Proctor : July 2019
25 PROCTOR | July 2019 Then the watch upon the walls of Mordor slept, and dark things crept back into Gorgoroth. The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkien Judge Eric Pratt, a close personal friend of Police Commissioner Terry Lewis (whose activities the inquiry would investigate). After pushback from both journalists and lawyers, Pratt was rejected and after Ian Callinan recused himself for fear that he appeared too close to the Government, Tony Fitzgerald QC was appointed. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Fitzgerald, who had been a judge of the Federal Court and would go on to be a Supreme Court of Queensland judge and the first President of the Court of Appeals Division, had the rule of law in his blood. He was born in Sandgate, where Robert Travers Atkin – a founding father of social justice in Queensland, and actual father of Lord Atkin, one of England’s greatest judges – lived the final years of his life (and where he is buried). Fitzgerald took silk in 1975 and established a reputation for integrity and determination, both of which would be tested during the inquiry. Fitzgerald broadened the ambit of the inquiry with the blessing of then-Premier Mike Ahern, who had to face down his own Cabinet in the process. Indeed, Ahern’s support for the inquiry, and determination to implement its recommendations “lock, stock and barrel” deserve recognition. Opposed by many in his own party (some of whom would end up serving time in prison) and cognisant of the fact that the inquiry’s findings would almost certainly doom his government, Ahern nevertheless continued to give Fitzgerald his support. The expansion of the inquiry was key, as the initial limitation meant only police officers could be subpoenaed and investigated – and Fitzgerald had discovered that things went much further than the cops on the beat. Armed with broader terms and new powers, including the ability to appoint assistant commissioners, Fitzgerald went to work. The results of the inquiry were stunning, and almost incomprehensible in this day and age. Ultimately Police Commissioner Terry Lewis and three Government Ministers would do jail time. A fourth, Russ Hinze, would likely have been imprisoned but succumbed to bowel cancer before charges were laid. Former Premier Bjelke-Petersen was tried for perjury, which resulted in a hung jury. Consistent with the corruption of the day, it was later discovered one of the jurors was a friend of Bjelke-Petersen. Fitzgerald’s courage was not without consequence. He and his family received death threats which were regarded as credible, yet pulling back or shortening the inquiry never seemed to cross Fitzgerald’s mind. Dedicated to the rule of law, he continued to pursue his quarry, despite the fact that in both resources and connections, he was disadvantaged. On his side were two powerful allies, however: the fourth estate and the legal profession. Journalists had been hounding the Government about police corruption for years, often facing lawsuits – and worse – as a result. In fact, the inquiry itself was largely the result of newspaper reporting, especially The Courier-Mail’s Phil Dickie, whose relentless pursuit of corrupt politicians and police forced everyone to take notice. When the ABC’s Four Corners picked up on Dickie’s work and aired its compelling, disturbing ‘Moonlight State’ episode, the Government could no longer pretend there was “nothing to see here”. vigilance or allow our watch on the walls of justice to sleep. Almost as soon as the initial recommendations were implemented, the forces of evil began to test them, and the appetite for ongoing reform began to fail. Fitzgerald himself left Queensland, later revealing that the election of the Beattie Government and its reluctance to commit to ongoing reform informed his decision to move. Beattie’s Government amalgamated the Criminal Justice Commission with the Crime Commission to form the Crime and Misconduct Commission, and took away its powers to investigate police, reversing one of Fitzgerald’s key recommendations. Subsequent governments have exhibited other concerning lapses. The Newman Government’s so-called ‘bikie’ legislation made people guilty by association rather than their deeds, and stripped away rights Queenslanders had come to regard as inalienable, a concerning trend that has continued under the current Labor Government. Several recent laws contain a reversal of onus – effectively, regarding people as guilty until proven innocent – and contain significant coercive powers. Legislation to sack the Ipswich City Council included provisions which denied the councillors involved the right to challenge the decision in court, a concept most Australians associate with despotic regimes. Dark things are indeed creeping back into Queensland. Lawyers are officers of the court, and as such have a duty to the administration of justice and the courts. That duty encompasses the obligation to speak up when the rule of law is threatened. Tony Fitzgerald did it 30 years ago and freed a state from the tyranny of corruption. If the rule of law is again threatened, we must be ready to take up that cause. That said, we stand in a better place than we did in 1987, when Tony Fitzgerald began his work. As we recognise the 30th anniversary of the end of the systematic corruption of the police force and our governing institutions, the free citizens of Queensland should spare a thought for Tony Fitzgerald and raise a glass to him. The best way to honour him, however, is to hold our politicians accountable to the highest standards, and never let the rule of law be usurped again. As for lawyers, for many years they had complained of clients being verballed and mysterious guilty pleas from clients in custody that were often accompanied by equally mysterious injuries. Witnesses suddenly recanted testimony or simply disappeared, and clients arrested at street marches told of peaceful protests that descended into violence at the hands of unknown marchers who looked very similar to members of the police force’s notorious Special Branch (which no doubt protected many criminals when it burnt its records rather than have them subpoenaed by Fitzgerald). The legacy of the Fitzgerald Inquiry was nothing less than the return of democracy to Queensland, and the end of a de facto police state. The recommendations of the inquiry included the establishment of the Criminal Justice Commission (now the Crime and Corruption Commission) and the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission, now both cornerstones of Queensland’s thriving democracy. The Fitzgerald Inquiry was a great success, but it was not – indeed, cannot be allowed to be – the end of the story. Just as the banning of Lance Armstrong did not spell the end of drugs in sport, the findings and achievement of the Fitzgerald Inquiry do not mean that the job is done, nor that we can relax our Bill Potts is the President of Queensland Law Society and Principal of Potts Lawyers. Shane Budden is a QLS ethics solicitor. OPINION Image above left: Tony Fitzgerald QC hands the bound copy of the Fitzgerald Report to Premier Mike Ahern on July 7, 1989. Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland, image no. 78930.