Crime and corruption report exposures cultural failures
The Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (QCCC) has made 31 recommendations to strengthen transparency and integrity in local governments throughout Queensland following the Operation Belcarra report.
In spite of the positive project announcements for North Queensland and the economic improvements the associated investments are having on lowering housing rental vacancy rates and unemployment rates, the QCCC report confirms that systematic electoral corruption is wide-spread.
This quagmire of conduct exposes real estate markets and the broader economy to the risk of unsustainable growth.
It is not the stimulation effect of creating jobs and contracts from the major projects that are of concern. These are often the headline announcements and the news that politicians and commercial operators push. The inflow of new capital and genuine investment is welcome.
But its the hidden factors of poor governance and the consequential market confidence that is bubbling away under the surface that makes Townsville an economy showing symptoms of corruption and consumer exhaustion. If the media and political press releases are to be believed, Townsville and North Queensland are in the grip of a population, housing, construction and employment boom.
Green shoots of a recovery are in motion and these projects implemented will drive strong economic growth. But unless preventative and corrective action is taken against symptomatic and causal practices that perpetuate corruption, the green shoots could easily look like a Townsville water crisis. The irony is palpable.
Based on international experiences and thorough studies of interactions between governments and private enterprises, Townsville and the broader Queensland economy must undertake further reforms of the effectiveness of the public and judicial branches of government before further deterioration of citizen wealth is depleted. Corruption is a quasi-tax on natural resources and productivity.
It is the sustainability of economic growth from good governance and investment as long-term planning and strategy is the best mitigation for hostilities in market conditions.
Property and real estate function in systems and cycles. Just the perception of corruption impacts confidence in the market. But the realisation that systematic offenses of electoral laws and rules are being practices by local governments, despite three investigations already being conducted in the past 5 years, is of major concern for the overall integrity of Queensland’s governance framework.
It is the councils and state governments that govern property transactions. Unlawful and unscrupulous practices by public officials and private enterprise are causes to pay serious attention.
When are systematic breaches of electoral legislation deemed serious enough to be referred to the judicial system in the name of equity, integrity, accountability and fairness?
Although the QCCC investigation was contained by terms of reference to councils in the South-east of the State, in an astonishing examination of the alleged corruption, the QCCC said prosecution was not warranted on a technicality, justifying the avoidance of accountability of public officials and developers.
The QCCC said it was not fair to prosecute because it was likely that other council officials and developers across the state had committed the same offenses. However, the most powerful corruption investigation body and legislated instrument of public sector integrity in Queensland has delivered a report that raises more questions about the integrity of governance and compliance across the state. And, the material consequences on people and victims of such corruption on society have been insensitively dismissed.
The leniency on politicians and bureaucracy committing systematic breaches and manufacturing excuses of technicalities to avoid prosecution in the QCCC recommendations flys directly and unscrupulously in the face of international anti-bribery conventions.
Extensive scientific research demonstrates the serious harm and damage corruption causes to local economies and business investment, and therefore the livability of our society. Livability in Townsville has been a significant cause and consequence of the city’s pain and suffering.
In Townsville, Council and State Labor governments coercion for “white elephant” projects, delaying critical infrastructure investment and short-term social investment bias are all symptoms of systematic corruption.
The attractiveness of capital from oligarchical enterprises is unambiguous in detecting and serving cultures of systematic corruption.
Although election donations have not been defined as bribery in the QCCC report, a credible monitor Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, said that “Bribe-takers must be exposed, prosecuted and appropriately punished. The systems that breed this behavior require holistic reform so that bribes are not demanded in the first place.”
Australia is one of 37 countries that are signatories of the 1999 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. It has found that the most prevalent form of bribery and corruption is the bribery of public officials and the sectors most exposed are public works, contracts in construction, real estate and property development, heavy manufacturing and mining.
For the purpose of election schedules, the council and Queensland government have engaged in explicit and covert policies across the majority of these high-risk sectors. Commercial-in-confidence claims and referrals to illegible freedom of information requests are examples of the covert practices of government and public officials.
Becoming a vested player in commercial enterprises as the Council and State is doing with the Adani airstrip, the battery gigafactory, manipulating free trade rules on the stadium development with a buy-local contracts policy, the conflict of interest arising from the sale of the old Thuringowa Chambers and social housing approvals and the current 51 public works projects being carried out without a public consultation step for State election expediency.
The Townsville Council’s exposure to conflict of interest scenarios and the associated characteristics of serious corruption is consistent with the international definitions of bribery and corruption. The QCCC recommendations paint a frighting picture of the level of impunity within which public officials and the framework of governance is permitting corruption to manifest. The science is clear yet the QCCC is allowing their political masters to flaunt the system.
What could this mean for Townsville?
Townsville City Council was not named in the Operation Belcarra report such at this stage no direct evidence has been cataloged. But the councils restructure this year recommended 144 redundancies and that the alleged corruption within the council was a significant problem.
Reports by ex-employees of the Townsville City Council, however, have alleged that councillors, public officials, and private operators are engaging in initiatives that call into question the integrity of local government in North Queensland and its leadership in serving the interests of ratepayers and complying with the law.
The creation of the beneficial enterprise by the Council under the Local Government Act to invest council land as equity in the battery giga-factory was initially delayed because senior advisors at the council were concerned about the likelihood of breaches of law arising and the threats of system integrity and even corruption. This has been corroborated by ex-councillors as late as 2016.
The Mayor of Logan City Council Mr. Luke Smith’s creation of a Futures account is the subject of continuing investigation by the QCCC.
As part of the Townsville City Council restructure, a Futures Office was established and the beneficial enterprise proposed is to engage in commercial negotiations with investors and developers using the natural and manufactured capital of the City’s ratepayers.
Townsville City Council has proudly engaged with Adani contributing over $15 million dollars to the development of Adani’s airstrip in the Galilee Basin. Not that the asset is located in the Townsville area, but the capital was used to secure a 50/50 share of the fly-in fly-out workforce with Rockhampton. Council has also decided to enter the drug and alcohol testing business serving Adani and other mines in the area.
Coincidentally, the $230 million water security payment by the State government for the urgent delivery of the duplicate pipeline for Townsville showed that $15 million was missing in the figures.
The Townsville Water Security Taskforce budgeted $200,000 for the water pipeline and $10 million for water management. In an article about the duplicity of the Premier, TREN identified the remaining $15 million.
Mayor Jenny Hill reported the $15 million for Adani’s airstrip came from savings rendered in the council restructure and the 200 redundancies it produced. But the full $230 million from the Labor government has still not been reported to the public as allocated.
The Mayor Ms. Hill said “I was greedy, I wanted every job I could get for our city”, as she commented to the Townsville Bulletin. She went on and said, “I think this joint venture will suit our community. We have financial instruments in place. We will make sure there is a rebate so if the jobs aren’t delivered Adani will have to pay us a fine”. The commercial risks being undertaken by Council is worthy of boasting but does it fit within the expectations of good governance.
The Adani CEO said, “It was a very competitive and commercial aspect. It’s very important for us to understand that thousands of jobs are being created for years to come.”
So the question still remains, has the money promised to ratepayers for water security been allocated to Adani as security for State Capture and Adani’s plans to secure final funding leverage of the Carmichael coal mine?
Whether the $15 million has been reallocated from the water security fund or not, well respected international scientists and academics define the $15 million dollars from developers or private investors as capturing state money for private and political gain.
The QCCC Chairman disagrees with the international definition of corruption, and even seemingly the corruption watchdog’s own policies, values and commitment to the public interest and has not opted to refer any individual or organisation so far to courts or the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The people of North Queensland can be justifiably frustrated when there is one law for the political elites and one law for citizens. In this context, what is the value of words such as equality, integrity, accountability and fairness if the measure of such values is limited to political and bureaucratic interests?
Sandra Harding, vice-chancellor of James Cook University in Townsville expressed the view to the Financial Review that people have lost trust in institutions – political parties, business, universities, government and the mainstream media – as they have come to be seen to be putting their own interests ahead of those they were intended to serve. The other shift reflects a rise in anti-intellectualism driven by distrust in evidence and in people who are not “like me”.
The incomprehensible response from the QCCC, association of the Integrity Commissioner, Director of Public Prosecutions, Attorney General’s office and the Office of Premier will either perpetuate the distrust of politicians and public officials or show the necessary leadership in the interests of the economy and the public good.
International political scientists have unambiguously defined corruption. Preeminent local academic leaders such as Ms. Harding have called the tectonic shifts in the confidence of public officials and institutions. Wide-spread practices of corruption have been evidenced by the QCCC and symptoms of serious conflicts of interest, bribery and corruption has emerged as “fight for jobs at any costs” attitude rains supreme in the Council chambers.
The Townsville City Council’s commercial in confidence deals with Adani, the stadium, public works, construction and developments and the Townsville City Deal are smoldering embers fueling an impending inferno of corruption, pain and suffering. Antidotal evidence would suggest these practices of corruption have spurned the most recent recession in the Townsville economy. But if the QCCC approach to anti-corruption is anything to go by, pleading ignorance is the greatest form of defence for public officials and their political masters.
Unsustainable household incomes and soaring housing and energy prices are the structural correlations that the valueless, anti-democratic agenda of the political and public institutions are heaping on a festering wound of discontent in the community.
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