Gordon Nuttall: tip of the corruption iceberg

August 2, 2009

Former Queensland Labor cabinet minister Gordon Nuttall was sentenced to seven years jail on July 17. He was found guilty of corruptly receiving secret payments from two Queensland businessmen.

The Nuttall conviction was followed by allegations from corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald in a speech on July 28. He said Queensland was returning to its "dark past" ,with the Beattie and Bligh governments bringing the state toward the endemic corruption of the former Joh Bjelke Petersen regime.

Under the Queensland ALP "access can now be purchased, patronage is dispensed, mates and supporters are appointed and retired politicians exploit their connections to obtain 'success fees' for deals between business and government", Fitzgerald said.
Nuttall was parachuted into the state seat of Sandgate in 1992. From 1999, I was in the same ALP branch as Nuttall.

Nuttall told our ALP branch that fundraising was unnecessary, as he had a business lunch every year that raised sufficient funds. He added that if there was any shortfall, he had property developer contacts on the Sunshine Coast who could help out.

He discouraged the branch from doing any doorknocking or campaigning, as Sandgate was a safe Labor seat. However, we were required to hand out how-to-votes on election day.

In 2002, after unsuccessfully trying to get him to enforce ALP policies on construction safety in his capacity as minister, I nominated for pre-selection against Nuttall.

In a breach of ALP rules, the then premier Peter Beattie sent out a letter to all branch members. He urged them to vote for Nuttall as an essential part of "Team Beattie".

As Fitzgerald pointed out, the recent conviction of Nuttall is just one example of the culture of corruption prevailing in the Queensland ALP.

There is absolute factional control of all party activity, even though only about 15-20% of ALP members are faction members.

Temporary factions formed to argue openly for particular policies or actions can be part of a healthy political party. But in the ALP factions are permanent and secretive organisations that act as power bases and to further career paths.

Faction membership is by invitation only. The broader membership of the party is excluded. While factions are not even mentioned in ALP party rules, in practice factional loyalty overrides party loyalty.

The Labor Unity faction, the smallest of the 3 factions in the Queensland ALP, has attracted some of the most opportunist careerists due to its "balance of power" position between the other two factions — the AWU/Labor Forum and the Left faction.

Along with Nuttall, Labor Unity included former deputy premier Terry Mackenroth who has been referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission for alleged corruption.
Several former Labor Unity-aligned ministers were part of the "net bet" fiasco in 1999, where the first internet betting license in Queensland was given to a company in which ALP officials had interests.

Meanwhile, former AWU faction ministers have gone on to work as highly paid business lobbyists.

Factions own positions and seats. Factional hacks are parachuted into seats without reference to the local membership. In Sandgate, Vicki Darling was appointed overnight by the party head office as Nuttall's heir — despite having done no work within the local branch, and with no consultation of the local ALP members.

In reality, all decisions are made by a relatively small number of factional warlords, with no pretence at having a democratic process. Under this system, party membership has dropped from over 12,000 when I joined in 1989 to less than 6000 and falling.

The AWU faction has control over the ALP state government. The ALP objectives and policies are now ignored. Almost 20 years of Labor government in Queensland have been a missed opportunity.

Instead of the state becoming a more equitable, fairer place to live, the public service has been attacked, a bureaucracy has been cultivated, and the government's own workforce has been treated in an unjust manner.

The ALP's shady dealings with business and its refusal to allow scrutiny indicates graft is out of control. The brown paper bag days are back. Peter Beattie repeatedly used "commercial in confidence" to shield the murkiest business deals from scrutiny.

For left-wing Queensland ALP members, it is time to recognise the Queensland ALP ignores you, and is run by conservative opportunists with a pro-corporate, anti-worker agenda. There will always be a welcome for you in Socialist Alliance.

[Mike Crook was a member of the ALP for 20 years. He ran for Labor in Joh Bjelke Petersen's old seat of Barambah in 1998. In 2002 he ran against Gordon Nuttall in ALP preselection for the seat of Sandgate. In 2008 he left the ALP and joined the Socialist Alliance. He is now the convenor of the Sandgate branch of the Socialist Alliance.]

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