How long must we wait before we let bygones be bygones?

The apparent anger over Mike Kaiser’s temporary appointment as a director-general appears to be driven more by political posturing than genuine outrage, writes Madonna King

Nov 26, 2020, updated Nov 26, 2020
Mike Kaiser is set to return to the government ranks as a senior bureaucrat. (Photo: KPMG)

Mike Kaiser is set to return to the government ranks as a senior bureaucrat. (Photo: KPMG)

Thirty-four years ago, Mike Kaiser – KPMG partner and former state Labor MP – stuffed up, later resigning over his role in a 1986 branch-stacking scheme uncovered in an electoral fraud inquiry.

His mistake was 34 years ago, while he was a university student. Thirty-four years ago. And now, he’s been given a three-month position as acting Director-General in the Department of Resources, there’s outrage from some quarters.

When is it time to forgive someone? And when does the good or the expertise someone offers trump the bad or the mistake made – in this case more than three decades ago?

By the outrage over Mike Kaiser’s temporary appointment, never. We should carry the sins of our past into the future, never removing the sign “I stuffed up’’ from our back.

It’s ridiculous, and surely driven more by political posturing than any genuine view that someone who has since worked as federal Labor’s assistant national secretary, a chief of staff to two state premiers, an MP, for NBN Co and as a partner at KPMG should be held accountable for a historical misdemeanour.

Whether Mike Kaiser is qualified to run a resources department is another question. But the claim he should be held back from a role because of his juvenile involvement in branch stacking as a student reflects more on those throwing the mud, than it does on Mike Kaiser.

I often think of another director-general, when it comes to forgiveness and lessons and that’s Michael Coutts-Trotter, husband of federal MP Tanya Plibersek. At 17, he was a heroin addict. His story is one of serious criminal wrongdoing, not the childish wrongdoing of an over-ambitious student.

Coutts-Trotter served time in Long Bay Jail. Since then, he’s gone on to head four NSW Government departments – Education, Finance, Family and Community Services, and Communities and Justice

Away from the office, he also spends time talking to young people about choices and hope and salvation.

Forgiven, not forgotten. And that’s the way it should be.

Perhaps it’s time to take the same view with Paul Pisasale, who was arguably the nation’s most popular politician before being jailed for seven years on dozens of charges ranging from sexual assault to official corruption.

I felt betrayed like everyone else. I’d known him for two decades, and reported on him hundreds of times. I’d spoken at events he arranged, and marvelled at how he remembered every journalist’s birthday every year.

I’ve sung his praises, and wondered why other public officials couldn’t work as hard for their local communities. I refused to believe he was guilty. Until he pleaded guilty.

And when we found out that he was – of fraud and official corruption and perjury and unlawful drug possession and sexual assault – it wasn’t only the people of Ipswich who felt dudded.

It was everyone who had dealt with him; who’d believed the sincerity he faked so well.

But here’s the thing. At what point do we accept his apology? Force him to repay any debts owing? And allow him to move on?

At what point do we put what he did for Ipswich above the betrayal he caused it?

I know, with those comments, my inbox will fill with hate. But what is served by keeping a 70-year-old, with enormous talent, in jail?

“I am not a bad person but I have made some very bad decisions,’’ he told the court, on sentencing. “I will spend the rest of my life learning from the mistakes I have made.”

And so he should.

But for how long should we bear a grudge? Perhaps seven years isn’t enough; but 34 years certainly should be.

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