Madden hijacks inquiry

Source:Stateline Victoria
Published:Friday, March 12, 2010 12:00 AEDT
Expires:Thursday, June 10, 2010 12:00 AEDT


Planning Minister Justin Madden has hijacked an inquiry set up to investigate his office, but his staff will not appear as witnesses.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA, PRESENTER: There’s great financial benefit to a community if it has an anti-corruption commission according to the country’s best known anti-corruption crusader Tony Fitzgerald. His views have been echoed by a former Victorian Supreme Court judge Tim Smith who has told a review into Victoria’s current system that the state should have a crime commission. Tony Fitzgerald was in Melbourne to launch an award to honour parliamentary integrity in Australia. But far from praise, Mr Fitzgerald warned politics is controlled by a few self-interested individuals in the major parties and says the trend of cash for access to ministers and premiers is unprincipled. His comments come in a week where the issue of accountability has dominated the Victorian Parliament.

TONY FITZGERALD, FORMER ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSIONER: Well-connected, often wealthy individuals and groups are given access to and influence over the political process. Decisions favouring special interests are common. Secrecy and misinformation, euphemistically called “spin”, are routinely employed. Media management, as it’s called, insults and confuses the electorate.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: It was a scathing condemnation of the state of political culture in Australia from the country’s best known anti-corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald. As if to underscore the standards of modern politics today, a parliamentary committee set up to investigate the now infamous Justin Madden media plan which revealed a strategy of fake consultation over the Windsor Hotel redevelopment degenerated into chaos.

TONY FITZGERALD: The prevailing political culture is increasingly amoral with each party lowering its standards, exploiting gaps in the law and disregarding ethical standards in order to compete.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: Tony Fitzgerald came to fame in Queensland in the 1980s as head of the Fitzgerald inquiry into police corruption. It effectively brought down the Bjelke-Petersen Government. He was invited to Melbourne by a group called the Accountability Roundtable. It keeps a close watch on the behaviour of our politicians and promotes honesty and accountability in government. It’s the very issue that has dominated the Victorian Parliament this week and dogging Planning Minister Justin Madden since the inadvertent release of his media plan. Mr Madden became this week the first minister in a century to have two votes of no-confidence passed against him. He also faces a parliamentary inquiry.

MATT VINEY, UPPER HOUSE GOVERNMENT WHIP: How is it reasonable for this House to draw a conclusion and conduct not only the sentence, but in effect the political execution of someone before the public hearings have been held?

DAVID DAVIS, UPPER HOUSE, OPPOSITION LEADER: They will not allow the relevant ministerial advisers to attend the committee. We’ve had the Premier out there saying, “We won’t let them attend the committee.” I mean, this is hypocrisy on four horses. It’s amazing to think that they would say, “Oh, no, we want the process at the committee,” and yet they are actually actively blocking the committee’s work.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: The committee has issued a subpoena to Peta Duke, the minister’s press secretary, who wrote the now infamous media plan. She failed to appear. Instead, Justin Madden decided he wanted his time before the committee.

GREG BARBER, GREENS PARTY: Well the committee itself is a session of Parliament, so I s’pose he came pretty close to contempt of Parliament himself, but that’s not really the issue. This issue is we needed to hear from his media adviser. He’s determined for us not to hear.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: The Government is refusing to allow any of its media advisers to appear before the committee.

“STATE QUESTION TIME”: What does the Premier have to hide in seeking to prevent the Premier’s top spin doctors George Spigos and Fiona McCrae from appearing before the Victorian Upper House inquiry?

JOHN BRUMBY, PREMIER: The long-established agreements and conventions and traditions are that advisers and political staffers do not appear.

TIM SMITH, ACCOUNTABILITY ROUNDTABLE: That is troubling if that’s going to become part of the Victorian parliamentary conventions, if you like. It really makes it extremely difficult for the Parliament to hold the executive to account.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: Former Supreme Court judge Tim Smith heads up the accountability roundtable.

TIM SMITH: The issue is not holding ministerial advisers to account in the Parliament, but holing the Minister to account, and Parliament can only do that if it has access to all relevant information. And ministers who should be honouring the principle of accountability should be making it available.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: Do you believe ministerial staff should appear before this Upper House committee?

KEN COGHILL, MONASH GOVERNANCE RESEARCH UNIT: Ministerial staff certainly should appear if called, but I think it needs to be very clear that they shouldn’t be held accountable for things falling under the minister’s responsibility. What they can do is provide information to help the committee arrive at its conclusions.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: The accountability roundtable has put a submission to the Elizabeth Proust review into Victoria’s various anti-corruption agencies, such as the Ombudsman and the Office of Police Integrity. The submission says Victoria should follow the leads of other states and set up a comprehensive anti-corruption commission.

TIM SMITH: Government secrecy, I think it must be said, whoever is in power, has increased. The temptations and opportunities for corruption have increased. Our view is – I think I can say this – our view is that we should be looking at it as a major risk problem that needs to be addressed.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: The accountability roundtable is inviting the public to nominate politicians it thinks are eligible for two awards: the John Button and Alan Missen awards. They’ll be presented to two politicians the public believes show integrity and honesty.

TIM SMITH: Integrity, a world for politicians? What on earth are you talking about? That’s a very common reaction. But then they stop and think about it and they say, “Oh, yeah, well there is so-and-so and there is so-and-so.” I say, “Well put in a nomination.” And that’s what I’d urge everyone to do.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: And if you wish to nominate someone, at this stage only federal politicians are eligible. The website address is

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