Monday, February 26, 2007

Corruption rife in Australian State governments

All of which are Left-run

There is something rotten in the state of, well almost everywhere. From coast to coast, state governments are embroiled in corruption inquiries or embarrassed by schemes and stratagems that are ethically appalling. The most extraordinary example of the slide in state government standards is in Western Australia. The state's Corruption and Crime Commission heard this week how four cabinet ministers are amenable to the influence of present lobbyist and one-time premier and prison inmate Brian Burke. The quartet does not include former minister Norm Marlborough whom Premier Alan Carpenter sacked late last year for lying over his relationship with Mr Burke. Nor does Mr Burke confine his influence-peddling and string-pulling to Labor, as he was also working with Liberal Party powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne. Across the continent in Queensland, former minister Norman Nuttall is charged with receiving secret commissions from a mining magnate and publican.

In NSW, state minister Milton Orkopolous resigned late last year when charged with child-sex offences. And it is not that many months since former police minister Carl Scully was forced to resign for misleading parliament. In Tasmania, former deputy premier Bryan Green is charged with illegally attempting to protect the business of an ex-minister from competition. Things are better in Victoria, where no minister is before a judge at present. But Premier Steve Bracks stands convicted in the court of public opinion over the way he made an industrial arrangement with the police union in the lead-up to the last election, a deal the police commissioner knew nothing about.

It is easy to argue it was ever thus, that there are always ministers who are stupid, greedy or both, and who succumb to the temptations of easy money or the desire to make a deposit in their party's favour bank. But the record of past wrongs does not mean we can either ignore or exonerate present ones, because the present plague of cupidity and alleged corruption is more than the result of individual weakness. It demonstrates what happens when governments are in power for such long periods that ministers start to think they can do what they like. And it shows what occurs when they assume their party interest and ministerial responsibility are the same thing. Because no state government can survive strikes by nurses, teachers and police, premiers do pay deals with the key public-sector unions regardless of what productivity improvements can support. There is nothing wrong with rewarding people who provide essential services, and overly generous pay rises are not illegal. But they are at the innocent end of the long slippery slope that leads ministers to use the state to serve what may be perceived as their own interests.

There is a great deal of difference between the management by mates that is common across the commonwealth and the influence-peddling that appears to exist in Western Australia. But if long-serving but poor-performing governments - such as Labor in NSW - stay in office for decades at a time, ethical standards will slide and we will see more states where shadowy figures quietly walk the corridors of power, appearing to exercise authority over state ministers. We have been here before, when Joh Bjelke-Petersen ran Queensland to suit himself and his supporters. We cannot afford for any state to go there again. The evidence being given to the Corruption and Crime Commission in Perth provides a powerful message about state politics and why it must be kept squeaky-clean.


Queensland corruption

In the windowless room known as the star chamber, Queensland's top corruption investigator Stephen Lambrides is blunt in his directions to Gordon Nuttall. Nuttall, recently retired after a 14-year political career that included heading three ministries under the Beattie Government, is ordered to answer all questions put to him and warned he faces perjury charges if his evidence is misleading. Nuttall - who routinely pins a carnation to his suit jacket to soften the "hard nut" image of his shaved head - knows Lambrides means business. He calls him sir.

It is the fourth day of in-camera hearings for Operation Moonlight, the Crime and Misconduct Commission probe of Nuttall's dealings as health minister. What intrigues Lambrides is how over three years from 2002, during most of Nuttall's time in cabinet, the Labor MP collected $300,000 from one of Queensland's richest men to buy houses and cars for his three children.

More here

West Australian corruption

A fourth West Australian Cabinet minister was snared yesterday in the corruption probe exposing Brian Burke's malign influence on government, a year after Premier Alan Carpenter lifted a ban on ministerial dealings with the disgraced former premier.

Mr Carpenter was forced last night to cut short his 10-day trade mission to India and return "on the first available flight" to deal with a crisis crippling his Government and sparking concerns it is unfit to govern.

Opposition Leader Paul Omodei said he would seek constitutional legal advice after more damning evidence to the state's Corruption and Crime Commission revealed Environment Minister Tony McRae may have manipulated the announcement of a planning decision to gain a financial benefit from Julian Grill, Mr Burke's business partner. The Australian understands some Liberal MPs feel there are now grounds to approach state Governor Ken Michael to have the Carpenter Government removed.

Yesterday's dramatic development comes after two weeks of relentless allegations of misconduct involving Mr Burke and his links to various ministers in the Carpenter cabinet. The names of two other ministers - who Mr Burke described in secret phone taps as people who would do whatever he wanted - have been suppressed by CCC commissioner Kevin Hammond.

More here

Victorian corruption

Leading anti-corruption investigator Frank Costigan QC has slammed a secret pre-election deal between Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and the state's Police Association. The former Royal Commissioner on declared the deal a "distortion" of the democratic process that offended the principle of transparency in government. Mr Costigan, the chairman of anti-corruption group Transparency International Australia, said: "Governments do secret deals with the police union at their peril, and ultimately at the peril of the community".

His criticism comes after Mr Bracks was pressured to release a copy of the five-page letter to Police Association secretary Paul Mullett outlining the pact. Mr Costigan told The Age that keeping such deals secret harmed the political process. "One of the problems with governments that remain in power for a long time, and that applies to both sides of politics, both state and federal, is that there is an increasing inclination to keep things hidden or secret and not open," he said. "It distorts the political process." The letter amounted to a "secret agreement" between Mr Bracks and the police union, he said.

More here

Greenies, want to save the world? Stay home

Caroline Overington wishes Greenies would do as they say

If we are to believe the opinion polls - and I suppose we must - then we in the West have descended into a state of near total panic about the impact our lives have on the planet. We know that we are using an incredible amount of the world's resources and we feel quite guilty about it. But what to do?

None of us really wants to give up our luxurious lives (by which I mean having a car instead of a horse, a house instead of a cave, a mobile telephone that is not an empty can on the end of some string). On the other hand, we do want to protect the environment. As it happens, you can apparently do both. Last week, I was asked to write a story about the ways in which Westerners could continue to live like kings but not feel so guilty about it. All one needs to do is buy what are known as carbon credits, which then can be used to offset the damage your lifestyle is doing to the planet.

If that's not entirely clear, let me explain it further: you can keep your four-wheel-drive and your babies can get about in disposable nappies, you can have a big house and travel by aeroplane, but you must accept that in doing so you are damaging the environment. Enter carbon credit companies. They come to your house, estimate the size of your "climate footprint" (that is, how much damage your lifestyle is doing to the planet) and put a price on it. For the average family, let's say it's $600 a year. You give that amount to any one of these companies and they will use the money to install energy-saving light bulbs in other people's homes. You haven't reduced your emissions but someone has, and therefore you can live a little less guiltily.

Under a similar program, you can offset your mother's farts or even your cat's farts (flatulence contains methane and therefore heats the planet) by paying money to green companies that will spend it on water-saving shower heads or planting trees to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Now, when the story about cat farts and carbon credits appeared on the front page of this paper last week, I got quite a few emails, one of which said: "If you really want to end the damage done when your cat farts, wouldn't it be easier to put a sword through the cat." That's not very kind, is it? Another said people should keep their money and just learn to hang clothes on the line instead of using the dryer all the time.

The point they were making, I think, was that if global warming is a problem - we know it is happening, we know it's man-made, but the jury is still out on how much of a problem it's going to be - we in the West need to do more than pay green companies to offset foul smells made by our domestic pets. As any greenie will tell you, we would need to radically change our lifestyle.

The problem with this, however, is that a sudden, radical change to our lifestyles would destroy the economy. Any action we take would not necessarily save the lives of people who don't yet exist - that is, our children's grandchildren - but it would certainly kill real people right now in parts of Asia and Africa who depend on Western decadence for their incomes and their survival.

Also, I'm not sure that even the most committed greenie actually wants to make radical changes to their lifestyle. An example: I live in the Sydney beachside suburb of Bondi. In summer, the streets are flooded with backpackers, most of whom would claim to be travellers, not tourists, and would also claim, I'm sure, to be very concerned about the planet. Yet most of them arrive by plane. They travel across Australia in the cheapest, dirtiest VW vans they can find (most fuelled with leadedpetrol).

Sometimes they park these vans on the streets outside our home and, rather than pay $20 to stay in a backpacker lodge, they sleep in them. On hot nights, they keep the engines - and the airconditioning - running. Fumes pour out the exhaust, choking local cats. In the morning, they get up and pee and poop in the gutters.

Then they head down to the local internet cafe, where they use computers manufactured by enormous corporations, with operating systems made by Microsoft, and they send emails back home to their folks, doubtless complaining about the gap between the rich and the poor. All of this is OK, I suppose. But how come almost every single one of these Kombi vans have stickers on them that say things like: "Save the Planet"?

To the backpacker, that would mean: no more travelling to Thailand, Vietnam or Burma, or whatever is the fashionable place to be. It would mean no more driving in Kombi vans across the desert; no more jet boats out to the Barrier Reef; no more drinking mass-produced beer straight from the can, which is all the Bondi backpackers do all day.

The other sticker you often see on Kombi vans is: "Magic Happens." But it doesn't. It just seems that way. You flick a switch on the wall and the lights come on. You press a button on the toilet and your waste gets flushed away. You get a job, you save money, you get to travel places on planes and drive around in Kombi vans. It's not magic. It's progress. And it's bought to you by capitalism.



Australian police and Tennessee police have a lot in common

The NSW Police Ombudsman has been asked to investigate claims that a Sydney mother was assaulted by police and her baby snatched from her when she tried to bypass a police cordon. Nicole Whiley, a professional carer for the disabled and elderly, says she was trying to get home with her infant son when officers pushed her to the ground, badly injuring her wrist and back. She claims police then separated her from five-month-old Jacob, allegedly telling her that the child was "going to DoCS (Department of Community Services)". Ms Whiley, 28, was taken to Miranda police station in the back of a police truck, placed in a cell and charged with assaulting police and using offensive language.

In a statement of complaint lodged the day after the February 8 incident, Ms Whiley said she was walking Jacob home in a stroller along Willawong Rd, Caringbah, when four police officers blocked her path. She asked bystanders, "What's happening?" and was told there was "some kind of raid" being carried out at a nearby Housing Commission block of units. "I said, 'Oh, OK - I have to get past,"' Ms Whiley said in her statement. "I walked right up to where the four officers were standing in the walkway with my pram and said, 'Excuse me'.

"I was going to go on to the road and around them but I couldn't because there was a bicycle approaching me and four or five cars on the road. "I huffed and walked around them and got back on the path ... and said: 'You would think four grown men would have moved for a woman with a pram or an elderly lady."' Ms Whiley said a male officer then approached her, jabbed his finger repeatedly into her chest and told her to "shut up". She said she pushed his hand away and the officer took her arm and held it behind her back while a second took her pram and a third held her other arm.

"Once my hands were behind my back I was pushed straight to the ground, realising my shirt had been ripped across my chest," her statement said. "The next thing, they say to me, 'Get up, stand on your feet.' "They were still holding me under the arms. I said, 'I can't believe you've done this to a woman and a baby."' Ms Whiley said she "heard a crack" in her left hand as officers continued holding her arms behind her. She was later treated for a suspected fracture in one of the small bones in her hand and saw a chiropractor for whiplash to her neck and back. Ms Whiley said a neighbour at the scene convinced police to hand over Jacob.

On Friday, she received a letter from Miranda police informing her its complaints management team had assessed her complaint but declined to investigate it - against its own officers. Ms Whiley has been ordered to appear at Sutherland Local Court on March 1.


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