March 07, 2004 | Graham

Grapes of Wrath

On the basis of its last two election results, the most competent political administration in the country is the Beattie government. So why is it in so much trouble over a ten dollar bottle of wine?
The story so far, for those not in Queensland, is that Teresa Mullan press advisor to the new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and former Playschool presenter Liddy Clark has been sacked because she took a bottle of vin very ordinaire into a Leichardt River Aboriginal community. This community is “dry” and there is a maximum $75,000 dollar fine for bringing alcohol into the community. The offending vehicle can also be confiscated.
Clark, Mullan, Dr Warren Hoey the Head of the Department and the new member for Cook, Jason O’Brien all flew into the community. The bottle never left the plane, but was left in pretty full view on a seat. Nothing may have happened except that a plane full of licensing inspectors landed just after the Minister’s plane and a baggage handler apparently felt it was his duty to tell them that there was a bottle of wine in their vicinity.
After that things took on a life of their own. Ms Mullan took the entire blame and was sacked. Interestingly, according to today’s Sunday Mail she was paid slightly more than twice the termination payment that she would have collected had she resigned. The Premier flew up to the community and apologized.
Yesterday Mullan changed her story after talking to her parents and finding that there could be a criminal trial. She says she feels “crucified” by the Premier, and is not prepared to commit perjury if the matter does go to trial. The revised story is that everyone on the plane knew the bottle was there and that she had told Rob Whiddon, Chief of Staff to the Premier, this. She says her Minister had also told the Premier that she knew the bottle was there. This is denied by the others and the Premier has referred the matter to the Crime and Misconduct Commission.
It’s possible the Minister and the Premier’s Chief of Staff could both go over this, yet I can’t get past the threshold question as to why anyone should be punished.
So, a law was broken. They are broken every day with no consequences to anyone. In trivial matters no one will report the matter or if they do the police will often not press charges. In many matters that do go to trial the judge does not record a conviction. One intention of this particular law is that inhabitants of the community should not be able to drink while living in the community. That was not thwarted by this action. Another intention is to discourage and punish boot-leggers. The Minister’s press advisor was not intending to sell the wine, so again, no substantive issue.
The only issue really seems to be whether the Minister was undermining her own legislation if she knew. I guess she was, but it seems to me that the legislation is overly punitive, so in a political sense it is something that could have been shrugged off. Anyway, it is little different from the Police Commissioner receiving a ticket for jay walking, or the Treasurer not filing a tax return on time – both events that have happened at different levels of Government in Australia with no real consequences for the transgressors.
It is certainly strange that in Queensland foster children can be sent back by the Families Department to carers who have abused them and infected them with STDs and no-one at any level is sacked, yet a minor infraction of an absurdly punitive and restrictive law risks the careers of three senior members of the government. If the Opposition has any political ability, when parliament resumes they should be shooting for the former Minister for Families Judy Spence, and her former Head of Department, Frank Peach as this issue brings them back in reach on much more serious matters.
Stay-tuned. This issue has a few more episodes to run.

Posted by Graham at 7:53 pm | Comments (1) |
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1 Comment

  1. When i just cruise the Crikey web site all sorts of things pop up. I am an activist my father is in bed with an open cancer in his back. I am forcd to learn law in an attempt to defend his and the greater communities position. The manaupaltion of systems of the democratic process is not what im good at but I am able to understand the law and I am not happy being stooged by elected reps at all leve;s of government including me elderly fathers son inlaw! Yeah that’s right Federal son on inlaw abandons long lost war veteran. have a look for the War veteran outside the NSW state parliament house in a hospital bed onnOctober the 15 2003.

    Comment by Edward James — March 13, 2004 @ 1:57 am

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