Disability royal commissioner withdraws from 'men's brekkie' event with Mark Latham

Exclusive: John Ryan was to appear with NSW One Nation leader at event hosted by Anglican church in Camden

John Ryan and Mark Latham
‘Trading views and some laughs’: disability royal commissioner John Ryan has withdrawn from an event which was set to feature NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham. Photograph: stjohnscamden.org

Disability royal commissioner and former state Liberal MP John Ryan has withdrawn from a “men’s brekkie” event at which he was to appear alongside NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham.

The Crossing the Floor event is due to take place at St John’s Anglican Church, Camden on 19 October, with Ryan and Latham the only two listed speakers.

“Enjoy a real man’s brekkie and hear two local veterans of politics trading views and some laughs about current issues of interest to believers and doubters alike,” the event description reads.

While the event bills Ryan as “former state Liberal MP and royal commissioner”, it does not include Latham’s affiliation with One Nation but bills him as a “high profile state MP and former Labor leader”.

St John's Camden event page
Pinterest
John Ryan and Mark Latham on the event listing. Photograph: stjohnscamden.org

On Thursday, Guardian Australia approached the disability royal commission to ask if Ryan’s attendance was appropriate given the event touts his former party affiliation and he was due to appear alongside Latham, who has made controversial public comments about disability.

A spokesman for the disability royal commission told Guardian Australia: “The royal commission had no prior knowledge of commissioner Ryan’s participation in the event.

“The chair of the royal commission [Ronald Sackville] has asked commissioner Ryan to withdraw from the event and he has agreed to do so.”

In March 2017, Latham publicly criticised ABC Radio presenter Wendy Harmer, who he branded a “commercial failure”, and added: “Naturally she got a job at ABC radio at the sheltered workshop there for all the lefties. She fits the criteria: she’s female, she’s got a disability – that’s what they mean by diversity.” Harmer was born with a double cleft lip and palate.

Latham was later dumped from Sky for calling a schoolchild gay for appearing in a video supporting feminism for International Women’s Day.

In March 2016 author and journalist Lisa Pryor settled a defamation case against the Australian Financial Review and Latham over a column in which he claimed feminists do not like children.

On Friday the royal commission published guidance about how it will deal with perceived conflicts of interest, after Labor and the Greens called for Ryan and fellow commissioner Barbara Bennett to stand down over what Bill Shorten has called a “recent, extensive and significant” conflict.

The guidance claims there is “nothing unusual” about managing perceived conflicts, which it described as “almost inevitable” if governments choose commissioners because of their experience in the area under investigation.

Ryan, who was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2018 for significant service to the NSW parliament and to public administration, was a senior public servant for the NSW Department of Family and Community Services and was involved with the oversight of residential care programs for people with disability in NSW.

Bennett was recently the deputy secretary of the families and communities branch of the Department of Social Services, and has been awarded a public service medal for outstanding public service. She also has a quadriplegic mother and a daughter with multiple sclerosis.

The guidance states that “no more than three or four commissioners will participate in any given public hearing” and the chair will not authorise a commissioner to sit if that “would give rise to a reasonable perception of a conflict of interest or … apprehension of bias”.

“A commissioner who does not participate in a particular public hearing will not participate in the preparation of any report produced as a direct result of that hearing.”

The Coalition has defended the appointment of Ryan and Bennett, arguing that any criticism of the validity of their appointment is “without any foundation whatsoever”.

In 2015 trade union royal commissioner Dyson Heydon resisted calls to stand down after it was revealed he had agreed to speak at a Liberal fundraiser.

Royal commissioners and judicial officers are deemed to have a perceived conflict if “a fair-minded lay observer might reasonably apprehend that [they] might not bring an impartial mind to the resolution of the question [they are] required to decide”.