Another day, another scandal for dogged deputy

 

AS ONE wise and wizened Queensland political pundit observed yesterday, Jackie Trad is the gift that keeps on giving.

The Queensland Government enters the three-month parliamentary recess period beset by a new integrity scandal, and at its centre is the trouble-prone Treasurer.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington must be thinking all her Christmases have come at once.

Ms Trad's latest troubles revolve around allegations over her involvement in the independent selection process for the principal's post at the new $120 million high school being built in her South Brisbane electorate.

The Government's investment in the Inner City South State Secondary College will be crucial to Ms Trad's re-election prospects next October.

Two days of questioning in State Parliament by the Opposition have eked out several key pieces of information about what occurred, but most telling were the answers that Ms Trad and other ministers couldn't, or wouldn't, provide.

What we know so far is that in January the Department of Education advertised the position and an independent selection panel later signed off on the appointment of the top ranked candidate, Tracey Cook.

Jackie Trad at Parliament yesterday. Picture: Glenn Hunt/AAP
Jackie Trad at Parliament yesterday. Picture: Glenn Hunt/AAP

Extraordinarily, Ms Trad then met with Ms Cook - supposedly for just 15 minutes - and the Department of Education subsequently scuppered Ms Cook's appointment, began a new selection process and chose someone else.

As MPs from all parties were privately acknowledging yesterday, this meeting was unusual as the department never offers up meetings with prospective principals in their electorates.

Ms Trad yesterday refused to say what they talked about.

Did the powerful Deputy Premier and Treasurer quiz Ms Cook about how she'd run the school?

Did she ask her whether she planned to move into the electorate? Or maybe offered up some sound local property investment advice?

We don't know. Ms Trad won't say.

What we do know is that the next candidate selected, Bray Park High School principal Kirsten Ferdinands, was also offered up by the department for a meeting with Ms Trad, which occurred over the phone.

And after that call occurred Ms Ferdinands was officially unveiled as the foundation principal of the new school in a video uploaded on Ms Trad's social media accounts, which featured the pair at the school site with Education Minister Grace Grace.

The video ended with the red-and-blue Queensland Labor logo.

Department of Education director-general Tony Cook made a vainglorious attempt to clear up this issue yesterday, but simply made it worse.

Mr Cook insisted it was at his department's behest that Ms Cook met with Ms Trad to hold an "informal discussion".

What they informally discussed he didn't say.

But he did confirm that while the independent panel approved her appointment, after the meeting with Ms Trad no formal offer was made.

The reason?

According to Mr Cook, the decision to restart the principal recruitment process occurred because his department stumbled across new demographic modelling.

And the modelling apparently suggested the school would be bigger than first thought and this made the principal's position eligible for a higher pay packet.

The school would now exceed 1600 students, according to Mr Cook, however what the previous prediction was he didn't say.

However given the most populated state high school in Australia is just up the road, you'd kind of expect the new one is going to be in demand.

And when you're building the most expensive school in Queensland's history you'd kind of expect the department to get the modelling right or at least have a solid clue before canvassing around for prospective principal candidates.

Education Minister Grace Grace (left) and Member for South Brisbane Jackie Trad (right) with Inner City South State Secondary College foundation principal Kirsten Ferdinands
Education Minister Grace Grace (left) and Member for South Brisbane Jackie Trad (right) with Inner City South State Secondary College foundation principal Kirsten Ferdinands

Maybe Ms Trad is simply a victim of a collective of coincidences here.

However why the department thought it was wise to include her during not one but two selection processes and why she apparently acquiesced is another matter entirely.

While local politicians and principals might have symbiotic relationship, the independence of the selection process must be sacrosanct.

Ms Trad is adamant she never interfered. But her involvement at all when the appointment process was ongoing is not a good look.

Frecklington is probably wishing there was another sitting of state parliament right now.

And after stumbling yesterday over the critical question of why the department hasn't invited other MPs to meet with prospective principals, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will be thinking the parliamentary recess isn't long enough.

But the stony silence among Labor MPs yesterday as Ms Palaszczuk and Ms Trad answered questions on this issue demonstrated just how anxious they are over the prospect of another scandal dogging the administration.

The week, after all, began with Ms Trad belatedly apologising in parliament over her property purchase saga and got worse as the issue of the principal appointment process evolved.

The Deputy Premier certainly has been the gift that keeps on giving throughout 2019.

Her colleagues should be asking themselves what possible present could she offer the Opposition up next?

Island fears misplaced

TALK about the death of tourism on Moreton Island after it was passed back into the hands of its traditional owners is completely wrongheaded.

In fact, there's ample evidence to suggest quite the opposite will occur, if it is managed correctly.

The global trend among tourists is for immersive experiences in other cultures.

And this presents countless opportunities for Queensland, given Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples represent the oldest two continuing living cultures in the world.

That's why the State Government has rightly named 2020 the Year of Indigenous Tourism, and why it is investing $3.4 million into the emerging industry.

In fact, the Government might want to consider investing much more.

Maybe a few of Moreton's existing tourism operators and locals were a bit anxious over what the native title determination means.

However the island, which traditional owners the Quandamooka people call Moorgumpin, is already 98 per cent national park, and the native title determination does not affect freehold or leasehold title.

That means the Tangalooma resort, which began as a whaling station in the 1950s, can go on doing what it's been doing for many years.

In fact, if some of the emerging indigenous experiences that the Quandamooka people have planned for Stradbroke Island can be mirrored on Moorgumpin, Brisbane could become the gateway to some of the best indigenous cultural experiences in the world.

Stiff penalty fine with me

YESTERDAY morning, as I drove the Pacific Motorway to State Parliament, I watched in horror as the car in front of me repeatedly nearly took out vehicles in the neighbouring lane.

When traffic slowed, it became clear why. The driver was watching a TV show from a phone on his dash.

Idiot.

The Government's new $1000 fine for using a mobile phone while driving and the potential to lose your licence if caught twice in 12 months might seem steep.

But the number of distracted drivers on our roads has reached plague proportions and they are killing people.



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