On the 20th anniversary of Tony Fitzgerald’s landmark corruption inquiry in Queensland, the spectre of official corruption and improper behaviour is again taking centre stage. The dust is now settling from a turbulent week in Queensland, with clear lessons for any vendor planning to sell to government.
Last week, Brisbane hosted the second ond Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference. The conference was organised by Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) together with New South Wales’ Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission.
This should have been a time to reflect on how far government probity has come since the Tony Fitzgerald inquiry revealed institutionalised corruption in Queensland. Instead, the conference fanned burning embers of concern.
The week started with public statements from Tony Fitzgerald that Queensland was sliding into its dark past. Government access, he said, “can now be purchased, patronage is dispensed, mates and supporters are appointed and retired politicians exploit their connections”.
The following day Premier Anna Bligh described the success fees enjoyed by some Queensland lobbyists as “obscene”.
Later in the week Premier Bligh referred to the CMC, allegations that former Labor Treasurer and Deputy Premier Terry Mackenrorth had improperly influenced land rezoning.
The week ended with former Premier Wayne Goss supporting Tony Fitzgerald. "Some things have happened in recent times that have shown standards have slipped", he said.
Other such allegations came on top of last week’s revelations:
- Former Beattie Minister Gordon Nuttall was recently sentenced for corruptly receiving almost $360 000 from two prominent Queensland businessmen;
- Two weeks ago, a report from the CMC implicated 25 police officers in misconduct including: accessing confidential information, accepting gifts and payments from an informant, enabling a prisoner to circumvent the official prison telephone system, and offering rewards for confessions relating to offences.
Queensland is not the only government to feel the recent blowtorch over improper process. The Federal Government is about to receive a report from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) into the “Ute-gate” affair. A leaked fake email has embarrassed the Federal Opposition leader as he pounced too quickly to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Recent inquires are focussing on whether a government official improperly leaked information to senior members of the Federal Opposition. Investigations by ANAO and Australian Federal Police into the affair are likely to keep the issue alive for some time.
Newly elected federal ALP president, Anna Bligh has now announced a ban on Queensland MPs attending party fundraisers with businesspeople in an attempt to stem negative perceptions about the ability of business interests to buy political influence through political donations.
Recent events have brought back into focus the need for vendors to take particular care about probitiy requirements in any dealings with government. It is not worth the risk to corporate reputation and possible litigation to do otherwise.
Against the backdrop of last week's turbulence it's worth reflecting again on the theme of the conference “Taking Responsibility and Fighting Complacency”.