Why ‘good guys’ shouldn’t throw stones

The problem for those who mistakenly assume they have a leasehold over the moral high ground is that they inevitably have further to fall.

That's proven to be the case for the Queensland Labor Government, which enters the 2020 election race with a dreadful record on integrity.

The second-term Labor administration has repeatedly been caught out breaching the very accountability standards it likes to take credit for, the dragnet of disclosure requirements introduced after the Bjelke-Petersen era to stop corruption flourishing in Queensland.

The latest, which comes less than a fortnight before the official election campaign begins, isn't about some errant backbencher or faceless party figure behaving badly.

This scandal centres on the most powerful office in this state, involves Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her former chief of staff David Barbagallo, and demonstrates the kind of cavalier attitude towards integrity that should have ended three decades ago when Tony Fitzgerald handed down his landmark report.

Just like the other integrity crises that preceded it, at the heart of this issue is an arrogant assumption of moral superiority, a false belief that the rules don't really apply because the government always acts virtuously.

 

Chief of staff David Barbagallo with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at Estimates hearings last year
Chief of staff David Barbagallo with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at Estimates hearings last year

 

This is illustrated with great aplomb by Barbagallo himself in his colourful interview with the Crime and Corruption Commission over the allegations one of his companies inappropriately gained government financing.

The corruption watchdog found the financing wasn't an issue but it took great umbrage with Barbagallo's repeated failure to accurately declare his interests.

"I start from the … presumption that I'm not going to do anything wrong, right," Barbagallo told the CCC. "And that's how I've always been, all right. I worked for (former premier Wayne) Goss, we brought in the CCC stuff you know, we're from the good guys."

We're from the good guys?

Sir Joh and his cronies assumed they were from "good guys" too until it was proved that they weren't.

They believed because their actions were in the best interests of the state, their ethical indiscretions didn't matter.

How wrong they were.

The CCC report details Barbagallo's failure to declare his directorship of the company in question, failure to properly seek Integrity Commissioner advice on his conflicts of interest and failure to undertake the training expected of ministerial staff.

"Now I personally didn't sit through the whole training but I went and sat in on the training, you know different times just to let all ministerial staff know that this was important," he told investigators.

"And I would often say things about how important it was blah, blah, blah."

The same "blah, blah, blah" attitude was evident in former premier Jackie Trad's property purchase scandal which was also investigated by the CCC.

Controversial former premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen also considered himself one of the good guys.
Controversial former premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen also considered himself one of the good guys.

There was no corruption in that case either. But there were repeated examples where the watchdog found the disclosure rules of the Parliament and Cabinet were not followed by Trad.

While Trad's failures were not a crime, the CCC's view was that her transgressions were so serious that they should be.

"Not all failures to properly declare and manage a conflict of interest will be the result of a corrupt or dishonest motive," the watchdog found in that case.

"However, as a general proposition, failing to declare and properly manage a conflict of interest creates a corruption risk."

And similar applies to senior Labor minister Mark Bailey after he was caught out in 2017 using a private email account to conduct Cabinet business.

In all three cases, the watchdog found the rules of the Ministerial Handbook were broken.

CCC chairman Alan MacSporran MacSporran has publicly made the point that unless there are consequences for breaching the handbook's code of conduct, then the document is "meaningless".

Yet despite yesterday saying the integrity of her government was "very dear" to her, despite insisting she was "very, very extremely disappointed" in Barbagallo, Palaszczuk has repeatedly failed to enforce a penalty for handbook breaches and isn't promising to in the future.

This is precisely why the Premier's ministers and senior staffers don't take integrity seriously and why they're still convinced they're the "good guys" and the rules are all just "blah, blah, blah".

Originally published as Why 'good guys' shouldn't throw stones



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