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Witch-hunts can Make Things Worse - as Queensland's History Shows
(Email sent 19/7/10)

Terry Sweetman
Sunday Mail

Re: Moral Crusade or a Manic Witch-hunt?, Sunday Mail, 18/7/10

I should like to endorse your suggestions about: (a) the futility of non-specific Opposition allegations of corruption within Queensland's Government; and (b) the need rather for hard policy work.

My interpretation of your article: Bjelke Peterson regime showed what real corruption smells like, and how it corrodes politics and public administration. It profited ministers and put some in jail, while police service was corrupted from top to bottom. Opposition leader (John-Paul Langbroek) now accuses Queensland Government of corruption from Cabinet down - triggered by reappointment of police commissioner, while also referring to jailing of a former minister (Gordon Nuttall). He is in danger of crying wolf over unproven charges - and perhaps demean important institutions. Bligh Government is incompetent, devious, arrogant, stumble-footed and accident-prone - but this is short of corruption. If there is corruption it is the LNP's duty to expose it, and provide evidence (which they haven't done). Even incompetence has mainly been exposed by media. The Nuttall case doesn't prove widespread corruption. LNP has public support and resources to blow the whistle on corruption. They need to put up or shut up, or even better knuckle down to hard policy work.

There is a real possibility of widespread corruption within the Queensland Government (as your article suggests that the Opposition leader is publicly claiming) For the last two decades there has been an 'odour' associated with governments that has suggested corruption no less serious than (though different from) that which had existed under the Bjelke Peterson regime in the 1980s (see Reform of Queensland Institutions - or a Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?, 2004). As the latter showed, there has been no shortage of potential areas of concern.

However it is incompetence in the political system and in government administration that creates an environment in which corrupt behaviour is able and likely to flourish (eg because then no one in government has a serious job to do, and no one is really 'minding the store'). And the extreme incompetence that your article suggested characterises the present state Government and Opposition is arguably less (even if now more publicly recognised) than that of their predecessors over the past two decades - and all seem to have excelled even the Bjelke Peterson regime in the incompetence stakes (and thus in their potential to breed and host corruption).

Your article is quite right to suggest that manic witch-hunts by moral crusaders won't solve this problem. The 'reform' efforts of the Goss Government clearly demonstrated that 'witch hunts' are likely to make the situation worse (see Journey Towards a More Effective 'Fitzgerald Inquiry', 2009 and Queensland's Worst Government?, January 2005). One practical problem is that 'moral crusaders' may simply not know what competence is.

However the hard work needed to build competence into Queensland's political system and public administration can't be done by the Opposition alone. Things are not going to change, as long as business and community elites generally believe that: (a) they don't need to take responsibility for leading in economic / community development and in providing the raw material needed for meaningful policy debate; and (b) government can be effective when supported by a politicised (ie 'yes-men' dominated) public service - see respectively External Support and Internal Support to the political system in The Upper House Solution: A Commentary.

John Craig