Unfinished tale of two former premiers


QUEENSLAND Premier Anna Bligh has spent the past week -- and will spend many more weeks -- rushing about putting out bushfires as her Labor government is enveloped in a smoke haze of corruption allegations. Bligh's problem is that she inherited the mess from her predecessor Peter Beattie. No one has accused either Bligh or Beattie of being personally involved in any corrupt conduct at any stage.
The main concern centres on former ministers -- and, in some cases, their former staff members -- setting up as consultants and lobbyists offering, apparently, access to key ministers for an exorbitant fee.
Evidence has emerged that some have received as much as $1 million as a ``success fee'' charged to a client that won a government contract or attracted government support for a development project.
The issue was blown wide open on Tuesday night when corruption buster Tony Fitzgerald spoke at a function in Brisbane marking 20 years since he delivered his landmark report on police and political corruption in Queensland. Fitzgerald said a lack of political will had seen the push for reform that ensures corrupt practices are kept out of public administration stall on Beattie's watch.
Beattie, speaking from Los Angeles, where he is engaged as a $450,000-a-year Queensland trade commissioner, was quick to deny any laxness on the part of his government. But Fitzgerald's comments were pointed, saying that after Beattie won government in 1998, ``much of the willingness to confront Queensland's dark past had been lost and with it the momentum for reform''.
And then came the bombshell: ``Ethics are always tested by incumbency. Secrecy was re-established by sham claims that voluminous documents were `cabinet in-confidence'. Access can now be purchased, patronage is dispensed, mates and supporters are appointed, and retired politicians exploit their political connections to obtain `success fees' for deals between business and government.
``Greed, power and opportunity in combination provide an almost irresistible temptation for many which can only be countered by the near-certainty of exposure and severe punishment.'' Fitzgerald also made it clear he was stung by Beattie's attitude towards former National Party premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
The two had a serious falling out about it, and Fitzgerald says it was events surrounding the ``Joh forgiveness'' that finally forced him to pack up and move to Sydney with his family. His view was that Beattie had neither the mandate nor the right to forgive Bjelke-Petersen for the decades of police and political corruption that he allowed and enabled to flourish, and he certainly had no right to suggest to Queenslanders that it should all be ``put behind us'' because ``Joh did do some good things in government in Queensland''.
So Bligh is left to clean up the mess, with property developers coming out of the woodwork alleging they were unfairly treated by the Beattie administration because of the favouritism shown to companies who engaged Labor mates as consultants.
The issue has the potential to tear her government apart, particularly as her administration has been plummeting in the polls in recent months and a cynical public is sniffing the breeze and concluding all is not as it should be with Bligh's mob.
With two former Beattie government ministers -- Merri Rose and Gordon Nuttall -- jailed in recent times, it is becoming increasing difficult for Bligh to placate her constituency with shallow responses such as, ``I will release a green paper for discussion aimed at eradicating success fees for lobbyists.''
Duck-shoving difficult issues to some inquiry was a favourite Beattie ploy when faced with a potential disaster, but that track is too well worn to now be attractive.