March 11, 2004 | Graham

Peter, what are you doing?

A week ago Teresa Mullan media adviser to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs lost her job. My post of three days ago has the details. I’ve checked the Premier’s press releases and no direct reason is given for the sacking. The release on her sacking is oblique. It might be because she broke the law. It might be because “It sends completely the wrong signal about my Government’s commitment to helping Indigenous communities find a solution to the alcohol problem which many of them are trying to deal with.”
Today Teresa Mullan has not only been reinstated, but as an advisor in the Premier’s own department. Why? Again, everything is oblique. We know that Mullan had a meeting with the Premier yesterday to which she took her lawyer, Tony Morris QC. Morris is a distinguished member of the Queensland Bar (and webmaster of Lex Scripta 2004 ), but normally when he gets involved in political stoushes it is on one side or other of a Liberal Party brawl. It looks like Morris is doing this one pro-bono. Normally one would expect only solicitors to be involved at this stage. Barristers are generally kept for court, and only act on briefs from solicitors.
The Courier Mail speculates that Mullan has been reinstated because the airport is not covered by the law because its tarmac is not a “public area”. Bruce Gibson, an Aboriginal leader and candidate for Cook thinks this is all cock and bull. As he says in a press release:

“…sections 37A and 37B within Schedule 1D [Lockhart River]
of the 2002 Liquor Regulation states(sic):
1. Area to declared to be a restricted area
Each of the following areas is a restricted area –
(a) the community area of the Lockhart River Aboriginal Council
other than parts of the road known as Frenchman’s Road and Portland
Roads Road within the external boundaries of the land described as lot
16 on plan 104551;
(b) the Lockhart River Airport.
2. Prescribed quantity
(1) The prescribed quantity for the restricted area, other than the
canteen, is zero.
(2) The prescribed quantity for the canteen is –
(a) for beer – any quantity – and
(b) for spirits or wine – zero
Mr Gibson said the law, as it is above, applied to everyone including

Other lawyers, including Alistair Macadam (what better surname for a legal expert on tarmac) from QUT who spoke on ABC Radio, disagree, but I’d have to say that it looks to me like the only bitumen not covered by the law is at Frenchman’s and Portland Roads, not the airport.
The Premier’s reinstatement of Mullan seems to suggest that she did not break the law, which does no more than beg the question. After sacking Mullan Beattie announced a CMC inquiry into the issue. Shouldn’t he have waited until after the inquiry before sacking anyone. In fact, the CMC is the second port of call in this because the whole thing ought to be a police matter, in which case, one would wait for a police report. Neither of these bodies has produced a report yet, leaving the possibility open that they might recommend that the reinstated Mullan face criminal charges. Where would that leave the Premier?
Perhaps Mullan wasn’t sacked for breaching the law, but because she had “sen[t] completely the wrong signal about [the] Government’s commitment to helping Indigenous communities.” If that is the case and it is a question of the spirit rather than the letter of the law nothing has changed, whether Mullan broke the law or not. In his release announcing her reinstatement Beattie says:
“I accept that Teresa believes she made an honest recollection of events. She did the right thing in correcting her statement to the police.” This almost sounds as though she is being rewarded for her honesty if you paraphrased it like this, “Teresa broke the law and brought my government’s commitment to this policy into question, but she stood up to extreme pressure and honestly presented her side of the story, and therefore I am rewarding her.”
If that is partly the Premier’s reasoning, then what punishment is he now going to hand out to Policy Advisor Catherine Dunne, who had been told about the wine, but chose to keep her mouth closed about it until yesterday? Or member for Cook Jason O’Brien who not only now admits that he knew about the wine, but says that this particular law is stupid? This approach should see them disciplined for not speaking up when Mullan did.
The cynical will see the roll-out of admissions as proof that the reinstatement had nothing to do with the legal intricacies of whether the tarmac at the airport was covered by the law, and everything to do with the need to shut the damage down.
But then, as Mullan is still allowed to stick to her story, what exactly has been shut down? Perhaps Morris gave a lecture to the Premier about unfair dismissal laws, which would be all well and good, except that what embarrassment would there be to the government from dismissing her if Mullan had broken the law? And if she hadn’t, well the government could just deal with it when that was shown to be the case.
Maybe I’m missing something here, but none of this quite adds up. It still looks like the most inept piece of political management for quite some time, and it is not aging any better than the cheap wine at the centre of this brouhaha would either.

Posted by Graham at 11:13 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

1 Comment

  1. This is a very lonnnnnnnnnnng skinny column with one or two words perline….. very hard to read. Maybe fix it next time?

    Comment by sue — March 12, 2004 @ 5:02 pm

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