Australia: Gareth Ward defends right to stay as MP despite facing criminal charges

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Gareth Ward says his suspension from parliament has not impacted his ability to represent his community. (Supplied: Twitter) © Provided by ABC NEWS Gareth Ward says his suspension from parliament has not impacted his ability to represent his community. (Supplied: Twitter)

Kiama MP Gareth Ward has spoken out to defend his right to stay on as MP in the face of calls to resign from parliament.

The former government minister was suspended from parliament at the end of May when he refused to resign after being charged with sexual assault offences.

Mr Ward has continued to act as an MP on full pay while unable to do many of the core roles of an elected member in parliament to vote, debate, amend and create legislation.

But he continues to meet with his constituents.

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"No-one of my electors has raised that with me, all I am getting is for requests for assistance with government departments," Mr Ward said, speaking for the first time about being able to represent his community while suspended.

"There are no issues of conscience coming up, I'm still able to table questions on notice, I'm still able to deliver community recognition notices by tabling those, I have been doing that and will continue."

The independent MP is facing three counts of indecent assault, one count of sexual intercourse without consent and one count of common assault.

Police allege he indecently assaulted a 17-year-old boy in Meroo Meadow in his electorate in 2013 and sexually assaulted a 27-year-old man in Sydney in 2015.

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Mr Ward says he is innocent of the charges.

MP says he has a 'full diary'

Mr Ward said the community was still pleased to deal with him.

"I have a full diary, I still have people coming to see me to assist with issues," he said.

"I have been able to secure grants from departments, secure outcomes for residents, I am still working with all my local councils."

[Audio: Gareth Ward]

Government members have made several announcements in his seat about major infrastructure projects without his presence during his suspension.

But Mr Ward denied he had been excluded.

He said he was with Minister for Regional Roads Sam Farraway just recently and would be catching up with Parliamentary Secretary for Illawarra Peter Poulos next week.

Mr Ward said he was disappointed the parliament suspended him while his charges were yet to be resolved.

After the charges were laid, Premier Dominic Perrottet wanted Mr Ward "removed" from parliament and Deputy Premier Paul Toole referred the matter of his pay and conditions to a parliamentary committee.

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The committee found the government would need to enact new legislation to strip the Kiama MP of his pay and entitlements.

It also warned that any attempt to do so would likely be "vulnerable" to a legal challenge.

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Mr Ward justified his continued full salary, despite the government's attempts to remove his pay.

"They [politicians] only spend about 16 weeks in parliament, so if you are suggesting that members of parliament should only be paid for that portion of time that they spend in parliament, there's a lot of MPs that will be taking a salary cut as well," he said.

Mr Ward could resign and trigger a by-election and re-enter parliament if successful, but he said the community did not want to head to the polls.

"That would be an exercise in futility because what you assume is that the parliament wouldn't just seek to suspend me straight away," he said.

"And I know there are a lot of members that are not comfortable with the decision of the parliament because they told me.

"And I think a by-election is the last thing they [the community] need."

Mr Ward's matter returns to court in August.

Numbers tight in parliament

After the Independent Commission Against Corruption made corruption findings against Drummoyne MP John Sidoti, the Premier said he could move to suspend him.

Mr Sidoti has said he would fight to clear his name and had instructed his lawyers to lodge an application in the Supreme Court.

The move could push the government further into minority.

It needs 47 seats to be in majority, but only has 45 and relies on the three independents to pass legislation.

If Mr Sidoiti was suspended the government would require support from the Greens or the Speaker Jonathan O'Dea's casting vote.

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