Go Print, Go Plants, go figure

I'M confused.

Why are we so outraged that Bruce Flegg appointed LNP Treasurer Barry O'Sullivan to review the books of two government agencies - GoPrint and GoPlants?

Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has called for Dr Flegg to be sacked, and Campbell Newman has acknowledged that Mr O'Sullivan's appointment was inappropriate.

Sure, I get that arbitrarily giving taxpayer-funded jobs to one's mates and party colleagues without any pretence of an open, competitive, merit-based appointment process reeks of cronyism and is guaranteed not to deliver optimum bang for the public buck (after all, that's why we don't recruit in this way in other walks of life).  But at least in this case we don't have to pay for it - Dr Flegg assures us the position is voluntary.

I guess that's the real source of my confusion.  Why do we care so much this time?  Why is this unpaid appointment inappropriate, but there was no problem appointing Mark Brodie to the board of government-owned Gladstone Ports Corporation?

Mr Brodie is an LNP donor, his son ran as an LNP candidate in the recent Brisbane City Council elections, and if he is earning similar money to his predecessor he is now being paid in the vicinity of $60 000 per year to sit on the board.

Or how about Michael Caltabiano, former LNP councillor and state parliamentarian, appointed to the head of the

Department of Transport and Main Roads and now in receipt of several hundred thousand dollars per year.

Or former Liberal Party national president, Shane Stone, who was made Chair of Energex.

Or David Edwards, Jeff Seeney's former Chief of Staff, who was appointed Director General of the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation.

I could go on.

So much for the "frank and fearless advice" from a "permanent public service" Mr Newman said he wanted during the campaign.  That won't be forthcoming when all the department heads are either LNP affiliates, or smart enough to realise that they could soon be replaced with LNP affiliates.

Nor will it come from the freshly stacked parliamentary committees that are now all dominated by six government members to only two non-government members.  No prizes for guessing where the majority's sympathies will tend to lie.

And it certainly won't be coming from the Queensland Legislative Council (senate), abolished in 1922.

And that's the real problem here.  It's not just a question of principle.  If we want our public corporations, our public service and our government to operate effectively and to deliver good value for money, we need to recruit the best available people and put them in a situation where they can offer candid advice without fearing for their livelihoods.

The change of government was a good opportunity to make that a reality and win some easy kudos with Queenslanders by improving governance in Queensland even when that would no longer serve the LNP's self-interest.

But maybe Mr Newman was right when he said that these issues are not "of real concern to Queenslanders".  If he is not going to be marked down for it, why not cater to self-interest.

To be fair, the LNP isn't Robinson Crusoe when it comes to treating government as a prize to be divided up amongst the winning team.  The ALP was just as bad.  Look to former Premier Anna Bligh's appointment of her husband to the head of the Department of Climate Change for a particularly gross example.

As Tony Fitzgerald QC pointed out in 2009:

Neither side of politics is interested in these issues except for short-term political advantage as each enjoys or plots impatiently for its turn at the privileges and opportunities which accompany power.

What a shame that this still holds true.

Adam Stone is a spokesperson for the Queensland Greens and was the Greens' lead candidate in the recent Queensland State election. This article originally appeared online in the Queensland Times: http://www.qt.com.au/story/2012/07/14/goprint-goplants-go-figure/