“Obviously they were afraid, lay people not used to being involved in litigation, are usually alarmed when somebody threatens to sue them. It doesn’t seem likely that somebody would ring me fearing a law suit if there weren’t reason to fear a law suit.”
Mr Elliott told Fairfax in a statement on Saturday: “I stand by the answer I gave to Parliament. I made it clear that I would take legal action against any individual who made defamatory statements about me.
“I did not threaten to initiate legal proceedings against the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, which is what the Opposition Leader asked.”
Opposition Emergency Service Minister Guy Zangari said it was time for Premier Mike Baird to step in.
“The fact is if a minister of the Crown is going to go and threaten volunteers and then deny it, well then we have got some serious issues here,” he said.