Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Newmania: Existential Politics

Sshhh. Don’t ask – it’s Secret Squirrel Government Business!

The thing about keeping just about anything in the dark is that eventually, it’ll develop an old, cold, mildewy smell, like damp ugg boots left in the cupboard during a humid summer.

If it smells rotten, it probably is. It’s a whole series of things that are rotten, and this time it’s not policy, jobs being cut, programmes slashed and facilities closed, although that continues to provide a unique stench. This time the brutality of bringing the state “back on track” is drowned out by a series of internal events effecting the Government, the Public Service and the LNP itself.

This morning, Graeme Hallett spoke to the media, starting with some flattering words for his former boss. Those words were ineptitude and arrogance. Mr Hallett should be good with words; he was Minister Flegg’s media advisor, and long time Liberal Party staffer who had also worked with the Howard Government, and with Dr Flegg when he was campaigning in 2006. Mr Hallett has some credibility, and contacts in the media. He’s promised documentary evidence to prove that his former boss is unfit for high public office.

The allegation is that Mr Flegg’s son Johnathon, who is a lobbyist, has made over 50 calls to the Minister’s office. These activities need to be logged in a register, which according to Mr Hallett, shows only a couple of instances. To further confuse matters, Minister Flegg stated during the budget estimates process that there had been a handful of occasions of contact.

So is it a couple of times? Half a dozen times? Fifty times? And seriously, who cares?

We all should care. Lobbyists, by definition have an agenda, and when one lobbyist makes multiple visits to a Minister’s office, the agenda will make its way into the conversation.

Does it matter that the Minister and lobbyist in question are father and son? I believe it does. Do you pop in to see your father and his cronies at his workplace four or five times a week? Does your Mum call in regularly to discuss her work with you and your staff? In the case of Minister and lobbyist, you’d think both parties would be making a singular effort to ensure that everything is correct, and is seen to be correct, particularly in a new government from the party who brought us the most corrupt government Australia has ever…er…caught.

Consider the surface of Doctor Flegg’s little Ministry well and truly scratched. It may be Mr Hallett who is speaking out this morning; Flegg also sacked his Chief of Staff last Thursday, and just yesterday, Education Minister John Paul Langbroek sacked his assistant, who had previously worked for Flegg. Three staffers from the one Minister’s office sacked in under a week is not coincidence, and one of them is pissed off enough to gather documents on his way out the door and distribute them to media. What do the other two know?

Then there are the rumours about Right To Information documentation. King Campbell has issued a royal decree that ministerial staff are not to be issuing documents requested under Right To Information laws. In fact, King Campbell stated that such requests were to be referred to the relevant Department for assessment and action. Daniel Hurst reported in the Brisbane Times that Minister’s Flegg’s media staff had made some RTI decisions in contradiction to King Campbell’s orders.
Even more intriguing is the suggestion that the RTI requests in question were made by Opposition Leader Annastasia Palasczcuk, and that the information she had requested related to the register lobby – and that the register was factually incorrect.

It doesn’t stop there. Mr Hallett has stated that Dr Flegg continued to practice as a medical doctor while being paid to work as a full-time Minister, a choice which Mr Hallett says he begged Minister Flegg to reconsider. I doubt that’s illegal; it’s just bad form.

Minister Flegg has addressed Mr Hallett's accusations in Parliament today. According to Minister Flegg, it’s just a disgruntled former employee who’s taking his bitterness out on his former boss, and his documentary evidence is inconclusive. It’s a predictable response, but at least it’s not violent. These days, disgruntled ex-employees are usually associated with mass shootings in the USA.

It’s unlikely we’ll get to see any footage of Minister Flegg’s speech though; Speaker Fiona Simpson has banned television cameras from the Chamber.

…and now Henry Palasczcuk, former Labor Minister and father of the Leader of the Opposition, is paraphrasing songs from Evita and tweeting whole verses. Can this day get any stranger?

You bet it can, ‘cause today, Minister Ros Bates is in Da House. Minister Bates has been off work, recovering from shoulder surgery and providing emotional support to her hapless son, 25 year old Ben Gommers. Ben lucked into a parliamentary liaison role on a six figure salary, but has recently been off work, suffering from depression. Mr Gommers works for the Department of Transport and Main Roads. Their Director-General, Michael Caltabiano, is still suspended on full pay while the Crime and Misconduct Commission investigate his involvement in lobbying firm Entrez Vous where Minister Bates and Mr Gommers were co-directors.

Aaah yes, Newmania’s infamous Crime and Misconduct Commission is investigating the conduct of two Ministers, a Director General, and a minister’s son, and the relationships between them. I suppose they will be well practised when Minister Flegg, his lobbyist son and his unhappy staff come before the CMC, as they most probably will. If there’s a CMC left.

What’s that you say? King Campbell is slowly, quietly, dismantling the CMC?

Welcome to Newmania, where there is no Upper House to temper the excesses of the Newmanian government (or any other government). In this parliament, there’s almost no Opposition either (and they’ve been evicted from their offices in Parliament House and relocated down the road). Mercifully, the media is still welcome, but not with their cameras pointed at the chamber, and not in their former tea room. There are cutbacks everywhere.

The people of Newmania need the CMC more than ever. Since July, there has been a headcount reduction of at least 44 through voluntary redundancy, plus 13 forced redundancies last week. That’s about 15% of their workforce gone, at a time when they already had cases queuing for investigation, and when the CMC itself is being investigated by a panel appointed by King Campbell. So now we have the CMC, an “impartial” government agency, being investigated by the Government, while simultaneously investigating
the government. I can't see that ending well.

And Mr Hallett couldn’t take his concerns to the CMC, because the CMC is under instruction to dismiss complaints which are politically driven.

Thank god there’s a Committee of the Legislative Assembly Ethics Committee to oversee the ethical conduct of members. LNP members outnumber Labor members 5-2 on the Ethics Committee, but that’s less unbalanced than the ratio of LNP to Labor in the actual parliament, so we shouldn’t complain, right? It’s not like the LNP is running Queensland entirely without opposition or oversight.

BREAKING: Minister Bates has confirmed that her son’s flatmate is working as an advisor in her office. I’m tempted to add “der”.

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