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Tony Fitzgerald made a real and lasting change to Australia's character and he has a warning for us today

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The Fitzgerald Inquiry

In May 1987 Acting Queensland Premier Bill Gunn ordered a commission of inquiry after the media reported possible police corruption involving illegal gambling and prostitution.  Tony Fitzgerald QC was appointed to lead the "Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct", known as the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

During the inquiry, the terms of reference were extended to look into "any other matter or thing appertaining to the aforesaid matters", which enabled Fitzgerald to further investigate evidence of political corruption.

Initially expected to last about six weeks, the inquiry spent almost two years conducting a comprehensive investigation of long-term systemic political corruption and abuse of power in Queensland. Public sittings were held on 238 sitting days, hearing testimony from 339 witnesses, and focusing public attention in Queensland and throughout Australia on integrity and accountability in public office including policing.

The Inquiry changed the policing and political landscape in Queensland and across Australia.  Significant prosecutions followed the inquiry leading to four ministers being jailed and numerous convictions of other police. Former Police Commissioner Sir Terence Lewis was convicted of corruption, jailed, and stripped of his knighthood, and former Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was charged with perjury for evidence given to the inquiry though the trial was aborted due to a hung jury.

The 630-page Fitzgerald report was tabled in Parliament in July 1989. It made over 100 recommendations covering the establishment of the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission and the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) and reform of the Queensland Police Force.

The above extract is from the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission's website.

It's a big claim to say that Tony Fitzgerald's enquiry changed the political landscape in Australia, Queensland in particular.

It's also true.

It's in stark contrast to Dyson Heydon who scooped up a smattering of corruption case studies and chronicled the details like a criminals'  clerk.

Can anyone point to a change in Australia as a result of Heydon's enquiry?  

There is much work yet to be done on the ground Heydon and Stoljar lightly raked over.

 

30 years after he commenced his enquiry, Tony Fitzgerald is still contributing to Australia's national character.

Dyson Heydon's work meanwhile lies fallow and incomplete.

 

Politicians with a 'winning at all costs' mentality are damaging Australia

  • Tony Fitzgerald

Australia is a representative democracy. Citizens who are equal, with a shared responsibility for good government, elect people of different backgrounds and perspectives to set community standards. Those elected are not obliged to tell the truth or act in the public interest or forbidden to act in their own interests or the interests of their supporters. They can also enact unjust laws. The law is an expression of power, not justice, and Parliament is almost supreme. 

Since the calibre of those elected is extremely important, it is essential that voters are well-informed, especially now we live in a complex, multicultural nation where multiple interests are in constant conflict and almost every decision attracts strong dissent.

Self-interest is a powerful human impulse. Even so, as Earl Warren, a former US Supreme Court chief justice, pointed out decades ago, "In civilised life, law floats in a sea of ethics. Each is indispensable to civilisation."  

Australians might be more comfortable calling "ethics" the "pub test", but most implicitly accept that society functions best when we respect each other, give each other a "fair go", support the underprivileged and protect the future. Of course, not all agree. A substantial number of people regard ethics and empathy as barriers to success. Many politicians are in that category.

Politics today is a clash of interests, not ideas. The established parties, which receive large sums of public money to finance their campaigns, are controlled by professional, "whatever it takes" politicians driven by self-interest and ideology and addicted to vested interest funding. 

To them, political ethics is merely an amusing oxymoron. Power provides a rich opportunity for personal and political advantage: cronyism, the sale of access and influence and the misuse of public money are now scandalous. There is widespread public contempt for politicians who themselves repeatedly assert that (other) politicians act improperly and accuse each other of misconduct and egregious character defects. Nonetheless, the major parties stubbornly resist effective oversight of politicians' conduct. 

The "winning is all that matters" conduct from politicians affects community attitudes. Australian society is gradually becoming less egalitarian and more cynical and self-centered as economic policies redistribute wealth upwards, widening the gap between "haves" and "have-nots" and producing a largely powerless underclass.

In the circumstances, community unrest and political instability are inevitable, as is the eruption of disruptive ultra-nationalist groups which promote sham nostalgia, foster prejudice, rebrand ignorance as common sense, encourage resentment toward an educated, progressive "elite" and mislead the gullible with crazy theories and empty promises. Not all their supporters are malcontents and ratbags. They also thrive on the anger felt toward the political establishment by ordinary people who see themselves as outsiders. 

The same dark populism has taken root in other democracies. Freedom of communication is essential to democracy; responsibly exercised, it helps voters make informed decisions. It is also democracy's Achilles heel because of the ease with which it can be exploited. Modern technology makes mass deception and vicious personal abuse easy, especially for those with public voices.

Politicians will find it impossible to regain public trust unless they behave like normal, honourable people: treat everyone equally, tell the truth, explain decisions, disclose any direct or indirect benefits for themselves or their allies and do not:

  •  mislead or deceive or withhold material information unless it is in the public interest;
  •  have regard to any matter except the public interest when making decisions;
  •  spend public money for any purpose except the public benefit; or
  •  directly or indirectly use public office or information gained in the course of public office for personal or political benefit.

At the moment, that is an impossible dream. However, we owe it to today's children and their children to do what we can. Reform is possible despite political opposition if enough voters really value true democracy.

The obvious starting point is an effective national anti-corruption organisation, an independent parliamentary integrity commissioner with investigative powers and a multi-party parliamentary committee to penalise breaches.

Those to whom democracy is less important than ideology are of course free to vote as they choose and to continue complaining as political chaos escalates.

Tony Fitzgerald is a former judge, who led an inquiry into corruption in Queensland.

 

ENDS

Here are two brief extracts from Fitzgerald's final report.  Wise words and we'd do well to listen.

 

The Role of the Media

The media is one of the most important and effective mechanisms for the control of powerful institutions and individuals by reason of its ability to sway public opinion. Those who wish to mould public opinion must do so largely through the media.

The media played a part in exposing corruption, and two media organizations contributed to the setting up of this Inquiry.

Unfortunately it is also true that parts of the media in this State have over the years contributed to a climate in which misconduct has flourished. Fitting in with the system and associating with and developing a mutual interdependence with those in power have had obvious benefits.

3.9.2 News Management
The complementary techniques of secrecy and news management allow governments to exercise substantial

and often disproportionate influence on what is published in the media.

The media is able to be used by politicians, police officers and other public officials who wish to put out propaganda to advance their own interests and harm their enemies. A hunger for “leaks” and “scoops” (which sometimes precipitates the events which they predict) and some journalists’ relationships with the sources who provide them with information, can make it difficult for the media to maintain its independence and a critical stance. Searches for motivation, and even checks for accuracy may suffer as a result.

In Queensland, Government reports and information are invariably “leaked” to selected journalists who are able to delude themselves that they are not being used, but on the contrary are establishing and maintaining contacts which help them in their appointed task of discovering information and communicating it to the public. Should these journalists ever “bite the hand that feeds them”, the flow of information would presumably dry up, or be diverted to a rival media outlet or colleague.

Instead of “leaks” becoming an alternative to official information, they become a way of making the media act as a mouthpiece for factions within the Government.

This places an extra responsibility on the journalist. Both the journalist and the source have a mutual interest: both want a headline. Yet if the journalist is so undiscriminating that the perspective taken serves the purposes of the source, then true independence is lost, and with it the right to the special privileges and considerations which are usually claimed by the media because of its claimed independence and “watchdog” role. If the independence and the role are lost, so is the claim to special considerations.

 

The Professional Adviser

Crime and law enforcement today take place in a complicated commercial and legal world. Elaborate commercial dealings are part of normal business as well as being used as a facade for crime.

Therefore criminals need skilful advisers. Just as corrupt police and officials disgrace their office, some professional advisers disgrace their professions by becoming the handmaidens of crime. Organized criminals pay well for all-too-good advice about how to avoid being detected and punished. They are advised how to structure and mask dealings to avoid detection, how to complicate the “paper trail” to illegal funds and activities, how to exploit the protections, rights and privileges which the criminal law affords and how to acquire and maintain the facade of respectability.

Some professional advisers become directly involved in criminal activity. Others do not go so far, but still assist criminals to use illicit profits and achieve their ends. For example, a solicitor may be retained to do property conveyance. He does the task properly, without committing stamp duty fraud, or using false declarations or false names, but he knows the money being used to buy the property is the profits from a string of brothels, or worse, from drug trafficking or child pornography. The solicitor has done nothing illegal, but he has helped the criminal.

Professional bodies and associations, aware of the possibility that their members’ services may be used for ulterior or illegal purposes, have addressed the issue in ethical codes. These codes often do not adequately cover the complicated moral issues involved.

The issue of when professional advisers should be required to refuse services to potential clients is beyond the scope of this report, but must be tackled.

The fact that such advisers are available to organized crime is an acute example of community cynicism and the general failure of individuals and groups to take moral responsibility for their actions.

Lawyers are not obliged to advise clients how to evade the law, and are not obliged to turn a blind eye to questionable activities, even if they are not illegal.

The Commission heard evidence of solicitors who helped conduct property transactions which involved undeclared cash considerations to avoid stamp duty and the use of false names. These solicitors said that they did not know the activities to be illegal, and therefore they had no ethical obligation not to act.

The wealth, history and prestige of the legal profession can give moral torpor an aura of respectability, but in fact means there is less excuse. Claiming high standards of personal probity while knowingly helping criminals achieve their ends is hypocrisy.

Professions, including lawyers, accountants and journalists, need to recall that their profes- sional codes are not replacements for personal probity, but guidelines for its exercise.

ENDS

 

 

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