Qld Labor inherits corruption mantle from Nats’ dark past
The other day, I was asked on ABC television about the conviction of Gordon Nuttall, a former Queensland Labor state minister, for accepting secret payments of $360,000 from a businessman. This is one of the most serious cases of corruption ever recorded against a minister of the Crown in this country.
Nuttall is not the first former Queensland Labor minister caught out over recent years – another has been jailed for blackmail, and a third for paedophilia. I responded by saying there was a culture of favouritism and relationships with big business tainting the Queensland Government, which needed to be fixed.
Barrie Cassidy, a journalist for whom I have some regard, then came back with his “gotcha” question (and continued on after the interview). How could a Nationals’ leader complain about corruption in Queensland considering the Fitzgerald Inquiry at the time of the government of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s National Party?
The theory behind this line of questioning seems to be that because there were failings in Queensland more than 20 years ago, involving National Party ministers, then Labor ministers of today have some excuse when their behaviour is bad (in Nuttall’s case, far worse). And as today’s Leader of The Nationals, it is somehow improper or hypocritical of me to condemn genuine, proven corruption.
This is farcical. Is Kevin Rudd asked to defend every outrage of the Whitlam Government, for example? Can he not talk about the evils of the drug trade or inappropriate financial transgressions because of the very large shadows hanging over ex-Labor ministers of that era? When he makes a stand against the abuse of children, is he then grilled about convicted Labor MPs and paedophiles Bill D’arcy, Milton Orkopoulos and Keith Wright?
Of course he isn’t, and nor should he be. But for some reason, Nationals and Liberals are sometimes not afforded the same courtesy.
A further example. Last Friday, The Sydney Morning Herald’s website ran a story about Nuttall’s jailing for seven years. Not once in the article by Amelia Bentley were the words “Labor” or “ALP” mentioned.
For the record, Sir Joh was charged with perjury (not corruption) and acquitted. Queensland state ministers at that time lost their jobs over improper expense claims – a crime, but surely not corruption of the magnitude of Nuttall’s conviction. I am not excusing anyone’s behaviour, but that was long in the past and Queensland Labor has some very big questions to answer today.
In Queensland, the Nationals learnt the lessons of the Fitzgerald Inquiry. It is absolutely clear that Labor has not.
On occasions, the double standards astonish me. For example, the Howard Government called a Royal Commission into allegations of improper dealings in the Middle East by AWB. John Howard appeared before the inquiry. So did then deputy prime minister Mark Vaile and foreign minister Alexander Downer. All were completely cleared of any improper behaviour.
Yet Kevin Rudd was able to make his political name by peddling unproven accusations time and time again against all three. He accused Mr Howard of lying under oath, and on no less than 15 occasions called for their resignations.
On a 16th occasion, he even called for my resignation. On the very day I was appointed Trade Minister and before I had even been sworn in, Mr Rudd, the then Opposition trade spokesman, quietly dropped a five page document to press gallery members. His name was not on this document, but journalists were told by the man who distributed it that they should contact Mr Rudd for comment.
This tawdry document - littered with wild assertions and half-truths - outlined 10 reasons why Mr Rudd thought I should resign as Trade Minister over the AWB scandal. The most grievous allegation raised was that a Victorian grain merchant had told me in August 2002 at a field day that AWB was paying bribes to Saddam Hussein. Mr Rudd even printed an alleged quote from me to the merchant: “Ray, don’t give me that bullshit. The Wheat Board is run by farmers of great integrity and honesty, they wouldn’t do that sort of thing.”
Quite apart from the bad language (which is not my style) I was not even present at field day on the day Mr Rudd said this conversation occurred. But Mr Rudd passed the conversation off as truth, and continued to repeat the false and quite slanderous allegation even after I denied it.
Incredibly, some journalists saw fire in this pretty thin smoke and ran the allegations without even checking with me. I am fairly sure that none of those journalists have ever gone back to Mr Rudd and asked him whether an apology or correction was in order; at least I’ve never seen anything in print.
Did Mr Rudd resign for peddling false claims? No. He stood for leadership of the Labor Party instead. And then confected the most remarkable outrage when someone else called for his resignation a few weeks ago.
I am sure that some members of the media think that Sir Joh should have gone to jail. But any fair-minded assessment of his near 20 years as premier would rate this period as Queensland’s greatest. Despite attempts by many, especially in the ALP, to rewrite history and demean Sir Joh’s contribution and life, in this, the state’s 150th year, Queenslanders still rated him as the state’s greatest leader.
Kevin Rudd and his spin doctors are now denigrating the legacy of John Howard and his government even though it has taken so short a time for Labor to undo the benefits of years of careful and prudent economic management.
Journalists can deal in wish fulfilment all they like in their private lives, but it’s a different story when it comes to their responsibilities as journalists.
Everyone in politics expects hard questioning from journalists and the public. I’m a big boy and I’m in politics. But a little more fairness, balance and perspective is in order.
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