“There is a dirty little secret in Queensland now,” Hedley Thomas writes in The Australian this morning. “But the people in a position to spell it out, Premier Peter Beattie and his wife Heather, are running a self-serving PR strategy while leaving the rest of the state in the dark.”

The secret’s all to do with the Merri Rose matter – the case of the tourism minister who was forced to resign in 2004 over claims she bullied staff and who appeared in court last week on a count of extortion, accused of trying to blackmail Premier Peter Beattie into giving her a highly paid job.

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The charge sheet claims that on 30 October this year, in Queen Street Mall in the middle of the Brisbane CBD, Rose “with intent to gain employment in the public sector orally demanded without reasonable or probable cause that the Honourable Premier of Queensland act so as to secure employment for her in the public sector and with threats of detriment to be caused to a person, if the demand was not complied with”.

Rose was charged on 10 November after Beattie referred the allegations to the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

“For 10 days, Queenslanders have been rendered dizzy by a vortex of rumour and spin over Beattie, former minister Merri Rose and her alleged threat to cause detriment, leading to her criminal extortion charge,” Thomas says today. He writes:

So delicate is Beattie about tackling the rumour over Rose’s alleged threat — the one that politicians, business leaders and media insiders north of the Tweed River are feverishly gossiping about — that most Queenslanders could be forgiven for feeling like mushrooms.

Instead of stating what the rumours are and rejecting them as absurd, Beattie and his wife are being unnecessarily coy in their public statements on the issue. They are trying to have their cake and eat it.

And he then refers to an “exclusive” interview with Heather Beattie in yesterday’s Queensland Sunday Mail. Here are the opening pars:

Heather Beattie has told for the first time of the personal hurt she feels at rumours about her husband after the Merri Rose extortion allegations.

And she revealed she called together their three children to address speculation about Premier Peter Beattie because she was worried about what effect it would have on them…

You don’t have to be a cryptologist to read the coded message. There are actually two sets of rumours. One involves the Premier’s private life. The other involves Rose’s. They intersect.

Let’s make it very clear. They’re only rumours. But plenty is being bandied about. The Gold Coast Bulletin was gratuitous in the use of the words “love shack” in a piece last week that ostensibly reported on the former minister’s new, humble circumstances.

Truth has a nasty habit of coming out in courtrooms. Court cases are very good at cutting through spin.

Of course, it’s not unknown for those involved in proceedings – no matter how peripherally – to try to spin evidence or findings.

Sometimes they get away with it. Sometimes they get charged with contempt, perjury or attempting to pervert the course of justice. And always the really good spinmeisters know when to stop spinning.

If there’s a dirty little secret in Queensland, here’s hoping there also isn’t any dirty politics.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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