'Hey Dad': email reveals extent of lobbyist son's access to Bruce Flegg's office
Former Housing and Public Works Minister Bruce Flegg. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
- No evidence of ‘inappropriate conduct’
- New Housing Minister
- ‘Not a day too soon’: Laming
- Email evidence over RTI
- ‘Lies and spin’ over non-contact order
Premier Campbell Newman has defended former housing minister Bruce Flegg, saying an email in which Dr Flegg's lobbyist son recommended a candidate for a senior public service position was not evidence of "inappropriate conduct".
Bruce Flegg's son Jonathon Flegg.
The comment came as Mr Newman announced former NRL referee and Scripture Union Queensland chief Tim Mander would be promoted to replace Dr Flegg as Housing and Public Works Minister following yesterday's resignation.
Mr Newman said it was the result of "poor administration" in the former minister's officer that the email was not recorded on the government's lobbyist register.
Jonathon Flegg sent his father, former Queensland Housing Mnister Dr Flegg, an email suggesting former Unidel chief executive Chris Brooks for the job of deputy director-general.
Queensland Housing Minister Bruce Flegg's former senior media officer Graeme Hallett. Photo: Daniel Hurst
"Hey Dad, Chris Brooks is available as a possible Deputy DG and appears to have the goods (see his CV attached). I've had him strongly advised to me," Mr Flegg wrote to his father on May 30.
Dr Flegg resigned as Housing and Public Works minister yesterday.
The move came in the wake of allegations he misled Parliament by failing to disclose on the government’s lobbyist register dozens of points of contact that he or his office had with his son, including the May email.
Mr Newman defended Dr Flegg.
"Let’s just get right down to brass tacks, people send me unsolicited emails all the time and they send ministers emails, and ministerial staff unsolicited emails. People will say, 'Hey, I’m Fred Smith. Here’s my CV. I'd like a job'," Mr Newman told 612 ABC Brisbane this morning.
"People send us helpful suggestions about who should get a job, or who would be good for a position. This happens all the time.
"Just because someone promotes themselves or someone they know, that is not in any way some evidence of inappropriate conduct."
Mr Newman said it was a "whole pattern of poor administration" that made Dr Flegg's position as a minister "untenable".
"There were a range of things that weren’t being done properly and Dr Flegg importantly realised that he knew that his ongoing presence was untenable and he was distracting everyone from the important job of getting the Queensland economy going," he said.
Mr Newman announced several new appointments in Queensland Parliament this morning, a day after Dr Flegg resigned following claims of undisclosed contact between his lobbyist son and his office.
Mr Mander is a first-term MP for Everton and until now has been serving as an assistant minister for sport and racing. He will take on Dr Flegg's former cabinet role.
Mr Newman said Mr Mander was well-known following his long career as an NRL referee and CEO of SU Queensland, which employs school chaplains.
"In all of these roles, he has demonstrated competence, compassion and determination, and the ability to make good decisions, which will stand him in good stead as the Minister for Housing and Public Works," Mr Newman said.
"Tim will carry on the good work started by Dr Flegg in addressing Labor's 30,000-long public housing waiting list."
Mr Newman said Mirani MP Ted Malone, a veteran LNP MP, would gain the new position of Assistant Minister for Police and Community Safety, with a focus on volunteer, emergency, rescue and fire services.
Mr Malone has previously publicly questioned proposed rural fire service cuts.
Gympie MP David Gibson, who resigned as police minister soon after the election over an unlicensed driving controversy, will become new chair of parliamentary committee for state development, infrastructure and industry.
Mr Newman paid tribute to Mr Gibson’s advocacy for the deaf community and his fight on behalf of the local community against Labor’s Traveston Dam.
Mr Newman said he would expect high standards of performance and behaviour from all members of his team, to help restore Queenslanders' faith in government integrity.
The controversies embroiling Dr Flegg and Arts Minister Ros Bates, whose son’s appointment to a position with the Department of Transport and Main Roads is under investigation by the Crime and Misconduct Commission, have also attracted criticism from inside the LNP.
After learning of Dr Flegg's resignation, federal Liberal MP Andrew Laming - who holds the Queensland seat of Bowman - posted on Twitter: "Not a day too soon. I have had a gutful of pollie relies getting insider jobs. Worse still not fessing up to."
Dr Flegg's son has also been suspended from his lobbyist job with communications and business advisory firm Rowland this week, pending an internal investigation into his interactions with his father’s office.
Rowland managing director Helen Besly on Tuesday said Mr Flegg’s contract prohibited him from liaising with his father’s office or his father’s department on behalf of the company or any of its clients. Ms Besley said today the investigation was not yet complete.
The email showing Mr Flegg sent his father Mr Brooks' resume was released by Dr Flegg's former media adviser Graeme Hallett. Mr Brooks is now the executive director of Earth Resources Development in Victoria’s Department of Primary Industries.
Mr Hallet was one of two senior staffers sacked by Dr Flegg in the past week, with the then-minister saying he had lost confidence in the veteran Liberal operative.
A second email exposes how Dr Flegg was explicitly told on August 11 that junior media adviser Martin Kennedy was acting as the Right to Information official in the ministerial office, in direct contravention to the edict issued by Premier Campbell Newman for such applications to be handled by departments.
"Marty is our RTI Officer and advised that the Dept had received the request," Mr Stephen wrote.
Mr Newman wrote to Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie on April 24 asking him to write to ministers with the instructions about the handling of RTI requests.
Mr Bleijie confirmed to Mr Newman on May 18 that he had sent a letter to each minister.
The August 11 email was sent to Dr Flegg’s private Bigpond email account by former chief of staff Fraser Stephen using his own Gmail account.
Emails sent between private accounts of ministers and their staffers cannot be accessed under Right to Information laws.
The matter was first raised publicly in a letter from the opposition to Speaker Fiona Simpson on November 1, in which it was revealed in a Department of Housing and Public Works letter that Mr Kennedy had been involved in an RTI decision.
A Fairfax Media report highlighted in November two occasions in June when Mr Flegg - the manager of government relations at Rowland - made contact with his father’s office to request meetings.
At the time, Mr Hallett said the contacts had not resulted in meetings and Dr Flegg had ordered his staff not to allow his son to lobby his office.
However, Mr Hallett told reporters on Tuesday the claim that lobbying contact was banned had been "spin" and apologised for having provided incorrect information to Fairfax.
"I have to say I’m ashamed to admit it, that is a lie; that never happened," he said.
Mr Hallett said Fairfax’s inquiries on the issue had prompted him to dig deeper. He said when he later discovered the extent of lobbying contact, he had urged Dr Flegg to come clean.
Mr Hallett made the comments one day after being sacked on Monday.
Dr Flegg has signalled he will stay on as the member for the Brisbane electorate of Moggill. He was embraced by colleagues as he took his place at the back of the parliamentary chamber this morning.
- with Daniel Hurst