D’Ath called the report published on Wednesday “highly defamatory” and “based solely on smear and innuendo”.
The article drawing her ire was published on the ABC News website, detailing arrangements that saw her declare a storage unit on her register of gifts from businesswoman Marlene Newcombe, whose family owns a string of car dealerships and other business interests in D’Ath’s electorate of Redcliffe, north of Brisbane.
D’Ath told the ABC the unit was used to store furniture, but declined to explain where it was located and for how long it was used.
As far as gifts go from business people who bestow items of goodwill on politicians and particularly ministers, a non-descript storage bin, presumably in the boondocks of Redcliffe, is a long way down on the scandal barometer. It’s hardly what you would describe as a lavish or life-changing favour.
D’Ath in the article calls Marlene Newcombe a friend and has made no secret of her admiration and affection for the Newcombe family, including for Marlene Newcombe’s son, Shane, who is the proprietor of a local news website, the Moreton Daily.
As a former federal MP, turned State Government minister in the Palaszczuk administration, there is nothing unusual about D’Ath holding loyal supporters and backers in high regard and acknowledging this publicly, particularly when she has been involved in building and maintaining her political profile for more than a decade.
InQueensland is also not suggesting D’Ath has done anything wrong on the evidence contained in the ABC report.
But the sequence of events and apparent connections between the two women provide cause for more legitimate questions to be asked and then answered by the minister, not deflected by insinuating her only response will be to call in the defamation lawyers.
It is completely reasonable that questions would be asked as to how a payment of $419,000, as reported, found its way in, during the last financial year to Marlene Newcombe’s company, from Queensland Health’s Metro North division, to secure one of her vacant buildings as a Covid-19 vaccination hub.
As the minister in charge of the State’s health portfolio, D’Ath has said such administrative decisions are made at a departmental level and don’t reach her office.
Departmental staff also declined to disclose who negotiated the rental arrangement with Newcombe’s company Colbury Pty Ltd.
D’Ath also did not answer questions from the ABC about whether the gift of the storage space at the same time as the rental deal of nearly half a million dollars amounted to a perceived conflict of interest.
InQueensland has also asked D’Ath about perceived conflicts of interest that directly relate to decisions made and relationships forged in her office during the Covid pandemic.
In June this year, InQueensland discovered D’Ath directing Queenslanders, on her Facebook account, to a Pharmacy Guild website at the outset of the State Government’s subsidised flu vaccination roll-out.
The website would help patients find a participating pharmacy and make an appointment for their jab, but would also collect information to furnish the Guild, representing the owners of some of Australia’s biggest pharmacy chains, with data they could use for sales and marketing purposes.
Pharmacies participating in the vaccination scheme were also required to use a Pharmacy Guild owned database called GuildCare, which collects patient information and automatically submits vaccination records to the Australian Immunisation Register.
The vaccination program came after apparent intense lobbying by the Pharmacy Guild, regarded as the nation’s sixth biggest political donor behind the ANZ Bank, Australian Hotels Association and Wesfarmers.
According to the Queensland Integrity Commissioner, 81 meetings, 24 of them in D’Ath’s office, took place with Pharmacy Guild lobbyists between August 2020 and February this year, with activity increasing markedly ahead of the influenza vaccine announcement.
The flurry of meetings also took place amid negative coverage of a women’s health program in north Queensland involving pharmacists in lead clinical roles.
Further extensions to allow pharmacists to diagnose a range of medical conditions and prescribe treatment currently has the Pharmacy Guild and the Australian Medical Association and its Queensland division in conflict.
InQueensland has previously asked the minister to clarify the nature of the relationship between the Queensland Government, her office and the Pharmacy Guild and to explain why it appears the Guild is receiving preferential treatment that has the potential to benefit its members financially.
The only response InQueensland received was a phone call from one of the minister’s media staffers to suggest the line of questioning was out of order.
The Pharmacy Guild relationship has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks, with plans by the NSW and Victorian governments to effectively replicate the Queensland programs in their states.
It comes at a time when GPs are buckling under long hours, punishing demand and financial strain from Medicare’s ailing rebate capacity.
Anxiety among medicos is only heightened when they see the momentum of three state governments swinging towards one of the country’s biggest known political benefactors, and which threatens to further erode their interests at a time when their need for support is at its greatest.
The moves have set social media alight, with doctors across the nation’s three most populous states asking how state health ministers, on both sides of the political divide, are allowed to circumvent Commonwealth legislation that informs the recommendations of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australia’s medication safety regulator.
The answer to that question is probably no mystery, certainly nowhere near as big a secret as an undisclosed storage bin in Redcliffe.