June 24, 2014

Corruption in Queensland

Twelve months ago, a potentially tedious wait in a long slow queue from Sydney's Olympic stadium into the train station after a football match was alleviated by a chat with a man from the meejah. A former spin doctor in Canberra who probably anticipated his fate following the election that was to come, he may have had more than one axe to grind, but once he knew we were from Queensland the conversation moved quickly from sport to corruption; corruption in politics. He intimated that he knew more about Premier Campbell Newman than he was prepared to divulge: crowds have ears.

I have often cast my mind back to that chance meeting as we have moved further into the LNP's term of government in Queensland. They are not doing well in the polls, and their time may be up before they've had a chance to complete their first-term programme. There has been increasing talk lately of a return to the bad old days of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the state's longest-serving (1968 to 1987) and most corrupt leader. I do not choose to listen to shock jock Alan Jones most of the time, but his recent rants about corruption on both sides of the New South Wales-Queensland border ring alarm bells. And the chatter has intensified since the appointment of Queensland's new Chief Justice, who has prompted grumblings from normally reserved members of the judiciary, and even calls for Newman's young Attorney General to fall on his sword. The equally relatively inexperienced Chief Justice is far too close to the Government, is the gist of the argument.

My least favourite member of Campbell Newman's team, however, is his Deputy – and unfortunately also the Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning – Jeff Seeney. A less simp├ítico character would be hard to imagine. Whenever I have a feeling of unease about policy making in this State – whether it's protection of prime agricultural land or wild rivers; rail corridors to coal-exporting terminals; environmental impact statements; biodiversity offset management planning; cattle grazing in national parks; monitoring the rehabilitation of mine sites – I feel as if Mr Seeney's not far away. Not far away enough.

Last night I was saving myself for Four Corners' investigation of corruption in New South Wales* – Democracy for Sale. And so it was that I missed an item** on 7.30 that is even more disturbing.

Briefly, in the introductory words of excellent presenter Sarah Ferguson:
A group of Queensland farmers has been fighting for years to stop what they claim is illegal quarrying in the Upper Brisbane River which is eroding their properties, causing millions of dollars in damage. The quarrying company involved [Karreman Quarries] is one of Queensland's biggest and is run by a wealthy businessman who's also a donor to the state's Liberal National Party government. Now 7.30 has learned that an investigation into the farmers' complaints came to a sudden halt because of a last-minute, unannounced change to the law by the Newman Government. The change came after the company raised the issue with the Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, who subsequently ordered his department to draw up and backdate legislation that made prosecution of the company impossible. 
Now read the Queensland Government's response to the story, an attempt to defend the indefensible and rewrite history at the same time†. Perhaps my spin doctor friend has moved interstate.

If you're getting a taste for the subject, try this††. It's maybe best accompanied by a generous glass of a decent wine.

An informative night's television was rounded off for me by Q&A. (I am about as far from a telly addict as it's possible to be, and Monday night is more often than not the highlight of my week's viewing.) Week after week on this programme panellists and audience members alike bemoan the disillusionment and alienation of the citizens of this supposedly democratic system. Last night, however, the usual mix of left and right pollies, a voice of reason, and specialist-subject guests from the worlds of business, economics, the arts, science or education was transcended by a genuine attempt to progress a discussion about alternative methods of engagement. Albeit too short; but it was a start.

You'll have noticed that all these programmes are on the same channel. What would we do without the ABC as we know it? Hands off, OneTermTony.

* catch it at http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2014/06/23/4028997.htm for a while or read the transcript
** http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2014/s4031512.htm
† http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201406/r1293509_17624940.pdf
†† http://www.couriermail.com.au/business/australian-water-holdings-big-qld-push-ties-from-premier-campbell-newman-to-ipswich-mayor-paul-pisasale/story-fnihsps3-1226900033149


  1. Everyday, this State and Federal government makes me shake my head.

    I just don't understand why rural folk keep voting for the National party though? Surely the Greens match their land use needs better?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I think people in rural communities and farmers are traditionally not politically motivated, or they're on the conservative side. The Greens here tend to be considered left-wing extremists rather than as a reasonable alternative, as they are in Europe, so I guess that's why they don't go down well in the bush.
    I agree that it seems as if most days lately there are revelations or developments that cause great unease as far as ethical governance is concerned.