17 Jul 2009

Corrupt Queensland politician jailed for seven years

9:08 pm on 17 July 2009

Former Queensland cabinet member Gordon Nuttall has been sentenced to seven years in prison for taking $A360,000 in secret commissions when he was health minister.

Chief Judge Patsy Wolfe delivered the sentence in the Brisbane District Court on Friday morning.

On Wednesday, Nuttall, 56, was found guilty of 36 charges of receiving secret commissions totalling $A360,000 between 2002 and 2005 from two businessmen, Ken Talbot and Harold Shand.

Nuttall, who left public office in 2006, says he considered them personal friends and thus not subject to the requirement for the loans to be declared on the parliamentary pecuniary interest registry.

State premier Anna Bligh has described Nuttall's behaviour as "nothing short of appalling", while attorney-general Cameron Dick says his home - believed to be worth more than $A1 million - will be sold to recover the money corruptly paid to him, plus interest.

The state's director of public prosecutions is also considering further charges against Nuttall, following an investigation by the Crime and Misconduct Commission into matters arising from his time as health minister.

Eighth state MP to do time

Queensland politicians are no strangers to the insides of prison cells. Nuttall is the eighth MP - and the third member of Peter Beattie's government, which ruled Queensland from 1998 to 2007- to do time.

Bill D'Arcy served seven years of a 10-year stretch for child sex charges committed while he was a teacher, and Merri Rose did three months for trying to blackmail Mr Beattie in order to get a high-paying job.

In the bad old days uncovered by the Fitzgerald inquiry 20 years ago, corruption was institutionalised. Four National Party ministers were sentenced to jail terms, as was police commissioner Terry Lewis, who was stripped of his knighthood as well.

Nuttall, however, is the first in the modern era convicted of corruption. He may not be a fresh example of systemic corruption, but National Party federal leader Warren Truss says there's a culture within Queensland of dealing with particular businessmen.

'Development syndrome' to blame

A professor of public policy at the Australian Catholic University, Scott Prasser, blames the Nuttall affair on a combination of blurred ethical lines and years of government inaction.

"What we have is development syndrome in Queensland - a lot of money coming in, especially in development, where the government has to give approval for things," Dr Prasser told ABC radio.

"We've got big infrastructure projects where lots of money is at stake. The movement in and out of government to business is too fluid. Ex-ministers are minister one day and on the board the next. Public servants are in a certain department one day and then working for a major corporation."