Harwin reinstated to Cabinet after COVID fine dropped
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has reinstated Don Harwin to Cabinet, despite declaring in April she was "disappointed" by his decision to travel to his beach house.
Harwin resigned as Arts minister on April 15, just days after police fined him $1000 for travelling between Sydney and his Pearl Beach bolthole during strict coronavirus travel bans.
But he challenged the fine in court and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions sensationally withdrew it in Gosford Local Court this morning.
Ms Berejiklian issued a statement welcoming him back to her cabinet.
"Now that he has been cleared, it is appropriate that he return to cabinet," she said.
"Mr Harwin has always assured me that he did not break the rules."
In April, when The Daily Telegraph revealed Mr Harwin was at his beach house, Ms Berejiklian ordered him back to Sydney declaring she was "disappointed".
At the time, she said she believed he was still "technically" within the rules, but police issued a fine 24 hours later.
Ms Berejiklian said at the time it was important Ministers "be seen" to be doing the right thing by the public.
NSW Police commissioner Mick Fuller signed off on the fine in April before it was issued and today said he stood by that decision.
"I reviewed the circumstances of the incident at the time, and I stand by my decision to proceed with a Penalty Infringement Notice," he said in a statement today.
"The discontinuation of the case by the ODPP is a matter for them."
The ODPP also released a statement today claiming police fined Harwin without enough evidence to stack up the charge in court.
"A decision was made to discontinue the charge following a review of the available evidence," the statement said.
"The applicable Public Health Order in its terms did not restrict a person to a single place of residence. The evidence was unable to establish that Mr Harwin left his place of residence without a reasonable excuse as provided by the Public Health Order."
The ODPP had been called to explain why it applied to have Harwin's case brought forward to today, when an October 28 listing had already been scheduled.
"Once a decision has been made to discontinue a matter, it is this Office's practice to seek the next available listing date," the department said in today's statement.
A prosecutor, Ms Owen, for the ODPP appeared via audiovisual link court today, telling Magistrate Peter Barnett: "I seek to withdraw that matter, your honour".
Mr Barnett replied: "I can't stop you, it's withdrawn … he's discharged".
Mr Harwin was not required to show up to hear the fine dismissed, nor did he need to sit with his lawyer for the hearing.
Mr Barnett asked Harwin's solicitor Nicholas Stewart, who also appeared via AVL, whether Mr Harwin was with him.
"He's not your honour," Mr Stewart said.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard sought to defend the wording of the health orders today, after Harwin successfully beat them.
Every citizen is entitled to have his or her day in court," Mr Hazzard said.
"All I will say is that people should comply with the health orders. We have rights as citizens of a democracy to challenge.
"Health orders are drafted with the assistance of lawyers and parliamentary counsel. Every citizen has the right to have it reviewed. I welcome that."
Customer Services Minister Victor Dominello welcomed the DPP's decision to rescind the fine against Mr Harwin.
"I'm pleased that Mr Harwin has gone through that process and I'm pleased for him for the result. What happens thereafter is a matter for the premier," he said.
It comes as Mr Dominello today announced that the government would be ramping up its screening of businesses who were not compliant with health orders.
"Last month was about educating them. This month we will put pressure on businesses to make sure they were compliant," he said.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman, who oversees the ODPP, told The Telegraph this week he had no involvement with the handling of Harwin's case.
"Neither I nor anyone on my behalf has communicated with a court, the police or then DPP about Mr Harwin's matter," he said in a statement to the Telegraph.
In parliament last month, Mr Speakman defended his decision to have conversations with Harwin after his colleague's resignation from cabinet.
"My role as Attorney-General is not to give legal advice and I do not give formal legal advice. However, as a member of this parliament, I am concerned from time to time about the welfare of my colleagues," Mr Speakman said.
"Of course after a minister - now a former minister - faces a tumultuous time, as a concerned colleague I will have conversations with that colleague and inquire after his welfare and wellbeing."
Originally published as Harwin reinstated to Cabinet after COVID fine dropped