Ruthless spin doctors and complaisant media can be a tragic mix
We don’t want to obsess about a death, but the political and media
issues raised by the suicide of the former CEO of Queensland
electricity utility Energex Greg Maddock continue to warrant attention.

Last night the story finally made the teevs in Brisbane. It had
appeared in the newspaper, so it was real. Pathetic.
Maddock died on Friday.

His death had been reported in the Sunday Mail – but all that coyly said was:

“Tributes have poured in for Greg Maddock, the head of the State
Government-owned power distributor Energex, who died suddenly on Friday.

“Mr Maddock, 50, was found dead at Brisbane’s Wilston railway station
about 1pm. Police said there were no suspicious circumstances.

“Premier Peter Beattie yesterday passed on his condolences to Mr Maddock’s widow Lyn and their two daughters…”

It took until Wednesday for fact that Maddock had taken his own life to
appear in Queensland’s main paper, the Courier Mail – five full days –
and then the lead of that story was “Energex chief executive Greg Maddock was under investigation for
alleged misuse of public funds when he committed suicide last week, it
can be revealed…” Read it all here.

Finally, today, some specifics of those allegations have appeared – Energex boss ‘backed’ expenses:

The Government investigation into late Energex chief executive Greg
Maddock’s expenses centred on disputed expenditure of about $30,000 on
building improvements and new furnishings for his home at Ashgrove in
Brisbane’s northwest,” the Courier Mail reports.

Mr Maddock insisted he had been entitled to the expenses as part of
his package to relocate from Sydney to Brisbane in 2001, although the
money was spent last year.

It is believed he was backed by Energex chairman Don Nissen, who had
approved the outlays and continued to defend Mr Maddock in the face of
an investigation by Treasury officials.

They delivered preliminary findings last Thursday to Treasurer Terry
Mackenroth, the day before Mr Maddock took his own life. Friends
yesterday rallied to the defence of his memory, describing him as a man
of the highest integrity…

Auditor-General Len Scanlan initially queried Mr Maddock’s expenses
last month in the wake of the Somerville inquiry into Queensland’s
troubled power distribution network.

He referred the matter to Mr Mackenroth, who in turn consulted Mr
Nissen. The Courier-Mail understands that Mr Nissen informed the
Treasurer that he had approved the expenses for Mr Maddock, which were
in accordance with both Mr Maddock’s contract and standard corporate
practice…”

Given the controversy surrounding the administration of electricity in
Queensland, surely it would have been in the public interest – and
fairer to Maddock – if the Beattie, Mackenroth or Energy Minister John
Mickel had made some statement, no matter how routine, on the matter.

A Queensland energy insider certainly shares this view:

“Silence is golden, so they say, and the
Queensland Government’s failure to clear up the Auditor-General’s
“investigations” into Greg Maddock’s re-location allowances when the
issue was first raised exposes its political tactics as a grubby
attempt to place a cloud over Maddock’s head and refocus attention away
from the pressure it had placed Maddock under.

“What we know is that Maddock’s expenditure was entirely consistent
with the package deal negotiated with him to lure him to Queensland in
the first place. This is certainly the message we get when we’re
told that Energex Chairman, Don Nissen, approved the deal and
expenditure. So unless Nissen is lying, then there’s no reason to
think that Maddock was doing anything wrong.

“In all probability, the Government knew of the package when it was
negotiated back in 2001, and if they didn’t you’d have to wonder why
they didn’t take more interest in executive remunerations after having
had run ins with then Energex Chairman Colin Popple over the bonus
payments to former CEO Brian Blinco.

“In any case, the Government, when asked two days ago about Maddock’s
$30,000 spend, should have categorically explained that questions were
asked by the Auditor, but investigations proved that there was nothing
untoward. End of story.

“The fact that the Government spinners and Premier chose to hide behind
the veil of faux respect created a vacuum in which speculation could
flourish. As a result, a cloud was put right over the top of
Maddock’s head without anybody in the Government having to say anything!

“The Government’s tactic of silence was a calculated effort to allow
innuendo to enter into the public domain and to take the heat off the
Government. When Maddock was alive, the Government tried to blame
him and then gagged him from defending himself. In his death, they are
surreptitiously besmirching his reputation to gain political
protection. How low can these people sink?”

Low. It didn’t stop Beattie from being sanctimonious yesterday.

“There were some matters that the auditor-general raised with the
Government, and the Government has taken appropriate action in relation
to those matters,” Beattie said. “I don’t want today anything
further than that at the moment out of respect to the widow, and out of
respect to the family, but at the appropriate time I will report to the
parliament.”

“At the appropriate time, when these matters are reported to
parliament by the auditor general and myself, all that information will
be released,” Beattie said to journalists “under intense scrutiny”,
according to a report carried yesterday on the Courier Mail’s site here.

The same report, though, goes on to say “but in a leaked memo to
Energex staff, Acting chief executive officer Peter Turnbull confirmed
the auditor-general had conducted a routine audit and was investigating
certain expenses.” So where did that memo come from?

It continues:

“Mr Turnbull stated in the memo the Energex chairman was not aware of any allegations of misappropriation of public money.

“Mr Maddock, the former Sydney City Council general manager, was
head-hunted for the job as boss of the south-east Queensland energy
provider in 2000.

“His body was found at Wilston railway station in Mr Beattie’s suburb.

“He was under pressure from the State Government to perform after the
release of the damning Somerville report found Energex could not
guarantee supply and its networks had fallen into neglect.

“The Government had also come under fire over the issue, with evidence
it stripped more than $600 million in profits and special dividends
from its energy utilities, including Energex.

“Mr Maddock’s funeral is on Friday.”

Pretty easy to read the story between the lines – particularly when you
add these two pars from the “Energex boss ‘backed’ expenses” story:

“Premier Peter Beattie said yesterday he could not rule out a
connection between the proximity of the scene of Mr Maddock’s suicide
at Wilston railway station and the Beattie family residence.

” ‘The facts that you raise are self-evident in terms of the station,’ an ashen-faced Mr Beattie said.”