O'Neill disciplined

by Chris Griffith
Published 11 June 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


A Treasury official who was investigated after phoning Opposition Leader Rob Borbidge's office, says he is unlikely ever to be promoted following a disciplinary finding against him last week.

The official, Mr Des O'Neill, who is also a public service union representative and a well- known Brisbane whistleblower, was found guilty of misconduct for having brought public servants including "the Queensland Treasury and the Queensland Public Service generally into disrepute". He was the subject of an internal Treasury investigation.

Last week Mr O'Neill received an official reprimand, and was told the penalty would be recorded in his personnel file, an outcome he said would destroy his career and promotional prospects in the public service.

Opposition Leader Rob Borbidge yesterday said the disciplinary action illustrated the Goss Government's "hypocrisy and double standards" in its treatment of public servants, and contrasted Mr O'Neill's situation with that of former Office of Cabinet Director-General, Kevin Rudd.

Mr Rudd last year resigned his position to run as the ALP's federal candidate for Griffith, but later accepted a $104,000 post to head the Planning and Policy Unit in the Premier's Department while an ALP candidate.

Mr Borbidge said: "It certainly does seem a double standard when one public servant can be accused of making a couple of local telephone calls which are said to be politically motivated and face a reprimand, while another who is a candidate for the ALP can be praised and have his personal defence run be the Premier."

As well as being a public servant attached to Treasury 's Office of State Government Revenue, Mr O'Neill is a prominent member of the Whistleblowers' Action Group and has given evidence before several Senate committees. A reprisal he said he suffered after one Senate hearing is being investigated by the Senate Priviliges committee.

He has also been a public service union delegate since 1974, and last year stood for the presidency of the State Public Services Federation Queensland. Mr O'Neill said he contacted Mr Borbidge's office in his union capacity following requests by members.

Mr O'Neill's current troubles began when the executive director of the Office of State Revenue, Ms Jane Macdonnell, audited the use of his work phone after he was accused of leaking a confidential memorandum to The Courier-Mail in May last year.

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 min 20 sec duration at 13:03:41 on the same day."

Mr O'Neill has strenuously denied leaking the document.

However he admitted to Ms Macdonnell that he had telephoned the Opposition's office seeking an interview with Opposition representatives to discuss enterprise bargaining and locality allowances.

At this point the investigation changed course, pursuing Mr O'Neill not for allegedly leaking the memo, but examining the nature of his union business with Mr Borbidge.

Ms Macdonnell wrote: "Arguably, 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 subsequently faced three counts of misconduct over his contact with the Opposition office. They were that while on duty, he (1) pursued private business matters, (2) engaged in political activity, and (3) misused official resources in his telephone contact with the Opposition's office.

But the allegations did not end there.The internal inquiry broadened after Mr O'Neill told Ms Macdonnell he was concerned about alleged impropriety on a Treasury job selection panel, and that he made known these concerns to his union, and to Labor MP's Mr Peter Beattie and Mr Pat Comben.

He subseqeuently faced two more misconduct counts:

  • making "baseless allegations" of impropriety by three public servants to Ministers and union officials which brought the public servants, Treasury and the public service generally into disrepute;
  • alleging impropriety on the part of a senior member of the Public Sector Management Commission.
In her report, Under Treasurer's office investigator Ms Lesley Anderson said the three counts relating to Mr O'Neill's contact with the Opposition's office were "proven" because Mr O'Neill was not empowered by his union to discuss enterprise bargaining with Mr Borbidge's office.

"It is my view that these communications exceeded Mr O'Neill's role as a SPSFQ delegate, in particular because such activities were not specifically authorised by the union," she said.

Ms Anderson said the fourth allegation about Mr O'Neill wrongly claiming impropriety in a Treasury job selection panel was also "proven" because Mr O'Neill's claims were "baseless in fact".

Ms Anderson wrote she had not investigated the fifth allegation about Mr O'Neill's unwarranted criticism of a senior PSMC officer because "any full investigation would become complicated" as Mr O'Neill had referred aspects of the PSMC officer's conduct to other investigating bodies.

In disciplining Mr O'Neill, the Under Treasurer, Mr Gerard Bradley, did not attach the disciplinary action to the three counts involving Mr O'Neill's contact with the Opposition office, but to the fourth count of Mr O'Neill wrongly alledged impropriety by the selection panel.

"Whilst I recognise that allegations 1-3 were proven, I do not propose to take any action in regard to those allegations," Mr Bradley wrote.

Mr O'Neill said he is now preparing a formal complaint over the department's handling of the inquiry.

"They played the man, not the issue. They moved the goal posts, the aim of this investigation, until they could fit me through them."