Queenslanders never like to do anything by halves. So the Sunshine State contribution to the week of Labor sleaze was quickly followed up over the weekend by another scandal involving a former Minister.
Merri Rose lost her seat at the 2004 election after being dumped from Cabinet at the outset of the campaign. Rose was subject, like former Health Minister Gordon Nuttall, to a Crime and Misconduct Commission investigation, and will face court on Friday. The charges are believed to relate to intimidation of a senior public servant in an attempt to get a government job. The former MP is alleged to have threatened to go public with “dirt” on the public servant and the Beattie government unless her wishes were accommodated.
Ironically, both Rose and Nuttall have form on bullying. Rose had to face several claims of bullying staff when she was Tourism Minister, and bullying of whistleblowers was at the centre of the Patel scandal which led to Nuttall’s fall from grace.
Beattie can at least comfort himself that both former Ministers are gone from Parliament, unlike Orkopoulos in NSW and Marlborough in Western Australia. Acting Premier Anna Bligh appeared frustrated at the reappearance of these ghosts from the past, just as election watchers were surprised at Nuttall’s odd appearance in the tally room when the Beattie government was re-elected in September.
Although there are disparate issues at stake in each Ministerial scandal, there are a couple of common threads. The first is that all, in one way or another, involve a seeming arrogance by Labor figures entailing a belief that they can get away with anything. Beattie could again claim that both Rose and Nuttall were appointed to the Ministry before he consolidated his position in 2001 and could exercise more control over Cabinet selections, but whether in WA, Queensland or NSW, the question about the quality of Ministerial appointments is a valid one.
The second common theme is that all the scandals have been exposed by court proceedings or those of investigative bodies like the CMC. Weak conservative oppositions have not claimed these scalps. The fact that both Nuttall and Rose, when in Parliament, could hang around long after they became political liabilities is symptomatic. The best the Queensland opposition could serve up last weekend was a demand that Beattie come back from overseas to take personal charge, which he easily batted away.
Weak oppositions lead to a lack of accountability and thus complacency in state governments. Hence the wave of Labor sleaze.