The Denis Napthine death knell

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(Image by John Graham / @JohnGrahamArt)

A dark web of influence and conflicts of interest weave their way through Victorian politics, on both sides, writes contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence.


[Read Part One]

TOMORROW'S STATE ELECTION IN VICTORIA disproves the notion that in a democracy people get the government they deserve.

Victorians certainly do not deserve the possible re-election of the morally bankrupt secretive Napthine Government with its record of systemic indecent cronyism and sordid backroom deals .

Nor do we deserve the possible election of Labor's spectacularly forgettable Andrew Daniels … oops, sorry, Daniel Andrews.

The electorate can only make a choice on what is on offer. What is on offer is not worthy of our vote.

Both these old parties and their decrepit politics are neck and neck, to use the racing parlance that yesterday's Premier Denis Napthine, racing minister, forgetful prolific horse owner and minister for numerous conflicts of interest, understands only too well, in terms of the contempt in which they are held by the ill-served citizens of Victoria.

At one stage, Andrews wrote to Victoria's silly-named and toothless Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), asking it to investigate claims about Napthine's rabid conflicts of interest.

IBAC said thanks but no thanks. Nothing to see here or there.

Napthine remains undisturbed about such allegations. With good reason.



IBAC seems little more than a broom cupboard for the LNP Coalition. It's where all the muck gathered from months of sweepings from under parliamentary carpets are stored and stamped with 'Never to see the light of day'.

Even on IBAC's webpage, that is supposed to list investigations, none are cited, with the caveat

'IBAC only discloses investigation activity where this is in the public interest.'


But who decides 'where this is in the public interest’?

Apparently, in Victoria, it is the likes of Crown Casino founder, self-declared executor of Big Daddy Kerry Packer's big Will, the racing identity Lyoyd Williams and his 'ward' Packer the Younger — James.

A wink is as good as a nod.

It happened a few days before the Melbourne Cup, at a geed-up photo opportunity with the aspirant for next Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews.

Mr Williams has backed and owned a few winners in his time, I'll wager. And has owned one or two. Horses, not politicians.


He put a fatherly hand on Dan's back and, unaware that he was still being recorded, said

"You should probably know I am the executor of the Packer estate, and James [Packer] is going to kick every goal he can for you.”

Nice one. The arrogance displayed by the Top End of Town, treating democracy as a game where you can buy and sell political influence is as a sacrament in Victoria.

On the last day of October, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Premier Napthine held a press conference to announce a joint Australian Federal Police - Victoria Police taskforce

'…that will look into evidence of criminality by union officials and their associates, prompted by the evidence to the Royal Commission.'

It was curious given the (Heydon) Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption  is already dealing with the same subject and is still taking evidence and there is nothing to stop the AFP or State Police making arrests at any time. Is there ?


The Prime Minister stated:

As many of you would know, the Heydon Royal Commission into union corruption has been investigating allegations – widespread allegations – of slush funds, of rorts, of illegalities in the union movement. And the Heydon Royal Commission has had its terms of reference expanded and its life extended because of the letter that the Commissioner wrote recently to the Government where he said, and I quote, ‘The inquiry has thus far revealed evidence of criminal conduct which includes widespread instances of physical and verbal violence, cartel conduct, secondary boycotts, contempt of court and the encouragement of others to commit these contempts.’ The Commissioner went on, ‘some officials appear to regard their unions as having immunity not only from the norms and sanctions of the Australian legal system but also from any social or community standards shared by other Australians.’

I should also refer you to evidence by the Assistant Commissioner of the Victorian Police, Stephen Fontana, to the Royal Commission and I quote, ‘Victoria Police intelligence indicates that criminal activity is undertaken by trade union officials directly and by organised crime figures or groups on behalf of trade union officials.’ This is very important evidence from a senior Victorian policeman, sworn evidence before the Royal Commission. Victoria Police intelligence indicates that criminal activity is undertaken by trade union officials directly and by organised crime figures or groups on behalf of trade union officials.


The hoarse whisperer, Victoria Police's Commissioner Ken Lay, was clearly miffed by the announcement, admitting on ABC radio that he had only been informed of the taskforce the night before.

He was not consulted by either the Prime Minister or Napthine — and yet Tony Abbott extensively quoted Lay's Assistant Commissioner, Stephen Fontana. Hmmm…

Abbott made it clear that he and his buddy Napthine were calling the shots on this one:

“The [Victorian] Premier and I have established a joint police task force to deal firmly, decisively and swiftly with widespread corruption, violence and organised crime connections inside the construction industry.”

Such a pity that IBAC's deliberate judicial architecture is such that does not have the jurisdiction to investigate politicians.

Commissioner Lay is not above playing political games either. 

Victoria's latest crime statistics should have been released on Wednesday.

But a couple of months ago, giving time for his political interference to ameliorate, Commissioner Lay announced he was not prepared to release the statistics so close to the election. Really ?



Australian Associated Press quoted him saying:

'I didn't want to be standing up doing a press conference three days out from an election, talking about what was up and what was down because of the obvious discussions that would take place, and seeking my advice about whether I supported one side or the other in relation to policy.'

Why not? It is a nonsensical and suspicious excuse. 

The Commissioner confirmed he had sought advice not only from the Ombudsman, but also from the Premier's Department.

So he takes advice on his decision from the premier's staff?

His conduct is yet another flagrant violation of the notion of the separation of powers.

Commissioner Lay has crossed the thin blue line.

These statistics belong to the people of Victoria and ought to be in the public domain now.

It is not up to the political proclivities of Commissioner Lay or the Premier or his opposite number, to decide when to release them.

The role of Commissioner of Police is not an elected position, but in Victoria it might as well be, since it has morphed into a political appointment.


This was evidenced by the 'resignation' in June 2011, of Commissioner Lay's besieged predecessor, Simon Overland.

At the time, The Age's Megan Levy said Overland

denied damning findings by the Ombudsman over the release of misleading crime statistics, made public today, was the final straw.

"The Ombudsman’s report as I saw it essentially questioned a judgment call that I made," Mr Overland said.

"It’s not the straw the broke the camel’s back as far as I’m concerned.”

But there were dark forces within and without the Force that were not with him.

If Overland wasn't pushed, he was certainly shoved.

There is a case to answer by Lay, that there are similarities surrounding his decision with that of Overland's. Certain protocols come into play here.

These are statistics that would certainly influence the way citizens vote tomorrow.

As such they are vital electoral intelligence and tools critical to the information gathering to which we are indisputably entitled and with which we can best make an informed decision on how to vote and assess political performance — and the performance of the Chief Commissioner.



Commissioner Lay is acting as if he is the Premier of Victoria.

His actions are further compromised because he was once a member of the Liberal Party and he is clearly acting as if he is predisposed towards the Napthine Government. That is the perception.

If only in Victoria we had the equivalent of New South Wales' Independent Commission Against Corruption, (ICAC) whose investigations, evidence gathering and findings, including those against members of the once powerful Obeid family cartel and its political collaborators, has given we of the great unwashed great hope in justice speaking truth to power.

Maybe then, we would have answers to a litany of legitimate questions about shonky goings on in Victoria, including the Hazelwood Mine Fire Scandal, the likes of the controversial East West Link and ambulance dispatch delays.

The should be an investigation into the Napthine Government's culpability over sexually abused children under the care of the Department of Human Services but subcontracted out to Anglicare and others, as revealed by the ABC's Dan Oakes.



This morning, as on every Friday, community groups  organised by the Yarra Public Transport Advocacy Community Committee (PTACC) again met on the corner of Hoddle Street and Alexandra Parade for a peaceful demonstration opposing the East West Link Stage One, through inner Melbourne.

What is known as 'The Battle for Alexandra Parade' has enormous support and echoes the fact that Victorians are being locked out of the debate.

Like so many Victorians throughout the State, this group supports more public transport and improvements on the existing sub-standard services. For example, in a number of inner suburbs, there is no Sunday bus service.

The stench over the East West Link is gagging.

Just hours after EWL opponent Anthony Murphy was denied an injunction on 29 September in the High Court, the Napthine Government signed the contracts for the $8 billion (and still counting) toll road, scheduled to be built by the East West Connect consortium, one of three shortlisted.

The Government website describes the consortium thus:

‘The East West Connect Consortium comprises Capella Capital, Lend Lease, Acciona and Bouygues. Members have experience in significant projects both in Australian and overseas, including Legacy Way (Brisbane), Pajares Tunnel (Spain), Peninsula Link (Melbourne) and Port of Miami Tunnel (Miami).’

But again, Victorians have been denied the right to view the contract.

The lack of transparency and public accountability is untenable. The fight to stop the EWL is not over.



On Monday in the Supreme Court, both the Yarra and Moreland Councils filed outlines of their submissions to stop the road.

Daniel Andrews has vowed to pull the pin, if elected. Denis Napthine has ensured that the consortium will receive a walloping kill fee if he does just that.

In an Open Letter to Denis Napthine and Daniel Andrews, but clearly directed at the latter, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned that the $3 billion the Commonwealth Government has committed for the East West Link is only available to build the East West Link — the money will be withdrawn otherwise.

It has been argued that this election is a referendum about the East West Link. In part it is.

But violence, especially against women, health and the ambulance crisis loom large.

It seems that every few days there is a horror story about needless deaths caused by ambulance delays and ill-equipped ambulances.



These episodes reek of history repeating itself with what became known as the notorious Intergraph  Scandal that contributed to the demise of the Kennett Government, and resulted in a Royal Commission subsequently emasculated by the Labor Government and denuded of those clauses relating to corruption and criminal activity. 

I was a whistleblower to the whole sordid affair.

In 2002, Bill Birnbaur, then with The Age later revealed that the Royal Commissioner, Lex Lasry QC wrote to the Premier of the day, Steve Bracks, expressing alarm

… about State Government plans to curtail his inquiry, saying that more than $4 million of public money had been spent on the aborted investigation.

Documents obtained by The Age show Mr Lasry urged that he be able to continue his investigation into the ambulance contracts awarded to Intergraph, only weeks before Mr Bracks dumped terms of reference for this part of the royal commission.

In a letter to the Premier, Mr Lasry said more than $4 million had been spent on the contracts affair and that there had been four weeks of evidence.

It seems little has changed.

For several years, the Government has been entrenched in a toxic dispute with the paramedics union over pay and conditions. It is possible that, like Kennett, Napthine will be a casualty of yet another ambulance fracas.

Now, one sleep away from the State election, in an 11th hour desperate act of political expediency. Daniel Andrews vows to sack the entire Board of Ambulance Victoria if elected.

It has not escaped the notice of the electorate that both major parties had the chance to fulfil these latter day promises whilst Parliament was sitting.

They treated us as fools then, and they are treating us as fools now.

The final part of this series is coming early tomorrow morning. Watch this space.

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