Friday 29 May 2009

The Chief Extra-spin Officer writes again

The drama surrounding the completed and subsequent release of a report on the commercial arrangement between Cairns Regional Council, the staff and Councillors involved, and radio station 4CA 846 Am, just gets worse.

"I will not be supplying a full copy of the report to any Councillors or any member of the public at any time," Noel Briggs has said today.

The Local Government Act states that all externally commissioned reports are received by the CEO. However, as Noel Briggs has admitted that he was one of those involved and interviewed in the investigation, he should exclude himself from any review of the report, prior to it being distributed to Councillors.

"Briggs has gone to ground," one Councillor told CairnsBlog this afternoon. "We've not heard anything from him about what's going on."

Whilst it's not unusual for a summary report to be prepared on an external report, in this instance it should not be undertaken by Noel Briggs, as Council's CEO.

When the report hits the Council table, only the Councillors have the ability to with-hold it's release, no one else. Any Councillor that sits at the Council table - has the ability to move a motion, if seconded, for the report to be made public, contrary to the wishes of the CEO that it remain private. Councillors Lesina, Cooper, Schier, Forsyth, Leu and Pyne, have all indicated that they strongly desire this.

However, if a certain Councillor is implicated, they can apply to the Supreme Court of Queensland for an injunction to withhold the report from being tabled. This would be extremely unusual.

Given the intense public interest in this investigation, and although it's not unusual for a CEO to prepare a report on a report, one would think Briggs would distance himself from this. If he wants his hands totally clean, he should pass this onto the Councillors immediately, or seek another independent party to do this overview. Further delays only shed doubt on his entrenched mis-handling of the Cash for Comments fiasco.

Let's not forget, there any many similarities emerging to what Noel Briggs did with the two externally-commissioned reports against Councillor Diane Forsyth six months ago. In the investigation that I revealed as the embarrassing Operation Red Hot Poker report, Briggs was caught deliberately tampered and fraudulently altered the report, before delivering it to Councillors.

Does Noel Briggs believe he's policeman and jury? The Act appears to assume that the CEO will always be judging others, never himself or his own actions.

Only a dumb Councillor requires a report, written on another report. Why else would you do such a thing? Can't they read and come to their own conclusions? Furthermore, if people are reporting on themselves, as is the case with Noel Briggs' involvement in this scandal, this is clearly a serious conflict of interests, and against the law.

Treat our Councillors like mushrooms. Total release of this report is paramount and in the public interest, as this investigation is all about institutional corrupt culture at Cairns Regional Council. For goodness sake, it was on Media Watch. The nation is watching.

Because this investigation involves staff, it can be held in closed session, to protect them, although the public of Cairns knows of the staff implicated. Such a meeting is usually done in a special closed meeting, as Briggs is calling next week. Given the strong public interest, a more open dialogue should be implemented, to appear seamless and transparent.

However, Councillors are not covered by the same provisions as staff are in the Local Government Act. They take an oath of office and are answerable to the electors of Cairns and Douglas. They are in fact, public property, and is why I have been so upfront and lurid with my findings over the last five weeks.

Because the situation is now becoming very murky, I call for intervention by the Minister for Local Government, to take a strong interest in this unfolding drama, so the public is not duped. The Minister needs to oversee and monitor the actions of the CEO of the Cairns Regional Council.

Finally, the veracity of this report must be questioned. The interviews that were conducted, were not taken under oath, and therefore the truth will not necessarily be known. There's a high chance of a grand whitewash .

Here's Noel's latest secret email. Enjoy.
  • From: Noel Briggs
    Sent: Friday, 29 May 2009 10:55 AM
    Subject: Investigation


    Further to my email dated 28 May 2009, I have received a request to provide a full copy of Mr Henry SC's report to all councillors and to the public at large.

    As Chief Executive Officer of Council, I engaged Mr Henry SC to gather information and make findings concerning a small subset of issues which form part of a wider investigation being conducted by me. Mr Henry's report is confidential and contains information about, and statements made by, a number of employees of Council. Each employee who was part of Mr Henry's investigation was provided with an undertaking that any information or statements made by employees would remain strictly confidential and would not be made public at any time.

    Quite apart from the express undertakings which I made to each employee involved in the investigation, it would be inappropriate for me to disclose to Council (or indeed, the general public), confidential employee information which forms part of Mr Henry's report. In closed session at next week's Council meeting, I will be providing to all Councillors an executive summary of the report which has been prepared by Mr Henry.

    Mr Henry has ensured that the executive summary is framed in a way that not only maintains the confidence of the employees involved in the investigation, but provides findings in relation to the subset of issues which he was asked to investigate. I will also be providing a report prepared by me which reports completely on the Council's commercial arrangement with prime radio (4CA), as I have been asked to do.

    For the reasons outlined above, I will not be supplying a full copy of the report to any Councillors or any member of the public at any time. I am conscious of my obligations to employees and to Council and in line with those responsibilities and duties, my position will not change in relation to the disclosure of the report.

    I will shortly be forwarding a notice of meeting in accordance with my email dated 28 May 2009.

    Noel Briggs
    Chief Executive Officer
    Cairns Regional Council


David Anthony said...

Just had a chance to catch up with today's blog and I am gobsmacked. How do you get this info, Michael?
This is good investigative journalism.
Not only have you exposed the grubby Cash for Comment scandal, but you have given us insight into some of the dysfunction among senior council staff and some councillors. I hope they wake up to themselves.
My opinion on this whole saga, for what it's worth, is that the sooner the whole thing is exposed the sooner the healing can begin and, hopefully, the misbehaving councillors and staff members can resolve to do what we pay them to do - to care for the Cairns and Douglas region.
This issue is an example of a dirty-tricks hatchet job gone wrong all because some councillors refuse to accept that we voters voted for Val Schier to be our Mayor. For goodness sake, councillors, stop governing for yourselves - govern for us.
I commend Mayor Schier for rising above the nonsense and getting on with the job.
I commend Crs Forsyth, Lesina, Pyne, Leu and Cooper for maintaining high standards despite the grubbiness of others. We are all the richer for having such a great Mayor and these good quality hardworking councillors who strive to overcome the rot and look after us poor old ratepayers.

Anonymous said...

ATSIC use to commission multiple reports, then hire a consultant to read them and then explain the report! But they were basicly unsophisticated people and needed help understanding complicated issues.

But in this case the CEO should have taken a powder because of his obvious conflict of interest in this matter!

The CRC Councillors our grown up enough to understand the report without interference and bias interpretation from a third party.

Mike, call this all goes back to the State Govt. new legislation taking away shire powers and the CEO is acting as the State conduit in these matters and reporting his finding first to the minister for her to head-off any flake or take credit for cleaning up this type if matters first! As I have said before the shires are toothless tigers, brought to you by this poor excuse of a Labor government!

hieronymus bosch said...

didn't val promise transparency?

this is a complete joke if she doesn't use whatever power she has to make the original report public, afterall it was comissioned with public funds!

Noj Nedlaw said...

Two comments

In answer to Brad, I would suggest that FOI does apply. Section 1205 of the LGA does not effectively exclude the report under its “corporatised corporation” function. I doubt the report is either a commercial activity or a community service obligation prescribed by regulation.

Mike you say “When the report hits the Council table, only the Councillors have the ability to with-hold it's (sic) release, no one else.” I agree.

But the issue is that the report presented to Briggs by the QC will NOT hit the table. He has said this clear and unambiguously:-

“I will not be supplying a full copy of the report to any Councillors or any member of the public at any time. I am conscious of my obligations to employees and to Council and in line with those responsibilities and duties, my position will not change in relation to the disclosure of the report.”And it is in the formal meeting session, acting as “the Council” that gives authority to a decision. So no report tabled – so no opportunity for the full report to be made available to the press, public or ratepayers.

Only those documents tabled, presumably to be the Executive Summary or the Briggs Summation would seem to fall within the supremacy of the Councillors to allow or with-hold.

There would seem to be a serious problem when one person believes him or herself to be the sole conduit of offical information to the Councillors.

I would love to be proved wrong, so if there are any legal eagles out there that can provide arguments to the contrary, please feel free to demolish me in the interests of social justice.

Unknown said...

From his comments quoted in this blog, the Cairns Regional Council chief executive has clearly set this inquiry up to keep it secret, to hide the facts, and to hide dishonesty, negligence and culpability, and very possibly illegal conduct. At the least his actions once again bring council into disrepute. he also has a clear conflict of interest: his actions are of undoubted relevance to the inquiry. the actions of his staff are of undoubted relevance to the inquiry. he is clearly hiding himself from proper public scrutiny. he is preventing Cairns ratepayers - the public - from holding the council, its staff and councillors accountable for their actions. he is acting against transparency in local government and treating ratepayers with contempt. I hope Crs Schier, Lesina, Leu, Forsyth, Cooper and Pyne have the guts to follow through their demands for pubhlic release with some action (I presume it is too much to ask the Gang of Four to act with any honesty or in the interest of Cairns in this matter)

JJ Williams, Northen Beaches said...

Well, all I want to add to this stuff, is I'd hate to work for this Council at the moment... with dodgy crap-arse managers running the joint, it must be a really bad space to be in at the mo...

My 2 cents worth.

Brian, Kewarra said...

Briggs should fry over tyhis.

Wonder if Blake 7's Red speedstar is given a whole chapter in the report? complete with photos!!!

Joe, Gordonvale said...

Desley should take immediate charge of this matter,or will she still take a back seat and do nothing.
The CEO should resign now,if he will not go,Val should ask him to stand down until this case is resolved.

Alison Alloway said...

Lance, above, makes a good point in that the legislation enabling corporatisation of local government is now revealed to contain flaws. This issue is about transparency, a fundamental requirement of democracy. Yet the powers given the CEO under the legislation, as we are seeing here now, hinder such transparency.
Corporatisation was swept in during the 1990s amidst claims that it was the best thing since sliced bread. Telstra, QANTAS, Centrelink, State Health Departments, Local Councils...all were corporatised in a mad flurry with promises that there would be mass improvements.
A decade down the track, we are finding that corporatisation has not delivered a new paradise, but a plethora of problems including murder (Bundaberg Hospital.
Lack of transparency is only one such problem and doesn't just apply to the CRC. One of Centrelink's own executives resigned and published a book recently containing serious allegations of executive tampering with performance data and the agency's error rates.
Lastly, never under-estimate the human factor. More and more research is throwing light on the fact that corporate cultures are perfect incubators for sociopaths.

nocturnal congress said...

Frankly, I'm wondering just what the hell is in the Report? We know that the interviewees didn't have to take an Oath before supplying information, so is it possible it doesn't contain anything new? Do we really believe the perpetrators of a conspiracy will all up and suddenly spill their guts?? It seems more likely to me that they will all lie through their rodent sharp little teeth. "I CATEGORICALLY deny blah blah....."
Or how about, the conspirators all get together before they are interviewed and concoct a story together which they can all separately and individually substantiate? I dunno, but there is an element of a criminal mind here at work, so I'm trying to get inside I dunno for sure, just very doubtful about the Report.

S. Northy said...

nocturnal, you could be right. If the perpetrators admitted up front what we believe they did, they would undoubtedly lose their jobs and possibly face criminal proceedings as well as earning the contempt of the community. With such high stakes, you can bet there are a lot of "I categorically deny blah blahs" in the Report. I wouldn't be surprised if there has been collusion amongst the perpetrators to substantiate some cooked up story. Remember this plot "Cash for Comment" was started to severely embarras Val Schier or to break her. Val has been subject to the worst "hate" campaign EVER SEEN in Cairns. Someone, or some people want Val OUT before the next election, and they are getting desperate. Remember too, "Cash for Comment" was launched at a time when Val was clawing back community support.
Whoever wants her out of office knows this and would therefore not want her name cleared in this Inquiry.
Doubtless of what this Inquiry reveals, there will be more plotting and scheming.

Quickie said...

Total CRAP !!!
There is no plot ...
Quite simply, Mackenzie wouldn't have Val on "HIS" program so the 846 manager "forced" him to by making the 1 hour slot a "commercial". Kerrie did her job and got Val what she wanted.
Mackenzie told a Councillor that it was an abuse of ratepayer money.
So the question was asked by Sno.
Val was upset and ordered an inquiry by Briggs.
Briggs, quite wisely has distanced himself by getting a QC to do it.
All will be revealled on Wednesday.
Now when Val appears on Mackenzie,(as she did last Friday), she is interrupted every 5 minutes by a commercial.
There are a lot of paranoid "plot believers and makers" on this blog.
Let Briggs get back to what he is paid to do.
This blog has cost the ratepayer quite a lot of money with all these mischievous stories.
The British tabloids are more credible ...

KitchenSlut said...

Wow Quickie! What a spray! Have you been biting your tongue on that for a few weeks or was it just the exuberance from a fun filled night of Shiraz with Major Third Degree Burns?

Ah, the good old pig swilling days sloshing free vino down at Villa under the security blanket of Macca's wig (and some even less salubrious company) plotting the future of Cairns on a stained drink coaster!

Quickie? Kerrie Hull dont have much space here in any ethical terms or from any point of view or angle? She comes up smelling of turds from all directions! Are you saying that it's ok for an employee to be unethical in "doing her job" if it delivers a required outcome? What an odd ethical position?

Although some of the comparative corporatisation stuff above is just loopy, the problem is that we were sold amalgamation as 'reform' by Andrew Fraser and it wasn't. The structure of Councils is in dire need of reform and just like health it's another abject failure of this state 'government'.

Quickie said...

Slut ... I am not Dennis Quick - OK?

KitchenSlut said...

I retract and apologise Quickie. I should have observed that your silver tongue is far too slick for Quickie ..... errr I mean Dennis. I'm sure Dennis would never be so objectionable as you when it comes to fun KitchenSluts?

However, curiously, you didn't address your odd ethical position that Kerrie Hull as an employee is absolved of any ethical responsibilities?

Alison Alloway said...

Kitchen, I have been studying Australia's corporatised organisations for some time. Looking at the big picture, common problems are emerging , ie lack of transparency, secrecy, eroding client service standards, and entrenched cultures of bullying. Prof. Margaret Thornton also discovered this when she researched corporatisation of Australia's universities. Call it "loopy" or what you will, sooner or later you will encounter inability to contact a callcentre; receive wrong information; have an application for something wrongfully rejected; or watch a program on corporate bullying. It's all here with us now.

St. Lil @ Yorkeys said...

No, Quickie - there are a lot of things to be answered here, as the respondents above have mentioned. It is not Val who has initiated or ordained the cash for comments saga, it was people in the council who are looking to undermine Val and the current elected Council - all of them. This must be unleashed, & with transparency. Only way to go, only way the community wants it to go. We were sick of the way Byrne went wherever he wanted & the community be damned. The healthy part of Cairns wants an open & transparent council. Very simple, Quickie. Now, go & have a camomile tea - it's good for you.