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Corruption watchdog’s black mark for Premier’s former right-hand man

Politics

In another integrity blow for Labor, it has emerged the Premier’s former Chief of Staff, David Barbagallo, could have faced disciplinary action for his actions.

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The Crime and Corruption Commission has spent months investigating whether Barbagallo misused his position in order for Fortress Capstone, a company in which he was a shareholder and director, to benefit from $267,000 in state funding.

The investigation has added to the Labor government’s integrity woes this term, and came as the CCC was also investigating then deputy premier Jackie Trad over issues that ultimately led to her resignation from Cabinet.

In a report tabled this afternoon, the CCC found that Barbagallo supported the company’s decision to seek government funding but had no involvement in the application or investment pitch. Extraordinarily, his name and then role were mentioned in the presentation to the investment panel, however panel members insisted it did not influence their decisions.

While the CCC ultimately concluded there was no evidence that Barbagallo had misused his position to secure the funds, or that there was undue influence in the government decision to invest, it was highly critical of the failure to properly manage his conflict of interest.

Barbagallo insisted he remained at arm’s length in the company’s efforts to secure public investment, yet the CCC could find no evidence to support his claim to have told Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her top bureaucrat about the application for, and awarding of, government funds.

The CCC report notes that Palaszczuk told a parliamentary committee hearing last year that Barbagallo “did get Integrity Commissioner advice”.

“The only record of Barbagallo seeking advice from the Integrity Commissioner is a letter dated 28 February 2018,” the report states.

“Barbagallo did not follow through in obtaining advice from the Integrity Commissioner. Barbagallo did not “get Integrity Commissioner advice” as stated by the Premier.”

The CCC report noted that Barbagallo had not taken up opportunities to declare he was not only a shareholder in Fortress Capstone but also a director, and that the company had received government funding. He disclosed he was a director a year ago, which the CCC found to be interesting timing.

“The timing of Barbagallo submitting this declaration coincided with the Department of the Premier and Cabinet receiving EY’s internal audit report into the process of Fortress Capstone receiving co-investment funding from the AQBD Fund and Barbagallo commencing leave on 20 September 2019 prior to him finishing in the role of the Premier’s Chief of Staff on 15 October 2019,” the report states.

Had Barbagallo not left the role, the CCC would have expected the Premier to consider disciplinary action. If parliament had not been dissolved ahead of the October 31 election, Palaszczuk would have faced scrutiny for allegedly misleading parliament (the CCC accepted she had herself been misled). The Liberal National Party is expected to revisit Labor’s integrity woes.

In his evidence to the CCC, Barbagallo insisted he had not set out to do the wrong thing, and had sought to act with integrity since his days working for then premier Wayne Goss.

“I worked for Goss we brought in the CCC stuff you know, we’re from the good guys,” Barbagallo said, according to the report.

“You know that other mob are the ones that are corrupt and f…ed over this State so you know I have an intellectual, philosophical and personal commitment and everywhere I’ve worked I’ve set up procurement policies and a whole bunch of things to ensure people aren’t doing the wrong thing. So when you start from that position the rest is detail. ‘Cos you know you’re not going to do anything wrong.

“Having said that, that sort of arrogance leads to there is that you’ve already heard about you know not checking everything completely diligently. You work 100 hours a week in that job right. It’s pretty hard yakka. Okay it’s not an excuse but it’s a reason why things get overlooked.”

The government’s investment in Fortress Capstone helped fund a cruise ship tracking app, which would now be of limited benefit given the industry has ground to a halt.

Labor has promised to implement the CCC recommendations if re-elected.

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