Labor embroiled in another integrity scandal
A SENIOR Palaszczuk Government member failed to declare his law firm received a significant volume of work from Legal Aid in a fresh integrity scandal for the strife-prone administration.
The Courier-Mail can reveal Member for Toohey Peter Russo's firm Russo Lawyers has been on the official panel to receive publicly funded legal work representing disadvantaged Queenslanders for at least four years.
The revelation has raised conflict-of-interest questions about Mr Russo's role chairing State Parliament's powerful Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee which he has held since early last year.
The committee oversees the Legal Aid's budget as well as all legislation that affects the body. Mr Russo denies any wrongdoing.
The latest annual report for Legal Aid, which spends almost half its $138 million budget on private lawyers, shows Mr Russo's outfit was one of 25 firms that had received more than 20 briefs a year for the past three years.
While the second-term MP lists his ownership of Russo Lawyers and the firm as an income source on State Parliament's Register of Members Interests, he does not list Legal Aid. State Parliament rules state members should list all income sources above $950 a year that they receive personally or through a company or trust. Income sources below the threshold that "appear to raise, or could foreseeably raise, a conflict between the member's private interest and their duty as a member" must also be declared.
The issue comes after Deputy Premier Jackie Trad was engulfed in a long-running integrity scandal after she failed to declare purchasing a Woolloongabba investment property.
Mr Russo was forced to amend his biography on his legal firm's website earlier this year after The Courier-Mail revealed he was spruiking himself as an elected MP and a former chair of the powerful parliamentary crime and corruption committee.
An experienced lawyer, Mr Russo yesterday insisted he had satisfied all the requirements of the register by declaring his interest in the law firm and the ongoing income he received from it.
"I have met the requirements of my pecuniary interest register to the best of my knowledge as required under the Standing Orders," he said.
Asked whether he had received advice to say that Legal Aid did not have to be listed, Mr Russo said "I answered your question, to the best of my knowledge. If you know different please share".
However, Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said it was clear Mr Russo had broken the rules. "What makes this worse is that Mr Russo is Labor's chair of the Parliamentary Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee which signs off on Legal Aid's budget," she said. "This is a massive scandal and Annastacia Palaszczuk needs to show leadership and ... order a full independent investigation."