Tuesday June 27, 2017

Newman Regime Vs CMC Explained

Written by David Marler
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Queensland Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie has taken on his CMC boss Ross Martin

Newman Regime Vs CMC Explained

Jarrod Examines banned toys


When the Liberal National Party (LNP) of Campbell Newman came to power in 2012, it instilled 30 year old Jarrod Bleijie (pronounced 'blay') as Queensland Attorney General. It was a surprise move, as the experienced Ian Walker was expected to take the role. Walker had over 40 years experience in the LNP and 35 years experience at law firm Norton Rose Australia. (Walker finally got his ministerial portfolio in Arts, Science and IT after the Ros Bates demise).

It came down to factionalism; Bleijie was closely aligned with LNP President Bruce McIver. He'd graduated Law in 2006 and by 2009 he had a safe seat as MP for Kawana on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. He'd worked for a brief time as a solicitor handling commercial law. Upon taking office, he amended Queensland's newly implemented Civil Union laws, downgrading them to a registry lodgement. He went on to legislate 'boot camps' for young offenders. He closed all of the Queensland Indigenous Murri Courts saying that they didn't work effectively. He'd been instrumental in moving the traditional Queensland May Labour Day public holiday to October, much to the disgruntlement of the ALP and unions. He'd even gone so far as to accuse the ALP of bolshevism in opposing that change.

By contrast, Ross Martin was the CEO of Queensland's Crime and Misconduct Commission. The CMC had been setup after the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption. An ABC 4Corners program entitled The Moonlight State by reporter Chris Masters had been a partial trigger in the Inquiry which would see the Queensland police commissioner, Terry Lewis jailed. It would also lead to the resignation of Premier Joh Bjelke Petersen.
Martin was admitted to the Queensland bar in 1984. By 1988 he was seconded to the Fitzgerald Inquiry as a lawyer and subsequently became part of the special Prosecutor’s Office in 1990. He conducted more that 50 criminal trials and even prosecuted the disgraced Beattie Government minister, Gordon Nuttall. In terms of his role as CEO of the CMC, there seemed no better choice.

The LNP didn't agree. They fiercely opposed Martin's appointment in March 2012, weeks out from the March 24 election. The then parliamentary leader Jeff Seeney accused Premier Bligh of rushing through the appoinment and claimed 'caretaker conventions'.  However, the election date had been named without parliament being formally dissolved and Martin took up his post.

Post election, tension between the Newman Government and the CMC brewed steadily throughout 2012. During the election, former Premier Anna Bligh had referred Campbell Newman to the CMC on 4 occasions over his family business interests. No impropriety was found. Premier Newman has since denied that this had anything to do with the current tensions. However, Newman was not to spare the CMC of job cuts, axing over 70 staff.
The now Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney stated that the CMC needed to adopt the 'right attitude' when it launched a self initiated investigation into party political donations.
Bleijie was to counter with his own review of the CMC which is due to return a report within days.

Tensions between the government and CMC were never more evident than at the October budget estimates hearing when Opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk called Ross Martin forward to answer questions over the political donations review. As the CMC boss outlined the effects of job cuts to his department, neither Martin or Bleijie could summon the willpower to make eye contact.

On 6th March 2013, the CMC revealed an accidental release of Fitzgerald Inquiry documents to the Queensland State Archives. They contained names and details of informants that were not due for release until 2055 but had been freely available to the public for over a year. The following day it was revealed other documents had been shredded. The chair of Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct committee, Liz Cunningham, was able to ascertain that the CMC was aware of the problem from May 2012 but had not advised her of the problem at the time.

Once A Bolshevik

By 5:45pm on 7th March, Martin had written to Bleijie asking for legislation to be passed to prevent publishing of any of the records that may have been read from the State archives.  At 8pm, Bleijie entered the Parliamentary chamber and stated that Martin had until 10pm to present a full explanation as to what had occurred.  Martin never responded and Parliament debated the issue until 3:30am the follow day before passing the legislation entitles CMC Administrative Negligence Rectification Bill.

Earlier on the day of the 7th, an article appeared in the Brisbane Times with allegations that Peter Costello had been referred to the CMC over a conflict of interest with his lobbyist firm ECG and the audit he was performing into Queensland's finances. Some suspicion has arisen over the timing of the CMC challenge by the Newman Government in order to protect Costello. However, there is no evidence at this stage to substantiate this theory and it may simply be coincidence.

On the 8th, both Newman and Bleijie called a parliamentary inquiry into the document handling by the CMC and were highly critical of Martin. Opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk urged both to refrain from any further comments as it may impact the outcome of the inquiry.

At 5:44pm, Martin resigned as CEO of the CMC citing health reasons; a battle with cystic fibrosis forcing him to seek a lung transplant. Throughout the course of the CMC negligence battle, he'd been hospitalised, frequently leaving his bed to front the media and deal with the problems.

Update1 - 8/3/13: 

President of the Australian Council of Civil Liberties, Terry O'Gorman, says that Ross Martin should not be made a scapegoat and the opportunity to review the CMC should taken.

Update 2 - 10/3/13:

Chair of the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct committee (PCMC), Liz Cunningham and long-term Independent MP for Gladstone chastised Premier Newman over his comments. Newman had quiped that the PCMC was the 'lapdog' of the CMC and allowed the CMC to 'shred documents'.

Of Ross Martin he said, "My concern is we have a senior important public servant who doesn't seem to understand his responsibility or his accountability to the people of Queensland,".

Cunningham's reply was decisive “For a fair transparent and unbiased inquiry to proceed, a mature and measured approach by all associated with the committee's inquiry is necessary.”

Update 3 - 14/3/13

On Thursday, CMC information management director Peter Duell told the PCMC that the release of the Fitzgerald documents was a 'huge mistake' and that he had not checked the files before ordering them to be released into the public space.

Update 4 - 15/3/13

Outgoing CMC Chair, Ross Martin, fronts the PCMC Inquiry into release of Fitzgerald documents and accepts full responsibility.

Update 5 - 6/4/13

With the CMC in crisis, the Callinan/Aroney report into the CMC was released. It recommended changes and a restructure. Actions such as research could only be requested by the Queensland Government or approved by the Attorney-General. Also, it would be an offence for anyone, including CMC officers, 'to disclose that a complaint has been made, the nature, substance or subject of the complaint or the fact the CMC is investigating'.

Twitter coverage

The Courier Mail's Sarah Vogler was present throughout the mammoth sitting on the night of 7th March 2013. Her twitter coverage is displayed below:

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