Troy Buswell has revealed he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but has refused to admit he was drinking before he crashed his ministerial car after attending a Kings Park wedding in February.
Mr Buswell returned to State Parliament this morning after 10 weeks of personal leave, holding a press conference before addressing his Liberal colleagues.
Mr Buswell answered multiple questions about events on the night of the wedding with variations of an opening statement that made no acknowledgment of his drinking.
Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said Mr Buswell’s explanation was not good enough because he had refused to answer the crucial questions.
Mr McGowan said Mr Buswell was running from the questions because the answers would clearly incriminate him and leave him liable to a large bill.
He said Mr Barnett and Police Minister Liza Harvey needed to ensure that Mr Buswell explained how much he drank, why he fled the scene of the accidents, why he did not reveal what had happened for two weeks after the crashes and when he was going to pay up for the damages.
“The central question is ‘how much did he drink before he drove home that evening and caused all of that damage and risked people’s lives?’” Mr McGowan said.
“Standards are so low in the Government that we have a senior minister driving, I think, blind drunk down the streets, risking lives and damaging property, and yet the Premier says he does not have to explain himself about that or to the police.”
Dumped former Liberal police minister Rob Johnson stormed out of the caucus meeting when several Liberal MPs applauded Mr Buswell after he addressed the Liberal Party room this morning.
Mr Johnson said he was appalled by the response and it was time that Mr Barnett and Mrs Harvey stopped defending Mr Buswell.
He said he had great sympathy for anyone with a mental health issue but Mr Buswell’s illness needed to be separated from the offences that he committed.
“He offered no explanations, there was no opportunity to ask questions, which I was very disappointed at, and he simply emphasised the fact that he was suffering from bipolar,” Mr Johnson said.
“I find it absolutely appalling that they would applaud somebody that committed those offences and could have killed somebody or put somebody in hospital with critical injuries.”
At today's press conference Mr Buswell insisted the matter had been dealt with.
“Firstly, can I say in relation to events of February 23, police has obviously conducted a thorough investigation into a number of traffic accidents that occurred that night in Subiaco.
"Police formed a view that they were caused by me engaging in careless driving, and I have accepted the consequences of my actions in relation to those matters,” he said.
“You would be aware last Tuesday I pleaded guilty to that (careless driving) and some other charges in the court. I’ve paid a fine and I’m now serving a period of licence suspension.”
Guests at the wedding saw Mr Buswell drinking for several hours before its conclusion and a witness who spotted Mr Buswell driving erratically on Roberts Road told a police call taker the then-Transport Minister and Treasurer appeared so drunk he could barely stand.
Mr Buswell did not cooperate with the police investigation, today saying that all communications were handled by a lawyer, believed to be Laura Willox-Timpano.
BUSWELL CAR TOWED FROM HOME | PROBE LOOKS AT HIT AND RUN | POLICE LEAD BUSWELL PROBE | DRINK, DRIVE CHARGE | STAFF FACE QUESTIONS | BUSWELL CHIEF QUITS JOB | I'M BACK ON DECK | STAFFER DRIVES WHILE BAN IN PLACE | BUSWELL COULD STILL BE CHARGED | PRESSURE TO EXPLAIN
“In relation to another matter regarding my health, I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar depression,” Mr Buswell said. “I’ve been receiving treatment for that from February 24. That treatment is ongoing and I expect the treatment will last for a long time to come.
“Can I say that has been a particularly difficult time for me and for my family. But all of the advice I have from my doctor and others is returning to work, both in my electorate which I started a few weeks ago, and here in parliament, is an important part of my recovery.”
Asked why he got behind the wheel of his ministerial Holden Caprice in the early hours of February 23, Mr Buswell said: “Again, the police have conducted a thorough investigation … They have charged me with a range of driving offences that are well documented. I accept responsibility for my actions. I have pleaded guilty, I paid the fine and I have no more comment to make about the events surrounding those matters.”
Asked the same question again, Mr Buswell said police concluded that he had driven “carelessly” and he was “embarrassed, in fact mortified, that that happened”.
A variation of the answer was also provided to questions about if he remembered driving the night of the wedding, or whether he remembered the events of the wedding at all.
THE POLICE INVESTIGATION
Asked why he did not agree to be interviewed by police, Mr Buswell said: “Like a lot of people in those circumstances where there was a police investigation, I engaged a lawyer and that lawyer basically communicated on my behalf with the police.”
Asked why he failed to tell anyone about the crash – except his then-chief of staff and fellow wedding guest Rachael Turnseck – Mr Buswell said he had been hospitalised for 10 days after the crash.
“I was not in a particularly good state of mind,” he said. “Now, I am not offering that in any way shape or form as an excuse for what haven on the 22nd and 23rd, but they are the facts that I had to deal with and it was a particularly difficult period of time.”
Asked if he was reluctant to talk about the events of the night of the wedding because he was worried he would incriminate himself or because he had been advised not to by his lawyer, Mr Buswell said: “No”.
“In my view, the matter’s been dealt with. The police concluded their investigation, I pleaded guilty, I paid the fine. I’m now serving a licence suspension. In my view the matter’s been dealt with.”
A COVER UP?
Mr Buswell denied attempting to cover up the traffic crashes.
“I spent through until Thursday week after this event in hospital. I had returned to my home, I had two things planned for the following week: a meeting on Monday with my doctor and I’d intended to meet subsequent to that with the Premier,” he said.
“In relation to other issues around reporting of the accident and the like, I understand that there has been an investigation of that within Government. I of course haven’t been privy to that, only what I’ve read. And I understand it found there was no particular issue.”
Asked if he would personally pay for damage not covered by insurance, Mr Buswell said his understanding was the Government’s insurer RiskCover would assess the incidents.
“I haven’t had any further contact from RiskCover in relation to these matters,” he said. “I will wait until I receive additional advice from the Government insurer.”
During the press conference, a man driving a black Audi SUV driving down Harvest Terrace yelled “Resign!” as he passed the press conference.
MEMBER FOR VASSE
Mr Buswell was adamant his illness did not mean he could not do his job.
Asked whether he intended to serve out his term as the Member for Vasse, Mr Buswell said: “I would have to say the last few weeks have been very difficult – the last few months – personally. All of the advice I have received from my doctor and others is an important part of the long term recovery plan is a work life. I want to get better, and I want to keep serving my constituents. At the end of the day, they are two simple but challenging roles.
“What I can guarantee is that my focus is on getting better and my focus is on continuing to provide the very best level of service I can to my constituents.”
Mr Buswell declined to comment on whether he had an “issue” with alcohol.
“I’ve outlined a serious health issue that I have, OK? I’ve been receiving treatment to deal with that health issue. I have to keep receiving ongoing treatment to deal with that serious health issue, and for me, that involves a recovery or a wellness plan that is very comprehensive.”
“I accept that I have got a serious health issue that I’m having to deal with,” Mr Buswell said. “I now know that that’s an issue that I’ve had for some time. But I’m confident that with the care I’m receiving, the support I’m receiving from family and friends, and if I stick to a wellness plan that has been laid out for me, I will recover.
“The one thing I have learned in the past couple of months is this is not an issue particular to me. There are, as I’m sure you all know, thousands and thousands of people who face similar challenges. I actually feel blessed to have had the support and the access to care that I’ve had, because I know damned well – and I’ve seen – a whole lot of people who don’t get that access to care and treatment.”
Premier Colin Barnett said yesterday he hoped Mr Buswell would address the Liberal party room and answer questions from the media when he returns to State Parliament.
The Premier said he spoke to Mr Buswell on Sunday night and suggested that the former treasurer comment to his colleagues and the media about what happened in the early hours of February 23.
Mr Buswell did not speak to police before he was convicted of 11 charges of careless driving, failing to stop and failing to report the crashes and has been on leave since the crashes near his Subiaco home.
Mr Barnett said he believed Mr Buswell did have a responsibility to provide some account of what happened.
"I would expect that he would first meet with the Liberal party room and I would hope that he would say something to his colleagues, who have been supportive of him throughout this period," Mr Barnett said.
"I would also hope that Troy will be available to answer questions from the media and in due course he may well choose to make a statement to Parliament.
"Troy was driving a government vehicle, he was a senior member of the Government and, therefore, he has public accountability."
Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said the Opposition would be using every means possible in Parliament to get answers.
"We know that drink-driving causing damage is a serious matter for which people should not escape lightly, so we will be raising these issues in order to get those answers out of Mr Buswell and the Government," he said.