How’s your conscience, Mr Beattie?
Staff of Queensland electricity utility Energex have rallied to the defence of their late CEO Greg Maddock, with tribute ads in The Australian, The Financial Review and The Age. Maddock’s funeral is being held today.

Rory Callinan from The Australian reports extensively on the matter in – Beattie
sweats over suicidal energy boss

The saga, which has damaged the Government’s standing with the state
public sector, could worsen for the Government at today’s funeral where
Mr Maddock’s wife Lynette and other friends and colleagues are expected
to give an insight into his state of mind before his death,” Callinan
writes.

Premier Peter Beattie this week confirmed an investigation into Mr
Maddock’s expenses was under way but refused to provide detail or
comment on their veracity, an approach at odds with Energex’s acting
chief executive Peter Turnbull.

Mr Turnbull sent an email supporting Mr Maddock to all Energex staff
stating that Energex chairman Don Nissen had not been aware of any
allegation of misappropriation.

Yesterday, a high-placed government source backed Energex’s stance on
the issue, saying the expenses were in lieu of a $100,000 performance
bonus which Mr Beattie had publicly threatened to strip from Mr Maddock
over Energex’s poor performance. But the bonuses were written into Mr
Maddock’s contract – a fact which he then made known to the Energex
board, according to the source.

The board then authorised an expenses component to compensate Mr
Maddock for the lost bonuses which related to $30,000 spent on house
renovations – expenditure which was then queried by Mr Scanlan.

Mr Maddock had insisted he was entitled to the funds as part of his
contract after being head-hunted from his role as general manager of
the Sydney City Council in 2000.

He was backed in this belief by Mr Nissen who approved the
expenditures and continued to defend Mr Maddock, prompting government
critics to call the investigation a witch-hunt.

But Mr Beattie yesterday categorically denied the investigation was a witch-hunt.

‘We never pursue people personally, we don’t pursue witch-hunts and we never will while I’m Premier,’ he said.

Oh yeah? Talk from Queensland is that we are seeing the dark side of media tarting.

State Treasury officials are furious at what they see as political
misuse of their material on Maddock and Energex – furious and powerless
to act.

There is a very widespread feeling that the Brisbane Courier-Mail has been reluctant to move on the story and is simply following a government line.

The circumstances of Maddock’s death last Friday have also created
ethical dilemmas for journalists, and constrained the early coverage it
received on the ABC and Seven bulletins on Saturday night.
However, local political and media insiders are also pointing to a
culture of intimidation from the government.

Public servants, academics, scientists and members of advocacy groups
in Queensland do not just feel constrained in what they can say to the
media – particularly if they receive any money from the state
government. They complain of an active culture of threats and
bullying that prevents them from producing any material that could be
seen as critical of Premier Peter Beattie or his government.

The problem is not restricted to Queensland. Press secs across
the country increasingly act as heavies and manipulators rather than
conduits for information. This behaviour, however, is worst in
one-newspaper towns like Brisbane. Pressies aim to set media
agendas each morning with soft stories placed in The Courier-Mail and
hope that talk and the teevs will feed of them for the rest of the
day. When they don’t, the press secs turn feral.

Beattie might say there has been no witch-hunt. He cannot deny,
however, that he runs a sophisticated spin machine – and that this is
how it works.

Energex has clearly been an organisation under enormous political
pressure because it was generating bad news for his government.
Yes, the Somerville Report into Queensland’s electricity service did
find the state’s energy network was so degraded it was incapable of
guaranteeing supply – but some of this was due to the way in which
Energex had been skimmed and gutted by the Beattie Government.
Could Maddock and his staff speak out?

How many other people in Queensland are afraid of the Government – and
how honest is the Premier’s claim that “we don’t pursue witch-hunts and
we never will”.

Today’s a good day to think about the issue.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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