Gov’t staffer questioned over Windsor – ABC News (Stateline Transcript)

Source: Stateline Victoria
Published: Friday, August 13, 2010 8:24 AEST
Expires: Thursday, November 11, 2010 8:24 AEST

Justin Madden’s former press secretary has been questioned by the ombudsman over the Windsor Hotel scandal.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA, PRESENTER: The former State Government media adviser at the centre of a controversy over the re-development of the Windsor Hotel has been interviewed by the ombudsman in his investigation of the matter.

Peta Duke was the adviser to Planning Minister, Justin Madden, who wrote of a sham public consultation process over the Windsor Hotel re-development. The ombudsman’s investigation is proving to be bigger than first anticipated and his report is now not likely to be ready before the November State election.

MATT VINEY, UPPER HOUSE GOVERNMENT WHIP: I wish to hear at the start and I wish to hear from the minister. I move that we have {inaudible} right here in public.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: There hasn’t been much agreement in this Upper House committee investigating the now notorious Peta Duke internal memo. The memo suggested a fake consultation process be used to block the controversial Windsor Hotel re-development.

On three occasions the committee has called on the former media adviser to give evidence. Three times, she’s refused. Three other Government advisers have also declined to appear at the direction of Attorney General, Rob Hulls.

MATTHEW GUY, OPPOSITION PLANNING SPOKESMAN: All we have ever sought to do was ask the staff, the four people identified, simple questions about the production of a Government memorandum which could have usurped and sought to usurp and possibly corrupt the planning process in Victoria. That’s all it was, to ask questions. It was never to hold those people to account.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: The committee has released a report detailing its frustration. Government members on the committee have a different opinion.

MATT VINEY: So the Attorney General offered the committee a compromise, if you like, whereby the minister would attend the committee and would seek from the staff answers to the questions that they wanted to ask the staff and would provide those answers to the committee.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: The Opposition dominated committee referred the matter to the ombudsman for investigation back in June.

Stateline understands the ombudsman has now interviewed Ms Duke and she may have to be reinterviewed. It’s believed she was accompanied by lawyers, but not from the Government’s legal team.

The ombudsman has barred Government lawyers from appearing with clients in this investigation because of a potential conflict of interest.

MATT VINEY: Well the ombudsman will make his determinations in terms of his powers and what he thinks he ought to investigate. That’s entirely a matter for him. He’s an independent officer of the Parliament and we’re more than happy. We were the ones that set up the independence of the ombudsman through the Parliament. We’re more than happy for people to be held accountable through that process.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: It’s understood around 20 witnesses have already been called to appear before the ombudsman. There are at least another 20 to go. They include departmental staff, Windsor Hotel developers, Government advisers, the Minister Justin Madden and if required the Premier, John Brumby, could also be called.

This week the ombudsman released his annual report to Parliament. In it he details attempts to influence his office and his investigations.

OMBUDSMAN’S REPORT (VOICEOVER): This applies particularly where I have found wrongdoing by elected officials, especially in a political context as in the case of Brimbank City Council.

TED BAILLIEU, OPPOSITION LEADER: Is it not a fact that the Premier has orchestrated a campaign to destroy the ombudsman as a result of the ombudsman’s investigation into ALP corruption in Brimbank Council, or is this, again, just standard practice for this Government?

JOHN BRUMBY, PREMIER: The answer to the question is no.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: Since his adverse findings over the Brimbank Council affair, the ombudsman has come in for criticism from supporters of those named in his report.

STEPHEN CONROY, COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER: So profound has been the public’s loss of trust in those currently occupying this important integrity watchdog and serving as its investigators that the Victorian Government charged the Public Sector Standards Commissioner, Mr Peter Allen, and former secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Miss Elizabeth Proust, with reviewing the integrity processes across the State.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: Historic events were happening in Federal Parliament on the evening of the 23rd of June. Julia Gillard was confronting the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, about his leadership, and declaring her intention to stand against him.

Federal Communications Minister and Victorian factional boss, Stephen Conroy, chose this time to deliver a scathing attack on the Victorian ombudsman to a virtually empty Senate chamber.

STEPHEN CONROY: The ombudsman’s report into Brimbank Council is a torrent of vitriol that found no evidence of criminal acts, no evidence of any charge to be laid, apparent targeting of some individuals above others based on scurrilous allegations from unnamed parties.

Indeed my good friend, Hakki Suleyman, has suffered tremendously at the hands of those carrying out those investigation. Mr Suleyman has been hounded out of his job by a combination of the relentless persecution by ombudsman employees and a journalistic campaign that borders on the xenophobic.

JOSEPHINE CAFAGNA: Hakki Suleyman was the long time electorate officer to Planning Minister Justin Madden. The ombudsman made adverse findings against Mr Suleyman in the Brimbank Council affair, saying he had undue influence over elected councillors.

The Upper House Committee awaits word from the ombudsman on his investigation into the planning process of the Windsor re-development before deciding its next move. But the term of this Parliament may well be over before the Windsor investigation sees any conclusion.

When contacted by Stateline, the ombudsman confirmed witnesses are being interviewed, but would not provide any further details.


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