Corruption in politics is not something people find surprising. Indeed corruption is as old as political representation itself. When I took my place in parliament I nominated some straightforward legislative amendments that would reduce corruption at a council and a state level. However at the time, the new government was more interested with perception and maintaining special relationships than considering such reforms. I am not suggesting illegality by Government MPs. However in terms of existing public sector corruption there was a distinct lack of appetite to ‘root it out’. I should not have been suprised. As Henry Kissinger once said, “Corrupt politicians make the other ten percent look bad.
The last thing I wanted was to be accused of was pushing conspiracy theories, so it was important I had strong intellectual grounding. To this end I met with academic Dr Timothy Prenzler from the University of the Sunshine Coast, an international authority on corruption prevention.
Prenzler believed the number of unresolved allegations and suspicions had reached a point where the only way to clear the air was through an Assessment of Reform in Post-Fitzgerald Queensland and new laws to fix the problem for the future.
“Ordinary citizens with a genuine complaint, and government insiders with evidence of unethical conduct, feel they have nowhere to go,” he said.
“Too many genuine complainants and professional stakeholders, including journalists, lawyers and academics believe the Commission has lost its way and is overly focused on organised crime at the cost of public sector misconduct. A big part of the problem concerns perceptions of undue influence and favouritism. For example, there is a widespread view that elected officials are too easily bought through campaign donations and other sources of influence.”
Professor Prenzler also stated that, “the Corruption Commission has conducted public opinion research which consistently shows that 90 percent of Queenslanders want complaints against police, public servants and local government officials to be independently investigated, but by its own admission the Commission investigates less than two percent of complaints”.
The anti-corruption campaign gathered support from many parts of the community. One that surprised me was the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO). The EDO wanted stronger laws because they knew money could buy inappropriate development, whether that was unsustainable mining projects or inappropriate developments in urban areas.
The Palaszczuk Government finally put legislation before the house proposing reforms to the CCC. At the second reading I moved the amendments be made stronger including making hearings public and keeping the more extensive list as to what constituted ‘corrupt conduct’ (as existed in New South Wales).
A Game of Mates
Mr PYNE (Cairns—Ind) (3.15 pm): I would like to talk about the new book Game of Mates: How favours bleed the nation by economists Cameron Murray and Paul Frijters. It is the story of how Australia became one of the most unequal societies in the Western world while merely a generation ago it was one of the most equal. It is the story of how a group of mates have come to dominate our
corporate and political sectors and have managed to rob us, the Australian majority, of half our wealth.
To understand how the game of mates is played and to disrupt it, we must see Australia through the eyes of our villain, whom we call James. This book is about how the Jameses of this country play
their game of mates. It is about how much their game costs us and it is about what we can do to stop them.
The villain, James, swings no sword. He instead swings his power in the halls of parliament, in the media and in the complex bureaucracies of government and large corporate enterprises. James now robs you of a hefty part of your superannuation. He dodges tax so you pay more. You pay higher interest rates on your mortgage, higher transport costs and higher medical costs, because James and his mates take a cut.
Economist and social scientist Mancur Olson described the process of social decay resulting from what we call the game of mates as ‘institutional sclerosis’. He observed that over time all
institutions succumb to the power of special interest groups that impose great economic cost on the community as they reallocate wealth towards themselves.
If any country can rise up and fight the Jameses, it is ours. The authors hope that this book can help in this fight by providing alternatives. Just one alternative is to establish a public competitor to supply the products James sells to reduce his collusive power; set up a state superannuation fund, like other countries do, to compete with the private ones; or set up a state bank. James thrives on the lack of competition, so let us give him some.
James will protest, as the authors personally discovered. He will play dirty. Journalists who wanted to report their research in the areas of property development and infrastructure projects had their jobs threatened. James will tell bald-faced lies. One favourite is that there is already intense competition between superannuation firms and banks.
When pushed, James will enact reforms but twist them again in his favour to ensure any change is superficial, or he may introduce more bureaucratic rules, for land rezoning for example – something only he knows how to navigate, while others do not. The authors argue that James’s gain impoverishes our media, as James’s opinion buys airtime.”
Jason, Lyn and Local Government
Late in 2015 I was contacted by two people from the Atherton tablelands, a cattle farmer by the name of Jason Ward and a former consultant and wife of a dairy farmer, Lyn O’Connor. These two people were contacting me in relation to concerns about corruption in local government. They were very committed to this issue and flew to Brisbane several times to meet me in parliament with documents they wanted me to table on their behalf.
A real campaign built around concerns into local government, partly as a result of the work of Jason, Lyn, myself and others. Our campaign would lead to detailed investigative inquiries by experienced journalists, criminal charges and or/prosecutions and eventually law reform.
On 25 February 2016 I delivered this speech to the house:
Mr PYNE (Cairns) (6.44 pm): I was going to rise, as best I can, to speak about Small Business Week, but my heart is heavy. My heart is heavy reflecting on the state of local government in this fine state of Queensland.
During the break between the two sitting weeks I took the opportunity to travel to the University of the Sunshine Coast where I met with Professor Timothy Prenzler. Professor Prenzler is the head of the faculty of criminology and justice at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Professor Prenzler introduced me to the concept of grey corruption. It is a term I have not heard of before. Grey corruption is a term that describes actions that are immoral, unethical and may in some other states be illegal but are not in the state of Queensland.
Professor Prenzler spoke of the large amount of grey corruption in the state of Queensland and so I asked him what the answer was and he said quite simply to lift the bar—to lift the bar, and I was very pleased to hear the Attorney-General speak earlier today. He said that we have to lift the bar so that much of what is now categorised as grey corruption becomes official corruption.
Certain ways we can raise the bar in this manner in this state include obviously legislative change. One such way is to ban donations to political campaigns from property developers, as occurs in New South Wales. That is one very obvious way because it would prevent what I have seen happen on many occasions, and that is developers donating to council campaigns and then that elected council voting in favour of developments from that very donor without declaring a conflict of interest. I have seen that happen on a number of occasions.
Another way the bar could be lifted is by real-time donations. People are going to see very many political advertisements over the coming weeks and they are not going to know who paid for them. I think the people of Queensland have a right to know who paid for those ads. But the biggest reform that needs to be made is to remove the amendments made by Minister Crisafulli and the Newman government which enhanced—greatly enhanced—the powers of mayors throughout Queensland.
In the old days we had a respected position of town clerk or shire clerk. Elected councillors and mayors did not instruct and bully staff. That was not allowed. What I am calling for is Westminster principles in local governments so that mayors, sometimes in concert with CEOs, cannot bully staff to breach statutory guidelines for their own self-serving interests.
Ipswich Inc. and ICAC Call
In 2015, having the CCC as your own ICAC, was a bit like having a poodle as your own fierce watchdog.
The Ipswich Council …. ….. (to be continued).
Other Reference Material and Pictures