Ex-Housing Minister back in the news

Reprinted from the Courier Mail 17-1-13.  Read the article directly from their website here.

Bruce Flegg and his son exchanged a series of emails about Government staff. Source: The Courier-Mail

STARTLING new documents reveal the extent of the professional relationship between former Newman Government minister Bruce Flegg and his lobbyist son. The documents filed in the Supreme Court show a trail of emails between Dr Flegg and his son Jonathon, who was working for lobbying firm Rowland.

They include a clear directive from Mr Flegg to keep the correspondence off government computers – a move that would mean the emails would be exempt from Right to Information laws. 

The emails include a critique of 16 of the Newman Government’s ministerial chiefs-of-staff, sent by Jonathon’s Gmail account to his father’s BigPond email address just three weeks after last year’s state election. 

It is not clear who wrote the critique, but Dr Flegg forwarded it to the personal accounts of his own chief-of-staff and media adviser, with the warning: “Very confidential. For your info. Useful. Don’t send to any govt computors (sic).”

The dossier of emails is part of former media adviser Graeme Hallett’s defence to an $800,000 defamation damages claim brought by Dr Flegg.

Included is a directive from the minister to his chief-of-staff to have a policy officer look at information that “Jonathon will forward”.

Another email refers to a newspaper article that suggested Jonathon had done well out of the change of government.

“Nothing to worry about,” wrote Jonathon. “It’s only saying Rowland is close to the LNP.”

Dr Flegg moved to sue his former staffer for defamation after Mr Hallett went public with claims of undisclosed lobbyist influence – claims that forced the minister to resign.

The critique of senior Newman Government staffers sent to then housing minister Bruce Flegg by his lobbyist son contained frank personality assessments, notes on family connections and job histories.

In the “List of CoS” email, every ministerial chief-of-staff was named – a document that was then forwarded by Dr Flegg to his adviser, Graeme Hallett, and then chief-of-staff, Fraser Stephen, with instructions to keep it off any government computer.

The original author of the list is unclear.

 It is among several email exchanges filed in the Supreme Court by law firm Maurice Blackburn, on behalf of Mr Hallett, in response to a request for information from Dr Flegg’s lawyers.

Dr Flegg, who stood down as minister last November, is suing his former friend and media adviser Mr Hallett for $800,000 in damages for alleged defamation.

 The former minister claims Mr Hallett defamed him on three occasions in November, including at a press conference, a day after he was sacked, and in a radio interview.

 Mr Hallett, who had accused Dr Flegg of failing to disclose contact between his office and his lobbyist son Jonathon, has since filed his defence, including a counterclaim against Dr Flegg for $100,000.

Dr Flegg denies any wrongdoing. 

In another email, allegedly sent from Dr Flegg’s iPad to Mr Stephen and Mr Hallett on April 30, last year, Dr Flegg says: “Subject: Fraser I would like one of our policy officers to look at housing co ops – Jonathon will forward info.” 

The email was copied to Jonathon Flegg at his email address for the lobbying firm Rowland.

Other documents show emails sent between senior executives of Rowland, before Jonathon Flegg emailed his father on May 30 last year. 

That email said: “Hey Dad, Chris Brooks is available as a possible Deputy DG and appears to have the goods (see his CV attached). I’ve had him strongly advised to me.” 

Earlier that day, an email was sent from another Rowland staffer to Jonathon Flegg with the subject: “Chris’ CV”, filed documents show. 

It followed a March 19 Rowland internal email regarding “Chris’ CV” which said: “As requested, I have attached the long version – it contains plenty of detail on Chris’ background, including his time in government and also in energy infrastructure. Chris will give you a call later today to catch up . . .” 

Mr Brooks did not get the deputy director-general’s job. 

Another group of emails filed in court relate to a July 17, 2012 story in The Australian newspaper, which mentioned the Housing Minister’s son Jonathon Flegg was a senior consultant for Rowland. 

The emails show that day a Rowland executive sent an email to Rowland chairman Geoff Rodgers saying: “The article mentions Geoff and Jono amongst lobbyists to have done well out of the change of government.” 

Jonathon Flegg then emailed his father’s BigPond email address, and Mr Hallett, saying: “Wow – mention in the Oz today. Nothing to worry about as it’s only saying Rowland is close to the LNP.” 

A “list of emails to and from ministerial and EO addresses” sent by Jonathon Flegg to Graeme Hallett on October 31, last year, also has been filed. 

Rowland managing director Helen Besly said she was unable to comment, as the case was before the court.

 Mr Hallett’s solicitors, Maurice Blackburn, said he was unable to comment.

Jonathon Flegg resigned as manager of Rowland’s government relations practice on December 14 last year. 

The Courier-Mail was unable to contact Dr Flegg.

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