Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
October 30th 2014 print

Philippa Martyr

Peris Defenders Drop the Baton

When there’s a conflict of interest between you and the thing you’re trying to get money for – in this case, from grants bodies set up to benefit disadvantaged Aboriginal people – then you declare it to your employer and step aside. A concept that basic is beyond dispute

mad mad loveFormer Liberal advisor Terry Barnes, writing at The Drum,  would have us believe that Nova Peris is no more ‘guilty’ than most of us. He parallels Peris’ story with that of Barry Spurr and the ‘racist’ emails, and notes that Peris ‘allegedly sent racy emails to multiple Olympic medallist and Trinidadian sprinter Ato Boldon, which were splashed by the NT News’. For some reason, Barnes completely omits the racist nature of Peris’ emails, notably her claim that white Australians ‘hate black people‘. But that’s another story.

Barnes sums up what he clearly thinks is a cogent argument against all this faradiddle and carry-on:

In Peris’s case, what wrongdoing has she actually committed? She pitched for Boldon to be brought to Australia for a legitimate purpose, and her close connection with Boldon appears to have helped him decide to come. Athletics Australia, for whom Peris was then an ambassador, was happy to sponsor Boldon’s visit. The visit apparently proceeded to everyone’s satisfaction, including the kids he coached. Nothing that has been published or reported has shown any illegality or impropriety involving taxpayers’ money.

The bottom line is that, whatever her personal motivation, Peris put a business proposal to the responsible authorities, and that proposal was accepted and acted upon by them. Any side benefits for her private life were incidental. End of story.

Sorry, Terry, but that’s not the end of the story. Far from it.

In Australia, in the public sector as well as in much of the corporate world, we have a concept called ‘conflict of interest’. When there’s a conflict of interest between you and the thing you’re trying to get money for – in this case, from grants bodies set up to benefit impoverished and disadvantaged Aboriginal people – then you are supposed to declare it to your employer. You then step outside of the transaction, which is handled by other people.

I’d guess – and I’m going out on a limb here – that trying to get your employer to pay for your current hottie to fly from LA to Australia so that you can spend some quality sexual time together, while also doing some splendid work – would count as potential conflict of interest material. The kind of thing you need to tell your boss. For example, eg. ‘Oh, by the way, this man and I are sexually involved as well. Just thought I’d mention that, but I’d appreciate you not saying anything to anyone, because my marriage is currently in trouble, etc. So it would probably be good if I stepped back from this one.’

There. That wasn’t all that hard. And now your boss makes the call about whether this is the right thing for you to do or not. And that, Terry, is where we’d be drawing the end of story, while asking a few questions about why some organisations have a code of conduct that defines and enforces conflict-of-interest procedures, and others don’t.

Barnes thinks that his own life story somehow makes Peris’ activity all right:

“I’m guilty myself. Years ago, when I lived in Canberra, I had a period where government work brought me frequently to Melbourne. Off-duty, I took advantage of my proximity to court my Melbourne-resident girlfriend, now wife. But that personal pleasure was incidental to my purpose for being there, and didn’t interfere with my duties. If anything, my happy state of mind improved my work performance!”

That’s nice, isn’t it. Of course, Barnes’ romance doesn’t actually compare at all to the Peris case. He didn’t go to his employers and ask them – under the guise of ‘work’ – to fly his sweetie up to him. And he didn’t ask his employers to pay for that flight and accommodation out of a grants body set up to help the underprivileged. And he didn’t use his work email address to send love-letters with comments like, ‘The Howard government hates women, so it’s good to use their money to finance our love.’

But it’s how this affair has played out in the mainstream media that speaks volumes. So far, we’ve seen Nova Peris:

a) argue that her work emails were private – which they’re not;
b) say that the emails were faked – which they’re apparently not; and
c) tell us that they were leaked as part of an extortion bid;
d) declare that she has ‘done nothing wrong’.

None of this reflects well on Peris, because it’s all horribly reminiscent of the long and painfully, obviously deceitful way in which Craig Thomson sought to escape justice (although at least Peris had the decency to speak for less than an hour, and not to start crying).

Labor has closed ranks. But we have been here before. This time, it’s just one more sad story to add to the ALP stable of personal and professional dubious dealings and misconduct – journalist-lawyer-politician interrelationships and intermarriages, union extortion, skullduggery, born-to-rule second- and third-generation Laborites, and all sustained by a common theme of entitlement to pillage public money where and when it can be found.

I suppose the mistake was in thinking that a ‘captain’s pick’ would not end up resembling the departed captain quite so closely.

Philippa Martyr blogs at Transverse City. She’s still waiting for Adam Goodes to say something