Time seems to pass strangely as we all wait for the October 31 election to arrive. The Palaszczuk Government’s millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded advertising make the date seem an ocean away.
But then one week can bring events that sum up the entire Palaszczuk Government’s history. This was such a week.
26 Appointments with Two Weeks to Go
This week Ray Hadley highlighted that the Labor Government had crammed through the appointments of 26 Labor “mates” to various government boards and bodies.
What Ray Hadley found particularly offensive was that this was done two weeks before the official election campaign period puts Queensland into “caretaker mode”.
In other words, Labor is determined to ensure a legacy of stacked agencies and institutions to hobble any future non-Labor governments.
Gender Quotas not Ability
Twenty of those appointments were new appointments. I hope merit played some part in the appointment process.
But in a classic illustration of the Government’s skewed priorities, the appointments had to meet the Palaszczuk Government’s gender equity quotas. In other words, a certain number had to be women. Even former Labor MPs’ wives got a jersey in this process.
Let me illustrate the damage that prioritising the most well-meaning of quotas can do.
Mining Deaths as Quotas Unmet
As a representative of Bowen Basin mining towns, I am keenly aware that we have seen 8 deaths in 21 months in our mines and quarries under the Palaszczuk administration. Additionally, a further five members were horribly burnt in the Grosvenor mine explosion.
So, I was furious to learn late last year that the Minister’s advisory committee on Coal Mining Health and Safety had not met for months and months because it had not met its “gender quota”.
The people with the knowledge were all male and so were unacceptable.
Priorities All Wrong
Talk about strange priorities! If there is any board or committee where expertise and experience should dictate appointments, coal mining safety is that panel.
Under Palaszczuk, it is more important to have equal amounts of “boys and girls”, than for the Minister to have access to the best advisors industry and unions can provide.
These gender quotas have been applied right across the administration.
A Legacy of Labor Mates
By highlighting Labor’s flurry of 26 appointments, Ray Hadley reminded us that these Labor appointments are salted right through the administration of Queensland. The results are already there for us to see in mining safety, but the legacy will take years to abate.
No wonder we have the lowest business confidence and highest unemployment of any state – yes, we even beat Victoria to last place.
More Princes and Payrolls
Remember in 2011, under the Bligh Labor Government when we had the “Fake Tahitian Prince” embezzlement scandal?
A Queensland Health employee had been falsifying entries in the Department’s payment system for years. He had defrauded Queensland Health of $16 million and explained his wealth by claiming to be a Tahitian prince.
That very same year a bungled IT upgrade led to the Queensland Health Payroll debacle. A $6 million contract to upgrade the Department’s payroll system blew out to eventually cost Queenslanders $1.2 billion.
Bad enough. Worse, while doing so, it routinely left our health workers unpaid and overpaid. Nurses and doctors were pursued for years for “debts” created by the screw up. Others borrowed money to pay household bills.
History Repeating Itself
It didn’t take long for history to repeat itself. Apparently, nothing was learned – not even a sense of caution.
Flawed System Launched Despite Warnings
This week we learned that Queensland Health was warned twice that there were serious issues around its newest IT project – a new supplier payment system for all the hospitals in the state.
Hospitals purchase all sorts of supplies and services – from the medical to the mundane. Not only are there medicines, dressings and PPE, but there are cooking and cleaning supplies, tradies’ services, even toilet paper.
After the payroll debacle, you would assume the IT team would have learned not to take such a vast system “live” until it was ready and proven.
Don’t Do It, Minister
A month before the August 1 launch, Queensland Health was told by the Auditor General, and separately by an independent review, that there were major problems that needed to be fixed before launch.
Come In, Your Highness
Unbelievably, the Auditor General had found fraud risks were “built-in”. Using this system, a new “Tahitian prince” could alter payment details and then delete them.
Covering the Crime as Simple as “Delete”
The system would generate a legitimate payment owed to a real hospital supplier. A crooked clerk would be able to change the payee details to funnel the money into their own account. They could then cover their tracks by simply deleting the data entries.
Then there were “functional” issues: it wouldn’t work.
The Auditor General reported that the program constantly “froze”, was often delayed and users were unable to access the system at all on eight occasions.
And there were human hurdles too. Only 41 per cent of the staff classified as key users had received training prior to the launch.
One in 100
Scanners in the warehouses weren’t working, and again, staff had not been trained. According to the Courier Mail, in one case this resulted in a hospital ordering one medical glove when it meant to order 100. Repeat this too often and you have major problems.
Never mind all that. There was a launch date to meet and it went ahead.
Full Steam Ahead
In the first year, the system rejected 481,800 invoices because it couldn’t read invoices properly. That was real people whose businesses weren’t getting paid.
In the first three months, alone, there was $540 million in late payments to suppliers. But these late payment issues have continued into 2020.
Naturally, many suppliers cut off the credit and refused any further supplies to Queensland Health. This also contributed to shortages of basic supplies right across the hospital system.
The Real World Effects
At the peak, we heard heart-rending stories of nurses using corporate credit cards to go and purchase Band-Aids and even food for their patients themselves.
The LNP raised the issue in parliament and media reported it widely, but Health Minister Miles said – without a blush – “Staff are using it to successfully pay invoices, make payments and order stock.” He laughably described the system as user-friendly.
Hot Line more of a Deep Freeze
Finally, he set up a special hotline to assist vendors who were chasing payments.
In December 2019, he said “Vendors can be confident that once they make contact with the team, payments will be fast-tracked.”
Instead the complaints team became known for closing cases without having resolved the problem, according to the Courier Mail report.
No Payment – and Over-Payments
A full year after the launch, Queensland Health discovered that it had accidentally paid 1,836 invoices twice, leaving it to chase $6.5 million in over-payments.
We Know Nothing
The Auditor General was scathing in his report this week. The Courier Mail reported that Hospital Services across Queensland couldn’t manage their budgets properly because they literally didn’t know how many unpaid bills they had!
No wonder we are seeing strange decisions like the one to remove doctors’ rental subsidies in mining towns or positions being announced and then quietly fading away.
Secrecy and Distractions
Minister Miles has never provided a proper explanation or any honesty. The Auditor General says $3.1 million was spent in the first four months trying to cover up the debacle, while Minister Miles said it was merely “teething issues” and “user errors”.
The Auditor General’s report makes it very clear it was no such thing. The system had significant, existing flaws – flaws that were designed into the system and therefore, flaws that could not be easily fixed.
Look Over There
When the embarrassing report became public this week, Minister Miles used his morning corona virus media conference to attempt to distract Queenslanders with cheap pot-shots at our PM.
This is just par for the course with this Government and it is still not clear to me that the issues have been fixed. But the Deputy Premier says “Pay no attention. Watch me name-call the PM instead.”
The arrogance lies in his belief that we all fall for this distraction.
No Apology – No Accountability
No Queensland Health officer has been disciplined over the debacle. The Minister has never apologised to all the people – hospital staff and suppliers - impacted by it, or to the Queensland public.
And Now – Another Integrity Scandal
Finally, after about 14 months, the CCC investigation into the Premier’s former Chief of Staff also came out this week.
And the Premier is Directly Responsible
As Chief of Staff, David Barbagallo was the Premier’s right hand. There was no one “above” David Barbagallo in the office hierarchy, except the Premier herself.
That means it was up to the Premier to sign off on his Register of Interests.
This is the list of all the interests of Mr Barbagallo which might create conflicts of interest in his position.
No Evidence of Premier’s Sign Off
According to the CCC, while Barbagallo completed the form, there is no evidence the Premier sighted it let alone signed off on it.
This turned out to be important, because it listed shares in a company called Fortress Capstone, which was developing a phone app. The CruiseTracka app would allow cruise ship passengers to track the location of their cruise ship and share it on their social media.
Shareholder and Director
What Barbagallo did not reveal was that he was also a director of the company – making it “his” company, in a practical sense. He was both a shareholder and a director.
A Quick Taxpayer Top Up of a Quarter Million
The company secured a government grant of $267,000, even as Barbagallo and his wife increased their shareholding by $100,000 in extra shares.
Text Message Shows Other Advocacy
The CCC report also revealed text messages between Barbagallo and the company’s CEO in relation to the Premier’s trade mission to New York asking if there was anything the CEO wanted Barbagallo to get the Premier to ask Royal Caribbean Cruises when she visits them. Barbagallo was travelling with the Premier.
The CCC found the texts “clearly create the perception” Barbagallo intended to use the position to help his business interests.
He Said – She Forgets
Barbagallo told the CCC that he told the Premier of the $267,500 funding in August 2017 when the application was successful.
But Ms Palaszczuk told the CCC she had no records of that, although she did recall being told by her Director of Policy that an “issue” may be raised at Estimates about one of Barbagallo’s companies.
The CCC found that Barbagallo had not misused his position to obtain the funding. But it said that Barbagallo would likely have been disciplined over his behaviour if he had not already resigned in October 2019 when the funding was indeed uncovered during an Estimates hearing.
At that stage, the Premier should have thrown the book at Barbagallo. Instead, she let him off scot-free by allowing him to resign two months after the scandal broke.
Parliament Fobbed Off
When questioned by the LNP about the funding, Premier Palaszczuk told Parliament Barbagallo had received advice from the Integrity Commissioner but the CCC reports that was not true.
Arrogant – or Just Unconventional?
Far from apologising for misleading Parliament, the Premier has brushed these concerns aside, saying there is no need for her to apologise because she didn’t mislead the Parliament.
It is the convention for an MP to apologise for misleading the House, even when it has been accidental and not intentional. Clearly, the Premier believes she is not subject to these conventions.
Auditor General Warns About COVID Spending
This week the Auditor General also rebuked the Palaszczuk Government for not properly assessing billions of dollars of COVID-response spending.
The massive spending program covers $7 Billion worth of announcements since August 21, but the Auditor General was unable to get information to assess its effectiveness.
No One is Asking for the Basics
To do that he needs to know basic information such as uptake rates – how many small businesses received a grant, for instance.
With every department running some sort of COVID program, you would expect either Treasury or the Department of Premier and Cabinet would be acting as central coordinator and receiving such data.
No One is Watching the Cash Box
According to the Auditor General, nope. No-one is doing that and so, as with the lack of a budget, no-one knows if it is working or not. After all, it is only taxpayers’ money.
Electioneering as a COVID Response
One part we do get to see is the $5.8 million of “Unite and Recover” advertising. This appears to be political advertising disguised as a COVID19 response.
Border Restrictions Easing
This week the Premier announced the “border bubble” will expand to include five northern NSW shires.
Byron, Ballina, Lismore, Richmond and Glen Innes will be added to Queensland’s free movement zone.
Queenslanders will be able to travel to these areas but will need a Queensland border pass to return. NSW residents from these shires will be able to come to anywhere in Queensland without a mandatory 14 day hotel quarantine.
Where is that darn Medical Advice?
I still don’t understand why the border was ever closed to these communities. They have always been free of corona virus. I would love to see the medical advice because the closure caused a lot of human suffering, separating families and penalising patients.
The border restrictions have also been lifted on travel from the ACT. I would like to see the medical basis of that closure too. ACT is “cleaner” than Queensland, in terms of corona virus.
Logan Cluster Over
Queensland has now gone two weeks without any community transmission from the Logan cluster, so restrictions on visits to aged care centres, disability centres and hospitals will lift from 1 am today (Friday, September 25).
Dr Young said she was surprised how easy it was to contain the Logan cluster. She said it showed that Queensland now knows we can manage those “incursions”, meaning cluster outbreaks. Hear! Hear!
School Holidays – Take Care on the Roads
Just a quick reminder that school holidays are underway. The road toll has been terrible this year. We lost six people on regional roads the week before last. Six in just one week! I think that equals our total COVID19 toll.
Please take care – not just on highways, but around local streets. Kids will be where you least expect them. Don’t forget, this applies to your own familiar driveway as well.
Fine for Using Truck Rest Stops
Media reports there is a blitz to clear heavy vehicle rest stops along highways. Other drivers caught using the rest stops will cop a $266 fine.
While it is important for truckies to manage their fatigue, in Gregory many drivers are forced to undertake long haul drives several times a year. Just ask me!
All drivers need to manage fatigue or stop safely, from time to time, for other reasons. (Dad, I’m busting! I’m absolutely busting!)
The answer is to build more rest stops. Duh!
Thank You for Reading
Thanks for reading and staying up to date.
As always, I welcome any comments or information by return email.
You can raise any issues with me the same way, or by going to my website at Lachlanmillarmp.com. You can find scholarships, grants, community events and my speeches, newsletters and media releases there as well.
If You Need Help – Please Call
If you need help or advice related to any state government issue, please don’t hesitate to call my offices.
If we can’t help you, we can usually give you the contacts for the right person who can. Gregory Longreach is PH (07) 4521 5700. Gregory Emerald (07) 4913 1000.
Kindest Regards – and stay safe,
Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.