I learnt a new word today: winegate. It's a Queensland word for "storm in a teacup". Star Coalition bench-warmer, Senator Santo Santoro used the Adjournment debate yesterday to give the Beattie government a good hiding over the fact that "an illicit $10 bottle of cab sav" found its way into a dry Aboriginal community on a government jet carrying Queensland Indigenous Affairs Minister, Liddy Clark.
Senator Santoro began by making it quite clear that he had no personal axe to grind with Ms Clark:
Tonight I want to speak about the disgraceful behaviour of the Queensland Premier in relation to what has become known as the winegate affair. At the outset, I want to say to honourable senators that I have thought very deeply about all this before deciding to speak out publicly. I did so because the Queensland minister who managed to enmesh herself in this unseemly display is Liddy Clark, the person who defeated me in my state seat of Clayfield in 2001. For three years I have purposely not made any critical public comment on her so that no-one on the Labor side of politics or indeed anywhere else would be able to claim that it was sour grapes on my part. But tonight I am duty bound to comment on the moral bankruptcy of the Premier of Queensland and the government that he leads—the government that he leads from well behind the action if we are to believe what he has a track record of claiming when in difficulty that he did not know.
No, it is Senator Santoro's painful duty to tell it like it is; to call a spade a spade and an incompetent an incompetent:
It is inevitable that my comments tonight will necessarily go to questions of Ms Clark's behaviour as a minister. The shameful farce that she and the Premier have visited on my state for the past week as they try to evade what otherwise would be the inevitable penalty for their stupidity is a disgrace to public administration and to the government of Queensland. It is hardly possible to credit that an illicit $10 bottle of cab sav somehow flew all the way from Brisbane to Lockhart River in the far north of Cape York Peninsula in the government jet with the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy aboard, via an overnight stop at Weipa, and failed to come to her attention. My comments will inevitably raise questions about Ms Clark's suitability for ministerial office after one term in parliament as a backbencher in which the closest she came to setting the world on fire was to sing a song in parliament and stage a smoking ceremony to chase away the spirits when she took over the electorate office I had just vacated.
Senator Santoro then turns his forensic intellect to an analysis of Peter Beattie's nefarious involvement in "winegate":
In relation to the so-called winegate affair, there is very strong evidence of ministerial impropriety by Mr Beattie, among others. At the height of the Netbet affair Mr Beattie finally stood aside his then Treasurer, David Hamill. On the face of it, the winegate affair is less serious. In fact, it is a farce. But, politically, it is a bottler. The conflagration that Mr Beattie is now battling is one he started himself. The Premier's conduct in all of this has been completely inappropriate. The conduct of his office also demands close scrutiny ...
and finishes with a timely warning that "winegate" is no laughing matter:
... The people of Queensland, and doubtless others in other places, are having a rare old laugh. As Peninsula Regional Council chairman, Eddie Woodley, and Cairns Regional Council chairman, Terry O'Shane, said in a statement they released yesterday, the attention being given to `a single bottle of unopened plonk' is just unbelievable. And that is it in a nutshell. The Premier has brought this crisis on himself. He is in grave danger of making himself a laughing stock. That would be tragic because he does not deserve that. He deserves to be seen as an antidemocratic wrecker of the process of government and of the lives of people who get between him and his image ...
Postscript: Senator Santoro was also busy on Monday, when the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties considered a proposal that Australia withdraw from the International Fund for Agricultural Development. As Senator Santoro is at his best as a committee performer, I might give that the once over later this week.