tip off

Hold the phone, Newman brought scandal onto himself

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

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  • 1
    beachcomber
    Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    The National Party never believed the findings of the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption in Queensland in the 1980’s.
    The Liberal Party has been a dysfunctional and divided rabble since even before that, too focussed on internal battles to care about corruption, or even seeking power.
    Campbell Newman was in Tasmania or the Army during the 1980’s, and would have had minimal interest in Queensland affairs. His inability to understand the problems nepotism and cronyism caused the conservative parties shows he is not much of a student of history either.
    The formation of the LNP was forced on the conservative parties by Optional Preferential Voting, which ensured Labor would win any 3 cornered contests.
    However merging the dysfunctional Liberals with their enemies in the National Party was always going to be full of problems.
    The first of those is perks like Ministerial positions and cushy jobs in the Public Service and Ministers Offices.
    With 3 Ministers losing their jobs in less than a year, 3 LNP MPs leaving the party, and a host of Directors General, Chiefs of Staff and other advisors leaving their jobs since the LNP appointed them, it is clear things are far from smooth.
    And they haven’t started fighting over policy yet.

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Manuel’s Queensland - look “Arbeit macht frei” - above the entry gate?
    Martin (from her published account) seems to have been encouraged by fellow bored members to have taken on the consultancy job - as though they either didn’t know she was already on the trough-roll; or that such “moon-lighting” was verboten or they were there already?
    “Come on in the slops are fine!”?

  • 3
    MJPC
    Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Roll on the CMC, just in time for the Federal election. If the LNP thinks thay are going to slide over the line in NSW as a result of the ICAC revelations, what are the CMC revelations going to do north of the border?
    Barry “shotgun” O’Farrel need not gloat either, there is still some steam left in the Packer casino fiasco, CSG mining despite a great backdown, and blame on the Labour party for selling leases.

  • 4
    drmick
    Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Old Joe Bejokey would be rubbing his hands with glee. The chooks, having been fed and incredibly still on side, are suporting a mob of trash that;
    can get away with reducing emergency services in the face of floods and fires; close hospitals and sack nurses when you cant get into a hospital because they are under-bedded, short staffed and under resourced in spite of large amounts of federal government dollars given specifically to fix the hospitals problems;take away literature awards, music & art funding and then give the money saved to an unqualified son. Nothing to see here, or in NSW or in Victoria. Go Tone; we need this at a federal level.

  • 5
    Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to read that Caltabiano is gone: this was the first of a string of jobs for cronies.

  • 6
    Maria
    Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    It was very disappointing to see the string of appointments of senior-level bureaucrats without due process. It did them no favours when, just a few months later those bureaucrats were sacking staff who had been duly appointed to their roles. It amazes me that the Government can’t see what they’re doing wrong. All they have to do is read the code of conduct and get across the laws. Come on, it’s not that hard. We all have to do it.

  • 7
    TheFamousEccles
    Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s endlessly amusing that poor Campbell feels surly and put-upon when the chattering classes (thanks GeeWizz, I’ve taken a likeing to that phrase as a collective pronoun for the Press, or more accurately, the 3rd member of the coalition) dare to ask anything other than those questions approved by Rupe.

  • 8
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I reckon these Limited News Party members can only see Labor and getting back at them (Caltabiano wasn’t “misleading a committee”, he was playing games with the Labor member asking such questions) - bugger those grown-ups outside the playground?

  • 9
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 19 February 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    As we are bound to suffer Soup Newman for a couple years yet at least there’s some entertainment value in it. The best bit will be when he fails to win his own seat.

  • 10
    grubbidok
    Posted Wednesday, 20 February 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who lived in Brisbane under Newman and paid attention to local politics should have seen this coming. He sent the Council broke, instigated mass sackings, appointed cronies to plum roles and left the Council more divided than ever. Had the ALP bothered to put anyone remotely electable forward during mayoral elections instead of party hacks he wouldn’t have lasted at all. Corrupt and incompetent mayors make corrupt and incompetent premiers.

  • 11
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 20 February 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    He was so blatantly bad the Curry or Maul took to his case.

  • 12
    Elbow Patches
    Posted Thursday, 21 February 2013 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    I fear Campbell will concrete over/tunnel under all available surfaces in Queensland unless they are already being dug up for coal or gas wells. King George Square writ larger.

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