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Do we really need our $55m corruption watchdog to be out chasing parked cars?

Opinion

Amid the huffing and puffing over emails sent by the Premier from a personal account, there remains the obvious question – did she do anything wrong? Probably not, writes Dennis Atkins

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The dog who caught the car is an old saying in politics, referring to the question of just what a barking animal might do if it reached its goal of reaching the moving vehicle going by.

Political gotchas, wild goose chases, and make-work inquiries undertaken by official busy bodies such as Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission abound in parked car chases.

The latest example is the breathless email affair relating to a few pieces of electronic correspondence primarily between Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and cabinet minister Mark Bailey.

Bailey was the subject of mysterious controversy prior to the 2017 election because of his use of a yahoo email account, named “mangocube6”.

Apart from the daggy use of yahoo email (at least it wasn’t hotmail.com), Bailey got into trouble, the point of which remains a mystery to almost everyone.

He stood aside from his portfolio, was subjected to a CCC inquiry and cleared without anyone being able to explain what it was he was accused of having done, regardless of what might have occurred – or not.

With that parked car pushed around the corner, attention from the usual suspects turned to Palaszczuk and her private emails. At least Palaszczuk didn’t use daggy yahoo or hotmail accounts, preferring more mainstream “bigpond” and “gmail” digital transmission.

This political page-turner (it should be renamed a “what did they do”) is not up to the standard of Mississippi former politician and lawyer turned legal thriller best-seller John Grisham, but it is captivating some in the Brisbane media-political milieu.

At the weekend, a handful of emails from Palaszczuk’s “private” archive (could be all there is, but we might never know or even care that much) were released through the Parliamentary committee carrying out a statutory obligation to examine whether, why and how the CCC might continue to exist.

Breathlessly scrolling down the few missives, the only possible question is, what is all the fuss about? The only possible answer is clear: bugger all.

These are emails from four or five years ago. They are at least innocuous and certainly do not meet any standard of misconduct.

The nit-picking is that a reference to her director-general Dave Stewart contradicts an assertion no official business was discussed. In the land of the small-minded, maybe this is the case. Does it amount to a hill of beans? No.

Now, Palaszczuk is being accused of that intensely corruption-adjacent crime of stubbornness. If being stubborn is a crime, politicians from around the nation will be in the dock. Is there a point to all this?

The CCC’s chairman Alan MacSporran has a very important job – guarding the public sector against the possibility and reality of corruption. The problem is the corruption-fighting body has limits, and strains are felt when it reaches them.

They spend a lot of time testing the aroma or the perception of corruption, seeking to push the stress boundaries that can be stretched by pressure but are more often than not tough enough to sustain and endure.

Unpicking the heart of the private email brouhaha, MacSporran says using non-official communication could hide misconduct or worse. He’s right and the use of such emails should be outside public service rules.

This self-evident point to one side, the only residual question is whether anything corrupt or wrong happened. Bailey’s original “mangocube” emails were cleared by the CCC and MacSporran reckons there’s nothing corrupt and the private accounts were not used for official purposes.

Anyone who knows anything about Palaszczuk has to acknowledge she is as far from corrupt as just about anyone in public life. Not only is it beyond her nature and inclination, she is way too timid to try any risky behaviour, let alone anything dodgy.

Palaszczuk was criticised for asking journalists in recent days to state what wrong had been done in this brouhaha, but surely it’s a vital question. If you’re supposed to have done something wrong, you should be told what the wrong is. So far that hasn’t happened.

Back to the parked cars. The opposition integrity spokeswoman Fiona Simpson and her media cheer squad have caught the car but now don’t know what to do with it. We’ve got a corruption fighting body with an overactive imagination and too much time on its hands – as well as some systemic faults in genuine need of reform.

Is there any real value in having a body that is both an investigator and prosecutor? Should the CCC’s infamous and secretive star chamber be retained? Should the scope of the CCC be narrowed so it doesn’t vacuum up what appear to be minor internal departmental disciplinary issues?

Do we need an organisation with a $55million budget checking on people who might have taken a notebook home for their own use? Should there be limits on making anonymous allegations with the flimsiest of evidence (if anything at all) to support claims that could end a career?

These are far more important issues than whether someone used a private email when they probably should not have – but did nothing wrong in the process.

Get a grip. Leave the car parked where it is and get back to the moving traffic.

 

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