Leggate wins the war

by Chris Griffith
Written 5 November 1995


my face


Jim Leggate, a state public servant who claimed the Department of Minerals and Energy was turning a blind eye to illegal mining practices, has been rewarded for his efforts with a new job, and a new direction in life.

In a story which shows that blowing the whistle can sometimes have a happy ending for the often victimised whistleblower, the 58-year-old Mr Leggate retired from the public service on Friday for the greener pastures of an environmental consultancy company, where his publicly acclaimed expertise will be fully used.

Mr Leggate's retirement came just one day after the release of a Senate committee's report into unresolved whistleblower cases. The report described him as "an honourable and credible witness" in his quest to see state environmental legislation enforced by the public service.

Mr Leggate is no stranger to controversy.

Before he rejoined the Queensland public service, he was the environmental manager of the Ranger Uranium Mine in Kakadu National Park, employed by the mine and responsible for environmental controls and radiation safety.

But even managing a mine on World Heritage-listed Kakadu did not prepare him for the ordeal he said he experienced back in the Department of Minerals and Energy.

His problems began when he claimed the department was failing to enforce environmental regulations on mining sites, and as a result, he said many Queensland mine operations were unlawful.

He pointed out the huge financial burden taxpayers would have to meet to clean up and rehabilitate these sites, and compiled a comprehensive list of the offending operations.

However he said his efforts were not encouraged. In 1991, Mr Leggate was twice passed over for promotion, in 1992 he was isolated within the department, and his submission to the Public Sector Management Commission on the topic was returned without comment, he said.

Mr Leggate claimed he was counselled to try "to get me to support the government's new policy".

He eventually transferred to another department after he was accused of leaking his concerns to the media.

In 1994, Mr Leggate was a key witness at the CJC's inquiry into the improper disposal of liquid toxic waste. The inquiry, however, found no evidence of official misconduct or breaches of legislation.

Mr Leggate yesterday said his whistleblowing had given him "respect and credibility".

"I believe I can turn this into a positive, for this experience to be constructive, rather than destructive."

As for the Senate committee report, Mr Leggate said: "I don't need to be exonerated. I know what I did was right.

"I said to the committee that I was damned if I did, and damned if I didn't."

His new job, with consultants Natural Resources Assessment, involves writing assessment reports for government, mining, and other companies proposing major projects who are concerned about their impact on the environment.

Mr Leggate began his new job on Monday.