Dumped minister Rob Johnson has torpedoed a central plank of Colin Barnett's legislative agenda, telling colleagues he could not support new laws to allow the Corruption and Crime Commission to run joint organised crime operations with WA Police.
The West Australian can reveal Mr Johnson told the Liberal Party room yesterday morning he would refuse to vote for the Premier's CCC Amendment Bill, meaning it cannot pass the Lower House on the current numbers.
The Bill was already on shaky ground with independent MPs Liz Constable, Janet Woollard and Adele Carles all seriously concerned that it would compromise the CCC in its role of overseeing police corruption, while Kalgoorlie MP John Bowler had declared outright he would not support it.
Mr Johnson's refusal to support the law effectively scuttles a piece of legislation that he endorsed as a Cabinet minister, was a Liberal Party election promise and is a pet Bill of the Premier.
Under this minority Government, Bills must win the support of at least one independent and every Liberal MP to pass the Lower House.
While Mr Johnson refused to comment yesterday, it is understood he has concerns the proposal - which could see the CCC's extraordinary powers unleashed on organised crime investigations in conjunction with WA Police - is unworkable and impractical.
But he was supportive of the CCC turning its attentions to unexplained wealth investigations.
The extraordinary challenge to Mr Barnett's authority was being interpreted by some MPs as "spite or revenge" for Mr Johnson being dumped as police and road safety minister in June. At the time, Mr Johnson said he felt betrayed by the Premier.
"At the same time, the guy used to be police minister so he would have a fair appreciation as to whether the police are truly on board with this legislation," an MP said.
Liberal sources said Mr Johnson's declaration yesterday caught colleagues by surprise.
In response, it is understood Mr Barnett told the party room that Liberal MPs had the right to take a position on issues different from those of the party, before quickly moving on to the next item of business.
"You could have heard a pin drop in the room," a source said.
The CCC Bill has been roundly criticised, including by the Labor Opposition, the CCC's parliamentary oversight committee, former CCC parliamentary inspector Christopher Steytler, former deputy police commissioner Murray Lampard and veteran barrister Ron Davies, who last week warned Mr Barnett against pursuing his "hobby horse".
Under the Bill, the CCC could get approval from a reference group made up of the CCC commissioner, police commissioner and a judge or retired judge to investigate organised criminals.
It would retain jurisdiction over investigations of all police misconduct and serious misconduct by public servants but minor misconduct by public servants would shift to the Public Sector Commission.