Campbell Newman has lost a minister and a hand-picked departmental head. His regret is sincere, but nobody else seems to know what they’ve done wrong.
Former Queensland treasurer Andrew Fraser tweeted on Friday that he’d walked past Campbell Newman’s electorate office and the Premier, talking on his mobile, didn’t appear to be in a good mood.
As Fraser no doubt meant to imply, Newman’s agitation must have been related to the resignation of arts, science and IT minister Ros Bates. Bates, who has been plagued by allegations that she met lobbyists at a lunch, now reframed as “pre-lobbying”, resigned for health reasons.
The Gold Coast MP has been a thorn in the government’s side almost from its inception. She fired a senior bureaucrat for providing a parliamentary speech which had been delivered by her Labor predecessor, but more seriously, was enveloped in a scandal about the appointment of her 25-year-old son Ben Gommers to a well-paid public service position in the Department of Transport and Main Roads. Gommers, Bates and the Premier’s hand-picked director-general of Transport and Main Roads, Michael Caltabiano, had all been associated with lobbying firm Entrée Vous.
Caltabiano, a former Liberal MP and city councillor, denies he ever worked for the firm.
Appointed by Newman even before his cabinet was sworn in, Caltabiano was sacked from his job on Friday. He had been on paid leave after being subject to both parliamentary and Crime and Misconduct Commission investigations, accused of misleading Parliament about his lobbying affiliation. The engineer also made news early in the Liberal National Party’s term by taking leave for a business trip to Germany.
Since Bates resigned from the ministry on Friday, further allegations have been made that an officer in her department was touting for bribes ahead of the government’s outsourcing of IT services. Additionally, Kaye Martin, once described in the House by Bates as a “close friend”, was found to be both a director of Screen Queensland and acting as a $1500-a-day consultant to the arts entity. Martin has now distanced herself from Bates and did the former minister no favours through her recalcitrance about resigning.
All this is a mess, and various CMC investigations continue.
Newman appeared petulant in a press conference, claiming journalists had forgotten the good work he and his ministers did in the recent floods. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion these trials are of Newman’s own making.
Bates was included in the ministry initially for factional reasons, not on ability. Newman argued Caltabiano’s appointment was justified by his abilities, yet there was no due process.
The Premier continues to lament the fact that friends, associates and those with LNP connections come under fire for appointments to boards and jobs. His frustration that the image of his government is coloured by these kerfuffles and scandals is sincere.
But the apparent inability of players like Bates and Martin to understand they have done anything wrong is at the heart of the issue. It’s not just legal requirements for accountability and transparency that are at stake, but an attitude which appears dismissive of probity.
Until that is remedied, it can safely be predicted the Premier, who wanted to start 2013 with a clean slate, will be making more agitated phone calls.
*Dr Mark Bahnisch is a fellow of the Centre for Policy Development and a Brisbane-based social and political analyst