Govt will 'fix' Casket debacle

by Chris Griffith
Published 2 October 1994 in The Sunday Mail


my face


The Queensland Parliament this month will take the unusual step of rewriting legal history when it debates retrospective legislation to authorise promotional and development activities of the Golden Casket Art Union Office from 1991 to 1993.

In August The Sunday Mail reported that Golden Casket had lost over $3 million of public funds on a failed research project to develop a Government Revenue Collection system for Casket agencies, and on unsuccessful attempts to market Queensland casket technology overseas through GC Systems Ltd, a subsidiary of Golden Casket.

Further, we reported concern of inadequate accountability, the wastage of public funds, and the blurring of interests held by some involved in these activities, and the fact the Crown Law Office regarded these activities, conducted from 1991 to 1993, and allied spending of $1.54 million as unlawful.

However, these past activities are set to be reclassified as "authorised by law at the time" in a special one-year only retrospective clause contained in the Lotteries Bill 1994, which is expected to be debated when State Parliament resumes on October 18.

Clause 85 of the Bill says: "The .. activities and expenditures by the Office during the financial years [from 1991-1995] are taken to be authorised by law at the time the activity was engaged in or the expenditure made".

"This section is enacted to remove any doubt and expires 1 year after it commences."

Yesterday, Auditor-General Barry Rollason welcomed the Government's move, and its decision to include entrepreneurial activities within the role of the successor to the Golden Casket Office - the Golden Casket Lottery Corporation which is established in the Lotteries Bill.

Last year Mr Rollason provided the Art Union Office with only a qualified audit certificate after he questioned the legality of some Casket activities.

However Shadow Attorney-General Denver Beanland said the retrospective change was a contradiction, a paradox in time.

"It's hard to say whether it's back to the future - or forward to the past for the Casket Office," he said.

"The legal change in no way excuses the Office's conduct in the first place."

The Associate Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald, said retrospective legislation "always has the air of the bizarre - the farce of saying something has always been legal, when in fact it wasn't at the time".

In August, Treasurer Keith De Lacy said the Office had obtained legal advice giving it the go-ahead from its own solicitors, Clarke and Kann. He said the advice had been corroborated by barrister Richard Chesterman, QC, but later had been contradicted by official Crown Law advice.

by Chris Griffith