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The rise and fall of 'Mister Ipswich' - from the mayor's office to a Wacol prison cell

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Those who were once close to disgraced former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale describe a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality and a “dark, sinister” side they say was hidden from the view of the Ipswich public who loved him. Anna Hartley reports

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Disgraced former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale garnered a reputation as a loveable larrikin and was dubbed the most popular politician in Australia at the peak of his career.

But his public fall from grace revealed the once unassailable mayor, dubbed “Mr Ipswich”, was hiding many dark secrets.

The 69-year-old has now pleaded guilty to fraud, perjury, corruption, and sexual assault after being jailed for extortion last year.

Those who were once close to Pisasale have described a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality, detailing a “dark, sinister” side they said was hidden from public view.

Retired Bundamba MP Jo-Ann Miller was one of the key anti-corruption campaigners who helped expose misconduct at Ipswich City Council.

“Paul Pisasale was always full of life, gregarious, he could sell ice to Eskimos,” she said.

“But behind that was a very sinister element and not many Ipswich people saw that, but it was certainly the case.

“His sinister side was very nasty, and a lot of people suffered because of that corrupt, dark side,” Miller said.

“Ipswich was taken over … it became almost a dictatorship. It was the mayor’s way or no way.

“It was dodgy, it was really, really dodgy. Not only is Paul Pisasale dodgy, the man is a criminal.”

Miller was a vocal opponent of Pisasale for years and first raised corruption concerns in Queensland Parliament in 2006 after council employees came to her with stories of bullying and misconduct.

“That started an unholy war between myself and the councillors,” she said.

“The way the council went after me was nothing short of political terrorism.

“Full-time officers were put on my trail, they went after my family and friends.

“The Crime and Corruption Commission took too long to address the issues in council, but when it became apparent the corruption was systemic that is when it all changed, and thank God it did.”

Ipswich Ratepayers and Residents Association president Jim Dodrill also described what he believed was a culture of intimidation at the council.

“People were talking about Ipswich being the Sicily of Australia, the mafia central of Australia,” he said.

“There were two Paul Pisasales … we didn’t know until much later there was another very dark, aggressive side that he hid very well.”

The investigation into Pisasale and the aftermath of the council’s sacking didn’t just affect the city of Ipswich, it was the catalyst for major reform to local government across Queensland, with new anti-corruption laws cracking down on councillor training, donations and transparency.

Where did it all begin?

Pisasale was an industrial chemistry student at the Queensland Institute of Technology (now university) before working at a laboratory in Ipswich.

He later broke into business by purchasing the Cecil Hotel and Colliers Restaurant.

He then started his own business, the Young Unemployed People of Ipswich (YUPI) which helped make Pisasale a well-known name in Ipswich and ultimately helped launch his career as a councillor in 1991.

Allan Roebuck served as Pisasale’s media adviser from his first day as Ipswich mayor in 2004 until he announced his retirement at a media conference in 2017, emerging in a wheelchair dressed in pyjamas and citing health reasons for his departure.

“That morning [Pisasale retired] was a blur, the mayor was insistent he be in the pyjamas and now infamous red socks and fronted the media,” Roebuck said.

“Whether that was the right way to announce your retirement I don’t know.”

What do the people of Ipswich think?

Mr Roebuck said many council employees, including himself, were left “shocked and hurt” following revelations of Pisasale’s corruption and misconduct.

“There was a sense of incredible disappointment,” he said.

Mr Roebuck has since left council and runs a podcast about local government in Ipswich.

He said most people in Ipswich believed Pisasale’s contribution to the city was positive overall, despite the seriousness of his crimes.

“For a considerable time after he resigned, the feeling in Ipswich was that if he ran again, Paul Pisasale would be re-elected — he was just so popular,” Roebuck said.

“Now that feeling is probably more subdued.

“He was incredibly dedicated to the job, there is no questioning that. It was an unfortunate way to finish what, in the majority, was a stellar career.”

Although he was known for his colourful personality, Pisasale staunchly defended negative perceptions of Ipswich often on a national scale and was a passionate advocate for the growing city.

He also supported residents through hard times including the devastating 2011 floods where about 7200 buildings were flood-affected, including 3000 homes.

Pisasale strongly discouraged looting and fought for residents to be covered by insurance during the floods, going as far as to accuse the insurance industry of profiting from disaster and trying to evade its responsibility to support victims.

Roebuck said it was Pisasale’s one on one, personable style campaigning that won the hearts of Ipswich and ultimately Australia.

“He was the consummate grassroots politician,” Roebuck said.

“When I first moved to Ipswich in 1998, I had a knock at my door and it was the local councillor Paul Pisasale welcoming me to the city.

“So if he replicated that across the city, that’s worth more than any amount of advertising.

“He worked basically 24/7, his family sacrificed a lot. Every week, he’d go to some type of wedding anniversary, P and C event, seniors event, youth events and he loved doing that job and people loved him.”

Miller said Pisasale’s guilty pleas did not mean residents should stop being worried about corruption in Ipswich.

“People need to be forever vigilant that this never occurs again,” she said.

– ABC / Anna Hartley

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