Eventually, the culture of bullying and cronyism that marked the Beattie Government in Queensland must surely be exposed. There are too many unanswered questions, too many ruined lives and wrecked careers for Queensland Labor, and its extensive network of mates, to stay in denial about forever.
Scott Patterson used to work for the Beattie Government, and was a long-term member of the ALP. He was a senior and long-standing adviser to Terry Mackenroth. Prior to November 2000, an incident took place in Mackenroth’s office involving a senior member of Mackenroth’s staff and another staff member. The latter subsequently made a complaint of misconduct to the Queensland Public Sector Union. The union promptly referred it to Peter Beattie’s Chief of Staff, Rob Whiddon.
It was not, in the scheme of things, a major complaint. What turned a relatively simple workplace dispute into a high-level issue was whether the close relationship between Mackenroth and the subject of the complaint had affected its handling. Whiddon referred the matter to the then-Criminal Justice Commission for investigation, which contracted a lawyer to examine the matter. The lawyer was to interview Mackenroth’s staff members.
Patterson told Whiddon that when interviewed by the CJC’s lawyer, he would be telling the full truth of the circumstances relating to the matter.
He never got the chance. He was not interviewed by the investigating lawyer. What did happen is that he was frozen out of Mackenroth’s office. Shortly afterward, at the end of November, Mackenroth became Beattie’s deputy and Minister for State Development, in the fallout from the Shepherdson Inquiry. Mackenroth moved into his predecessor Jim Elder’s suite and, despite being a senior advisor, Patterson was accommodated away from the office.
Just before the February 2001 election, Mackenroth, for whom Patterson had worked in paid and voluntary capacities since 1980, told him he was no longer welcome in his office. He was transferred to the office of junior minister Nita Cunningham. Eight months later, he was sent on “gardening leave” – in essence paid not to come to work. Three months after, Whiddon sacked him and gave him a $35,000 payout, with a demand that all details be kept confidential.
Patterson recently revealed his experiences to the Courier-Mail. Why now? He’s long since moved on to another career and left the ALP. But former Gordon Nuttall staffer Jacqui King had recently gone public with her claim that she had warned Whiddon that Nuttall may have acted inappropriately in relation to a contract and been ignored.
Labor sources claim King – who earlier this year was unsuccessful in an Electrical Trades Union-backed push to replace Terry Wood as Assistant Secretary – has an agenda to undermine Premier Anna Bligh and her privatisation plan with a “clean up the ALP” campaign.
However, there are others, including former ministers, who believe that the Crime and Misconduct Commission and its predecessor was far too close to the Government in the Beattie years.
What happened after Patterson went public also raises issues about the Commission. Almost immediately upon Patterson’s story airing in the Courier-Mail, the CMC contacted Patterson about his claims and offered to finally interview him in relation to them.
When Patterson met with the CMC, however, it admitted to him that it couldn’t find the files associated with the investigation of Mackenroth’s office. That is, it had lost the files associated with an investigation into the office of a Deputy Premier.
Mackenroth of course became one of Queensland’s most successful lobbyists after leaving politics, until he quit in August this year under pressure from the Government’s new lobbying requirements and, he claimed, adverse publicity about his close links with Labor.
The LNP Opposition continues to argue a Royal Commission is necessary to explore the links between Ministers, senior officials and business. Calling for Royal Commissions is of course the hardy perennial of Opposition discourse. The Bligh Government’s continuing response is that the CMC and its predecessor bodies act as a virtual standing Royal Commission to investigate official wrongdoing.
Patterson believes a full investigation of cronyism should involve the activities of the CMC itself, necessarily meaning an external body must do it. And his experience suggests the issue is not necessarily the CMC’s remit and powers, but its competence.