O'Neill could face the sack

by Chris Griffith
Published 14 August 1994 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Prominent public sector anti-corruption campaigner Mr Des O'Neill could face the sack after allegedly using his work phone to leak a confidential government memo to Opposition Leader Rob Borbidge.

Under-Treasurer Henry Smerdon in a letter this week revealed he had initiated an investigation into Mr O'Neill after The Courier-Mail on 26 May this year reported staffing concerns in Treasury's Office of State Revenue.

Mr O'Neill works in the Office's Compliance Branch.

The internal investigation involved collating phone records of calls to Mr Borbidge's office made from Mr O'Neill's work extension. It was conducted by Ms Jane Macdonnell, the Executive Director of the Office of State Revenue.

Mr Borbidge yesterday said he was outraged that Government bureaucrats were monitoring the calls of public servants to his office and would consider referring the investigation to an independent authority.

Yesterday Mr O'Neill refused to comment, saying the matter was still under investigation.

In her report on Mr O'Neill, Ms Macdonnell said: "I have established that two calls were made from Mr O'Neill's extension to Mr Borbidge's Office on 24 May 1994 - the first for a duration of 2 mins 21 secs at 09:31:29 shortly after the distribution of the staff memorandum in Compliance between 9.00-9.30am.

"The second call was of 7 mins 20 secs duration at 13:03:41 on the same day," the report said.

However the report fell short of charging Mr O'Neill directly with leaking the memo; instead he faces internal charges for pursuing political and union activities during work hours - including his contact with Mr Borbidge's office.

Mr O'Neill is a well-known member of Queensland's Whistleblowers' Action Group, and stood as an independent anti-corruption candidate for Ferny Grove at the 1992 state election.

He has a history of campaigning against cronyism as a council member of the State Public Sector Federation Queensland. In 1991 he supplied the Cooke Inquiry with details of the misuse of his union's internal superannuation fund, information which in 1993 led to Brisbane public hearings and a damning report by the Senate Select Committee on Superannuation.

Last year he campaigned successfully against the union's proposed affiliation with the A.L.P., and in January stood for the presidency in his union's election.

Yesterday the union's president, Mr Sean Curley said he was concerned about the right of union representatives to pursue legitimate union activities and said the union would review Mr O'Neill's case.

In her report Ms Macdonnell said: "Mr O'Neill cannot be said to be providing conscientious service to the elected Government when he uses official resources to oppose a Government negotiated agreement within claimed working hours."

Mr O'Neill faces five charges, and, according to Ms MacDonnell, "is liable to disciplinary action on the ground of misconduct". They are:

  • while on duty he pursued private business matters - namely union matters and his allegations of public sector cronyism;
  • while on duty he engaged in political activity by contacting the Opposition Leader's office;
  • while on duty he used official resources, namely a phone, to pursue these activities;
  • between 1991 and 1994 he made "baseless allegations" of impropriety by three public servants to ministers and public servants and brought Treasury and the public service into disrepute;
  • between 1991 and 1994 he alleged impropriety involving a senior member of the Public Sector Management Commission.
by Chris Griffith