The rare highs and many lows of Kate Carnell
Crikey doesn't mind former ACT chief minister Kate Carnell. She was the local pharmacist to Mrs Crikey in Red Hill for many years and would be a preferable Senator to someone like Gerry Wheeler. But she sure has built up an impressive list of critics and this bloke, who calls himself Arthur Act, has gone in even harder than Alan Ramsey.
There is little doubt that those who cast their vote in her favour knew that her nomination for the position was a precursor to her nomination for the ACT Senate vacancy which will occur later in the year with the resignation of Senator Margaret Reid.
It can reasonably be assumed that of more than half the one hundred and seventy delegates who attended and voted for Carnell, each was casting a vote for Carnell's future political ambitions.
Ms Carnell's election is in keeping with the appalling state into which to some degree, every State and Territory Division of the Liberal Party has sunk in recent years. Accompanying a dramatic decline in membership, finance and political activity, has been a remarkable decline in the quality of people offering themselves for parliamentary preselection. Carnell's candidature epitomises the quality of current candidates.
The blatant and crude assault by Ms Carnell on Reid's seat must dismay Reid, whose career, while not having been spectacular has not been touched by the slightest whiff of scandal or impropriety. She is widely regarded as a thoroughly honourable and decent person who has achieved the distinction of being President of the Senate.
It is a career and reputation which could not contrast more vividly with the self promoting, free wheeling and outlandish Kate Carnell.
Carnell is attempting to resurrect a political career which ended in ignominy and disgrace when she was driven from the office of Chief Minister in the ACT government. It is precisely because of people such as Carnell that the Liberal Party is in opposition in every State and Territory in Australia.
In Carnell's case, she almost single handily drove the ACT Liberal government into opposition. To now wish to represent the same constituents in the Australian Senate is breathtaking in its audacity.
By any measure, Ms Carnell's political career has been controversial and checkered. On December 7, 1997, Carnell, then the Chief Minister of the ACT government rolled her motor vehicle just outside the border of the ACT while returning to Canberra from a social function at a winery. Carnell left the scene of the accident. The New South Wales police arrived at the scene shortly after Carnell had left it. A male friend travelling behind her brought her back to her Canberra office.
Carnell was not breathalysed because having left the scene of the accident and returned to Canberra, she was no longer within the jurisdiction of the New South Wales police.
In a quaint irony, Ms Carnell was subsequently appointed to the Board of the NRMA. In an election which was required for her further membership of the Board, she was dumped from the Board. On the occasion of a subsequent casual vacancy caused by the resignation of another Board member who had been popularly elected, Carnell was again appointed to the Board. She recently resigned ahead of an election in which it was anticipated that she would again be defeated.
The male friend who was following Carnell from the winery and who drove her to her office, was local real estate agent and land developer, Derek Whitcombe. Crikey does not intend and nor is any inference to be drawn that Whitcombe had a curious and potentially, very beneficial relationship with the ACT Liberal government and Carnell in particular.
On 18 December 1997, Carnell signed a secret Cabinet submission recommending an exclusive joint-venture land deal in which her government would give Whitcombe rights to develop a large package of land on the ACT-NSW border at Hall. Carnell was not the relevant responsible Minister and officers of the local planning authority had advised against developing the land.
The recommendation was considered at a Cabinet meeting on December 22. The submission caused an acrimonious debate among the Ministers with fierce objection to the submission from a number of Ministers.
In spite of the division that the proposal had created at Cabinet, on 13 January 1998, three days before going into official caretaker mode for the February ACT elections, the ACT government signed a Preliminary Agreement with Mr Whitcombe in his capacity as a director of a shelf company he had set up on January 6.
The leaked Cabinet submission disclosed that Ms Carnell had committed the government to an exclusive deal with Whitcombe even though he had not lodged a formal application for development as required under the ACT Land Act. This agreement was in direct conflict with previous Cabinet decisions which recommended against joint ventures in favour of open tender.
Remarkably, no checks on the financial status of the developer, no assessment of the risks to the government, no probity checks and apparently, no land-title search had been undertaken before the agreement was entered into and Carnell drove it through Cabinet.
At a committee meeting called urgently on May 8 to brief other Assembly members, bureaucrats were unable to explain why or how it had all happened. As late as February, officials of the government's planning office appeared to know nothing of the deal.
At the next Assembly sitting day, May 19, the Chief Minister's explanation for entering into an exclusive deal with Whitcombe was that he had exclusive authority over the land in question. Carnell claimed that it was only on May 15 that the government had learnt that development rights over the leases rested in fact with the Government. Ms Carnell said that as a consequence, Whitcombe had withdrawn from the arrangement.
This appears to contradict Government correspondence to Hall residence on the NSW-ACT border over the previous year which showed the Government was aware of the status of the leases. That is also indicated in the Cabinet submission.
Pressed in the Assembly by Labor, Carnell released the termination document signed between the Government and Whitcombe. The document had not been signed on May 19, as Carnell had led people to believe, but rather, hastily on May 28, the day the Opposition demanded it be tabled in the Assembly.
More public and at a personal level, more tragic, was the decision by Carnell's government to turn the implosion of the Canberra hospital in July 1997 into a public spectacle with the public encouraged to attend and watch the occasion. The incident resulted in the death of twelve year old Katie Bender, struck by flying debris.
The Coroner found that Ms Carnell was not responsible for the death of Katie Bender, however what did indirectly lead to her death was the propensity of the Carnell Government to indulge in bread and circuses. The Coroner concluded that Carnell's office had been cavalier in its attitude to the warnings from a health union about the possible dangers of some aspects of the proposed implosion.
He stated that "the evidence on this topic leads me to conclude that Ms Carnell was poorly briefed and advised on this subject matter. The quality of the reply to the HSUA was sacrificed in the interests of speed and expediency."
The event which did cause Ms Carnell to be driven from office was Canberra's Bruce Stadium scandal. Carnell resigned rather than face the inevitable motion of no confidence which was proposed due to the massive blow out in costs of Bruce Stadium.
This fiasco was the sole responsibility of Chief Minister Carnell. In his twelve volume report, the ACT Auditor-General, Mr John Parkinson described the submissions taken to Cabinet by her as "inaccurate", "incomplete", "unbalanced" and "unreliable."
Carnell claimed that the cost of the Stadium was to be $12.3 million in public funds and that an additional $15 million would be derived from the private sector It now appears that the 110,000 ACT ratepayers have been left by Carnell with a bill of $82 million.
As was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time, the Auditor-General found that Ms Carnell's estimated $27.3 million cost was based on notional sketches only and never subjected to analysis, assessments or review. No private funding had been promised, and none was offered. Funds were being drawn into the fiasco at such a rate that by 1998, money was being spent that had not been appropriated.
The ACT Auditor-General also found that an overnight loan for $9.7 million from the Commonwealth Bank signed by Ms Carnell, was illegal.
To add insult to injury, the Canberra residents did not get the additional minimum 3,600 covered seats promised, but rather just 1600.
This bread and circus mentality at any price also extends to a V8 car race series, a Futsal slab on which no games of Futsal has ever been played and a Wedding Chapel.
Whatever the dream of the international futsal (a five a side soccer) slab, it did not eventuate in the way Carnell had envisaged. Built directly down the road from the front door of Parliament House, it now appropriately hosts circuses.
Carnell committed $17 million of ACT Government funds to staging five V8 car races around the Parliamentary Zone. This fiasco was accompanied by the usual extravagant claims. Four hundred million homes throughout the world were going to be watching Canberra on television. Tourists were to be arriving in their jumbo loads from every corner of the world pouring millions of dollars into the local economy. The Auditor General found no evidence of the race being shown internationally anywhere.
The ACT Auditor-General reported on the costly flirtation with V8 car racing earlier this year. Rather than the $52 million that Carnell initially claimed the five races would provide to the ACT economy, the Auditor-General found that the series would cost the ACT taxpayers $29 million after just three of the races had been staged, the last being in June this year. His most telling point was that "all financial risks from the races are borne by Canberra Tourism and Events Corporation and therefore ACT taxpayers."
The Carnell government entered into an open ended agreement with the promoters which placed all risk and financial responsibility onto the ACT taxpayers. Upon obtaining office and learning of the full financial implications of Carnell's agreement, the Labor government recently cancelled the Supercar contract, paid a $2 million penalty and settled with the promoters rather than have the taxpayers incur further very substantial losses.
At one stage Carnell was promoting the building of a mock wedding chapel on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. The wedding chapel was designed like an American prairie church. It was to attract Japanese brides. Carnell boasted that Canberra would benefit from a $30 million industry by attracting brides who could then be photographed draped over national icons like the National Gallery.
She was competing with Hawaii, the Gold Coast and Sydney Harbour which are the favoured destinations of Japanese couples wanting to "remarry" in western style weddings. For obvious reasons - not the least Canberra's weather, the whole thing fell over.
Having been driven from office for conduct and behaviour which did not meet the minimum standards of the ACT's miniature parliament, Ms Carnell now wishes to ascend to the national parliament. There has been no evidence from any of her public utterances at least to the knowledge of the writer that she has any regrets, remorse or contrition for her past failings, least of all for the massive debt legacy which she left the very constituents she now wishes to again represent.
If a failed provincial politician who has already once been driven from office by the representatives of the people of Canberra is the best Liberal that is available to represent the people of the National Capital in the National parliament, may we need ponder why the Liberal Party has been dumped from government in every State and Territory in Australia.
ends Feedback: Margaret Reid was no saint
whoever wrote that crap about Margaret Reid:
"The blatant and crude assault by Ms Carnell on Reid's seat must dismay Reid, whose career, while not having been spectacular has not been touched by the slightest whiff of scandal or impropriety. She is widely regarded as a thoroughly honourable and decent person who has achieved the distinction of being President of the Senate"
is either one -eyed (most-likely) or stupid. Perhaps your 'correspondent's should have asked about Reid's massive use of travel. Or perhaps her utter abandonment of her constituents in the ACT when she sat back and let the midget gut Canberra.....
In Arthur Act's favour - at least he got it right on Kate Carnell.