Premier’s private email scandal deepens
The Premier's private email scandal has deepened, with calls for a review into why an external lawyer was secretly engaged to advise on controversial emails.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's office is refusing to say who engaged barrister Kerri Mellifont QC - the wife of Labor MP Peter Russo - to advise on whether one of three emails sent to the Premier's private email from Transport Minister Mark Bailey's email@example.com account had to be disclosed.
Ms Mellifont's advice was obtained in 2018 during the processing of a Right to Information request from the State Opposition for the release of any of Mr Bailey's private emails relating to ministerial business.
The email scandal has so far centred on whether Ms Palaszczuk misled Parliament in 2017 by denying she had ever used a private email account for official purposes. She has denied misleading Parliament.
But The Courier-Mail can reveal the "mangocube" integrity controversy has now triggered calls for a review of the LNP's 2018 RTI requests and whether they were "genuinely handled".
The State Opposition has written to Queensland's independent Right to Information Commissioner asking her to review its 2018 RTI applications for the release of Mr Bailey's private emails.
In a letter to RTI Commissioner Louisa Lynch, the Opposition states its inquiries last week with the RTI unit revealed officers were unaware of a "secondary process" involving Ms Mellifont providing legal advice.
"I believe the Minister has conducted his own separate inquiry in response to the (department's) search requests and engaged a privately funded barrister to advise him about whether the RTI Act applied to certain documents in his possession," a spokesman for the Opposition wrote.
A spokesman for the Premier has told The Courier-Mail that Ms Mellifont's advice was not paid for by the Government and was not sought by either the Premier or Mr Bailey.
He refused to say who did hire Ms Mellifont, but said the three emails and single email reply from the Premier had been provided to the RTI officer at the time.
"RTIs are wholly managed by independent RTI officers," he said.
A spokesman for Mr Bailey confirmed that and said the emails were "thoroughly examined" by the Crime and Corruption Commission in its 2017 investigation into Mr Bailey's private email use.
Labor state secretary Julie-Ann Campbell said the ALP did not seek or pay for Ms Mellifont's advice.
Ms Mellifont, who is also the daughter of the late Brian Mellifont, a former Labor city councillor and party life member, declined to comment on who engaged her, citing legal professional privilege.
The Courier-Mail does not suggest Ms Mellifont acted inappropriately in any way, but is instead investigating who engaged her and why external legal advice was sought at the time of the RTI process.
Ms Mellifont's advice focused on an email from Mr Bailey's personal Yahoo account to Ms Palaszczuk's private account about autonomous and electric vehicles.
Mr Bailey states in the email that he had asked his director-general "to start putting together how and what an (autonomous vehicle) strategy for Qld would look like".
"Very interesting," the Premier replies, then suggests her director-general Dave Stewart "can talk to Neil".
Ms Mellifont concluded at the time that the email was not a "document of a Minister" as it was received in a party political capacity, according to the memo by Solicitor-General Sandy Thompson QC.
Documents discussing party political matters are exempt from disclosure under RTI.
Mr Bailey sent three other emails to Ms Palaszczuk's private account, which she did not respond to.
None of the emails were among those released in 2018 in response to the LNP's RTI requests despite a review by the State Archivist in 2017 identifying all four emails as public records.
They were only made public after a letter from the CCC to the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee containing the emails was tabled in Parliament this month.
The 'mangocube' email scandal dates back to 2017 when Mr Bailey was investigated by the CCC after he deleted the email account following an RTI request by The Australian newspaper for the release of government-related emails.
He was cleared of charges as the account had not been permanently deleted and was able to be recovered, but the episode triggered a ban on ministers using private emails for work.
Originally published as Premier's private email scandal deepens