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Corruption and reform
In the mid 1980s, Queenslanders were shocked when a royal commission headed by Queens Counsel Tony Fitzgerald uncovered institutionalised corruption at the highest levels. As a result,the police commissioner, four politicians, several police officers and others were charged with criminal offences and jailed. In July 1989, Tony Fitzgerald, QC, produced a report of his royal commission which called for massive systemic change to the state apparatus.
At the end of 1989, the state's 32-year old government was swept out of power, and a new (Labor) government headed by Brisbane solicitor Wayne Goss was installed. Since then, the government has passed much-needed legislation to redress the ills of the past, but there's evidence that the state is slowly slipping back into some of its old ways.
Fitzgerald recommended two new reform commissions to implement change and to monitor corruption. The first, the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC), recommended a host of change including electoral reform, local government reform, freedom of information, and reform of the parliament. It has now completed its work and disbanded.
The second, the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC), is a permanent commission which monitors politicians, the police, and the public sector for corruption and misconduct.
As well, outsiders were brought in from interstate to head the CJC and the Police Service. It has been renamed and revamped as the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC).
Reform of the police and the criminal justice system
In 1989 outsiders were brought in to reform the police service. Former Victorian Deputy Commissioner Noel Newnham became the state's new police commissioner, another Victorian David Blizzard his deputy. But they encountered heavy flack and were eventually rejected by the entrenched forces. Both left the state in controversial circumstances. Likewise former Tasmanian politician Sir Max Bingham experienced a rocky road as head of the anti-corruption watchdog, the Criminal Justice Commission.
By 1992, where these stories begin, the state was looking to replace this first wave of reformers.
- Reform police chief sidelined (10 May 92)
- CJC reform goes on the backburner (21 Jun 92)
- Queensland establishment turns on the reformers (28 Jun 92)
- New criminal justice bosses must be tough (16 Aug 92)
- The games in choosing new anti-corruption boss (16 Aug 92)
- Parties must recommit to Fitzgerald reform (13 Sep 92)
- Goss floats NSW police ministry model (27 Sep 92)
- Government orchestrates key appointment (11 Oct 92)
- Beattie checked up on Sir Max (6 Dec 92)
- Storm rages over Blizzard (13 Dec 92)
- Newnham defends Blizzard (13 Dec 92)
- Police cover up misconduct (Jan 93)
- CJC rejects power hand-back to police (May 93)
- The forgotten Fitzgerald reform agenda (4 Jul 93)
- Nigel Powell preaches patience (4 Jul 93)
- Interview with CJC chairman, Rob O'Regan, QC (11 Jul 93)
- Committee bans academic's submission (Mid 94)
- Noel Newnham takes Sydney job (1 Jan 95)
The genesis of the fallout between Police Commissioner Noel Newnham and Police Minister Terry Mackenroth was an allegation, vehemently denied by Mr Mackenroth, that he had accepted a donation from a dismissed Judge in return for a political favour. It was alledged that former Supreme Court judge Angelo Vasta had given Mr Mackenroth money while requesting that his dismissal as a judge be reconsided by an incoming ALP government. Labor won government the following month.
Shortly afterwards, Commissioner Newnham went behind Mr Mackenroth's back to draw the issue's attention to then Premier Goss. The Australian Federal Police placed a listening device and recorded conversations involving Mr Vasta and his brother-in-law Santo Coco, a Brisbane toilet paper manufacturer, which referred to this incident. A secret Federal Police transcript of part of these conversations follow.
Later Mr Mackenroth produced a receipt to show that whatever money he received from Mr Vasta had been forwarded officially to Labor Party coffers.
Reform of Parliament
Fitzgerald's report said the Queensland Parliament was an ineffective watchdog on the excesses of executive government. He recommended a revitalised parliament with a comprehensive committee system.
- Forget Westminster! We have Axe-Minster! (24 May 92)
- Goss could be an historic reformer (15 Nov 92)
- Bad pollies beware (1994)
- Queensland Parliament has unfinished business (16 Jul 95)
Legal and administrative reform
Likewise, accountability measures were prescribed for the bureaucracy. Freedom of information, an administrative review mechanism, measures to end nepotism influencing government appointments, and law reform were recommended. Emphasis was placed on reforming the state's prostitution laws. In the past, prostitution had been a good earner for some police who had been paid to turn a blind eye to it.
- New chairman has a baptism of fire (5 Jul 92)
- It's too early to kill reform body (19 Jul 92)
- New FOI law hides a sleeping cancer (26 Jul 92)
- It's not musical chairs, says Coaldrake (Aug 92)
- Prostitution policy is fraught with pitfalls (1 Nov 92)
- Queensland law is no longer an ass (6 Dec 92)
- It's time to be ethical (10 Jan 93)
- Battling big brother isn't easy (Jan 93)
- Government denies politicisation (1994)
- State disaster hard to pick (2 Oct 94)
- Secret FOI review under fire (3 Dec 95)
One of the successes of the reform process was an end to the state's malapportioned voting system and its replacement with an approximation to one vote, one value. However the future of some electoral reform initiatives, such as optional preferential voting, is less certain.
- Queensland adopts voting reform (7 Jun 92)
- Political donations law is in limbo (14 Jun 92)
- New voting boundaries return old result (4 Oct 92)
- Queensland voting system set to change back (9 Jul 95)
- Election funding law thwarts Democrats (13 Aug 95)
The Golden Casket debacle
Queensland's Golden Casket Art Union office is a multi-million dollar revenue spinner for the state. In the early 1990s, the Queensland Government, in company with some innovative gaming hardware manufacturers, was well positioned to win lucrative overseas contracts in Europe, the UK, Spain and the Canary Isalnds worth billions of dollars. Instead, the opportunities were squandered, and money was wasted. The following stories show how this happened, and how the government was left with the embarrassing job of legislating retrospectively to validate some of the activities.
- Casket office wastes millions (7 Aug 94)
- Government will legitimise Casket debacle (2 Oct 94)
- Casket official admits double deal (Oct 94)
- Coalition threatens to oppose Casket fix-up (16 Oct 94)
- Golden Casket forgives $2m in loans (12 Nov 95)
The Stuart Tait case
In 1992 the Criminal Justice Commission investigated expense claims by state Secretary to Cabinet Stuart Tait. The CJC said there was enough prima facie evidence for it to recommend action by the state Director of Prosecutions. However the Director of Prosecutions did not take action. The following year journalist Greg Abbott and I published an article suggesting that senior Goss government advisors had not corroborated Mr Tait's version of events.
As a result, the police conducted a protracted investigation to find the source(s) of our story, which of course we did not disclose. No action was taken on the police report on the alleged leak.
'Black' Angus McDonald named
Many Australians will remember the cowardly gunning down in 1984 of NSW drug detective Michael Drury in a professional shooting which allegedly involved a fellow NSW police officer. The events behind it were reenacted in the ABC television documentary Blue Murder. It remains Australia's most frightening internal police incident.
Later, the police superintendent in charge of part of the Drury investigation himself would be investigated. That man was the late 'Black' Angus McDonald, a NSW police superintendent who was the second husband of former Queensland Governor Leneen Forde. In 1996 he was named at the NSW Police Royal Commission in connection with the Drury shooting, as the story Angus pledges to expose gunman explains.
The Michael Paynter case
Despite massive reform, concern remains even in mid 1996 about the extent of cultural change in the Queensland Police Service. One concern highlighted recently was the adequacy of police internal discipline. Two cases, the 1991 police assault of Adelaide teenager Michael Paynter, and the infamous 'Pinkenba Six' incident, are outstanding examples. Here are a couple of stories on this issue.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs
In 1992, the High Court of Australia rejected terra nullus, the idea that Australian land was unoccupied before white settlement in 1788. In doing so, it recognised that Australia's indigenous people enjoyed native title rights.
The Australian Government's response was a three-stage reconcilation package. The first was formal recognition of native title through the Native Title Act 1993. The second was a $1b Indigenous Land Fund to compensation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who had been dispossessed of their land. The third was a social justice reconciliation package.
Some of the following articles appeared in Queensland's Indigenous newspaper, Land Rights Queensland.
- Interview with Neville Bonner, Australia's only Aboriginal Senator (Apr 95)
- Call for indigenous seats in the Queensland Parliament (Apr 95)
- 'Love letters' held by government (Apr 95)
- Syphilis is endemic on Palm Island (Jun 95)
- ATSIC faces land fund challenge (Jun 95)
- Cape Flattery claim is in jeopardy (12 Nov 95)
- Promised land "as dead as a dodo" (17 Dec 95)
- Aboriginal bureaucrat under fire (7 Apr 96)
- WWII smoke signals saga (7 Apr 96)
- Tape details 'fraud' (21 Apr 96)
- Aborigines reach historic Hopevale agreement (5 May 96)
- Police strip-search Aboriginal women (12 May 96)
- Customary adoption study reopens (2 Jun 96)
- Billion dollar land fund claims get underway (20 Oct 96)
McDonnell and East
Another story about a superannuation debacle involves failed Queensland retailer McDonnell and East, which after its collapse did not pay superannuation entitlements to staff. The company claimed its collapse meant insufficient funds were available for the payouts. But the story Failed super fund mystery unfolds reveals differently.
The Godfrey Mantle case
Godfrey Mantle is a property developer and owner of the three Jimmy's on the Mall restaurants in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall. Mr Mantle is suing the state government for $77 million, claiming it reneged on an approval it gave him in to build a $25 million public riverside attraction at the bottom of Brisbane's Kangaroo Point cliffs. However the major interest in the case is not the development, but the fact the Queensland Government was in trouble over its handling of Mr Mantle, as the story Federal Court probes government business dealings shows. The judge hearing the case has also floated the possibility that Goss Government apparatchiks could be sued. A mammoth court battle involving a four-month trial starts in February 1997.
How an MP's dicky knee totally humiliated the Borbidge Government
On Friday October 11, 1996, Public Works and Housing minister Ray Connor's knees collapsed on his way to the voting Chamber for a vital division. He didn't make it. The minority Borbidge Government subsequently was beaten and humiliated on the floor of the Queensland Parliament. The next week Connor underwent knee surgery to atone his sins. To read the saga of one of Queensland Parliament's most colorful nights, select Kneecapped.
Carruthers inquiry closed down
In October 1996, a retired judge appointed to investigate two cases of electoral bribery walked out of his job. Seven months beforehand, Kenneth Carruthers QC had been asked to investigate a deal between the Liberal-National party coalition and the Queensland Police Union, and another deal between the Labor Party and the Sporting Shooters' Association. Mr Carruthers left claiming another inquiry started by the State Government had compromised his inquiry by ordering he keep all documents he had generated, including draft of his report. The Labor Opposition and Gladstone independent MP Liz Cunningham, who holds the balance of power in the Queensland Parliament, tried to get Mr Carruthers to return. Mrs Cunningham put conditions on reviving the Carruthers inquiry. Meanwhile, one of Queensland's top barristers has offered to finish the inquiry. Claims that the Borbidge government deliberately undermined the Carruthers Inquiry led to new accusations about the former Labor Government's treatment of the 1989-1991 Cooke inquiry.
New rabies-like virus hits Australia
Australia is among few places in the world free from rabies, a form of lyssavirus. However, in May 1996 a new and seventh form of Lyssavirus was discovered in Australia in flying foxes. Meanwhile, the University of Queensland's bat colony could be culled because of the presence of the deadly equine morbilivirus.
Miscarriages of justice
Among the victims of the bad old days were those unfortunate people who were wrongly jailed in Queensland for crimes they did not commit. These were people convicted on fabricated interviews concocted by police, called verbals. Before winning office, the Goss government promised these people a Miscarriages of Justice Unit would be set up to redress their cases, but it didn't happen. Their predicament is outlined in:
- Verballed victims still await justice (12 Jul 92)
- Justice delayed is justice denied (3 Jan 93)
- Verbals man dies broken hearted (27 Oct 96)
Police, crime, prisons, and the criminal justice system
Modern Queensland inherited a rundown criminal justice system. Here's a few stories on criminal justice issues, and crime.
- The assault of children in our watchhouses (31 May 92)
- Some Queensland jails are still in the third world (2 Aug 92)
- Action at last on squalid jail cells (20 Dec 92)
- Prison informants are no short-cut to justice (17 Jan 93)
- Denning indemnity was a reward (13 Jun 93)
- Sacked prison managers demand an apology (9 Jan 94)
- CJC asked to investigate audit (4 Jun 95)
- CJC preoccupied with 'cops and robbers' (5 May 96)
- Mr X to be unmasked (12 May 96)
- CJC warned about contempt in the Mr X case (19 May 96)
- Jailed women fear cell move (19 May 96)
- Police urged to join civil libertarians (26 May 96)
- Australia's top doctor wants all drugs legalised (26 May 96)
- CJC recovers mystery flyer from Police Union raid (2 Jun 96)
- Police accused of victimising complainant (20 Oct 96)
Queensland politics during the Goss years : Dec 89-Feb 96
Cataclysmic one day, tumultuous the next is a phrase that aptly describes the colour of Queensland politics. Here are some political stories written during the era of the Goss government.
- Election '92 is a long yawn (6 Sep 92)
- Election over. Thank goodness! (20 Sep 92)
- Kevin Rudd's influence grows and grows (18 Oct 92)
- Sparks will fly over Brisbane's casino deal (22 Nov 92)
- Should Sir Joh be retried? (21 Feb 93)
- Power workers "sold out" (9 Jan 94)
- Taxpayers' foot Fouras's car bills (10 Jul 94)
- Top 12 Queensland auditors sacked (16 Oct 94)
- Tollways produce debt, discord, and debate (19 Nov 94)
- South Coast motorway quality could be compromised (18 May 95)
- Senate reform -- for whom? (11 Jul 95)
- State bureaucrats could face defamation charges (5 Nov 95)
- Barbagello company is granted $560,000 (19 Nov 95)
- Defaulters owe state coffers $17m (3 Dec 95)
- Voters are still in the dark on donations (21 Jan 96)
- Labor woos the business dollar (11 Feb 96)
The Mundingburra by-election : the Goss government falls
On July 15, 1995, the Queensland electorate returned the Goss Labor Government with a reduced, one seat majority. In the new parliament, Labor held 45 seats, the Opposition conservative coalition 44 seats, and unaligned Gladstone independent Liz Cunningham the remaining seat. But the government's new, third term was destined to last only seven months.
In November, the Court of Disputed Returns overturned Labor's 16-vote win in the North Queensland seat of Mundingburra and ordered a by-election, which took place on February 3rd. It was a disasterous campaign for Labor. For a start, Labor dumped its candidate, Emergency Services Minister Ken Davies, a week into the campaign. There was a possibility that Davies would face bankrupcy should he lose a drawn-out battle with the Commonwealth Bank.
Labor fielded local mayor Tony Mooney as its new candidate. The Liberal (coalition) candidate was Frank Tanti, a cabinet maker and bus driver. While Mooney was the more sophisticated candidate, Tanti's appeal as an honest plodder won the day. He was aided by Davies who, after being dumped by Labor, ran as an independent candidate for the express purpose of undermining Wayne Goss. He succeeded.
Because of Labor's loss, the parliament was now deadlocked -- 44 Labor seats, 44 coalition seats, with all eyes on Liz Cunningham, who held the balance of power. On Monday February 12th, Mrs Cunningham held a news conference under a tree behind her electorate office and brought down the Goss government. She announced she would support Rob Borbidge's coalition -- with her support, Borbidge would have a parliamentary majority of one.
It was all over for Wayne Goss and the reformist Labor government. Within a week, Mr Goss had resigned as Premier and Labor leader. The National's Rob Borbidge is Queensland's new premier, and the Liberals' Joan Sheldon is the deputy premier. As for Labor -- an internal party brawl is brewing. Goss's main leadership rival, Peter Beattie, is Labor opposition leader.
- Court challenges to election likely (23 Jul 95)
- Ken Davies denies settlement (6 Aug 95)
- Fouras vies for Speaker's job (3 Sep 95)
- Fouras wants parliament on TV (10 Sep 95)
- Cunningham cautious about balance of power (19 Nov 95)
- Governor has a crucial role to play (10 Dec 95)
- CJC rules on Mooney donation (17 Dec 95)
- Constitutional lawyer backs stable outcome (17 Dec 95)
- Greens reject new ALP candidate (17 Dec 95)
- Pro-cannabis lobby backs the Coalition (8 Jan 96)
- Pro-cannabis lobby switches candidates (10 Jan 96)
- Small business lobby withdraws campaign (14 Jan 96)
- Liberals could challenge result again (15 Jan 96)
- Conservationists back Labor (20 Jan 96)
- Leaders shun a head-to-head debate (21 Jan 96)
- Labor's Mooney hits the 'Net (28 Jan 96)
- Developers donate to ALP, Mooney (29 Jan 96)
- Frank ropes the boys in for a chat (4 Feb 96)
- Taxpayers cop the by-election travel bill (4 Feb 96)
- Tanti smells victory as Labor vote crumbles (4 Feb 96)
- Briefs around the Mundingburra poll (4 Feb 96)
- Candidate tours poll after heart attack (4 Feb 96)
- Independents have few regrets (4 Feb 96)
- ALP life member complains about poll treatment (7 Feb 96)
- Ministers could face superannuation loss (11 Feb 96)
The Borbidge government : The future? OR Back to the future?
After almost six years in the wilderness, the National and Liberal parties were returned to power in Queensland in 1995. It was during their previous period of incumbancy that much of the corruption in Queensland occurred. So did this government represent a return to the past? Or, has it learnt the lessons of the 1980s? Here are some stories of political life under another new order.
- Coalition to re-open ALP poll wounds (12 Feb 96)
- New parliament will witness a fascinating battle (18 Feb 96)
- Women's groups stunned (20 Feb 96)
- Cooper hires former CJC aid (24 Feb 96)
- Greens disappointed about Slack's new role (25 Feb 96)
- Top cop job should be up for grabs (3 Mar 96)
- The Left comes in from the cold (3 Mar 96)
- Reform body enters limbo land (10 Mar 96)
- Dad's Army claim as retired fat cats return (24 Mar 96)
- Sir Joh advisor reappointed to RSPCA (31 Mar 96)
- Bob Katter reveals a 'red' past (31 Mar 96)
- Goss 'wags' opening of parliament (13 Apr 96)
- Parties unite on pairs deal (28 Apr 96)
- Former Labor MLA calls for party spill (11 May 96)
- Hayward denies ill-fated trip was private (19 May 96)
- Beattie warns about attacks on CJC chief (26 May 96)
- Clair fails to rule out duplicate inquiry (29 Sep 96)
- Sheldon wants a four-year term (20 Oct 96)
- Government had dropped conflict of interest guidelines on shares (20 Oct 96)
- Beanland u-turns on FOI promise (20 Oct 96)
- Russell Cooper to rock on (27 Oct 96)
The 1996 Federal Election
On Saturday March 2nd, 1996, Australians went to the polls and elected a new federal government and, with it, a new Prime Minister. The conservative Liberal Party and National Party Coalition was swept into power on a landslide which saw the former Labor government reduced to tatters.
John Howard was the new Prime Minister, and Labor's Kim Beazley was the Opposition Leader. In the new parliament the Coalition had 94 seats (Liberal Party 76 seats, National Party 18 seats), the Labor Party had 49 seats, and there were 5 independents. With 76 seats, the Liberal Party had a parliamentary majority in its own right. It didn't need a coalition with the National Party to govern, but the coalition agreement remained. It was Labor's worst poll result ever in Queensland. It held only two of Queensland's 25 seats. The following is a scant collection of articles on the federal election. I had covered mainly state affairs.
- Government faces a tough battle on the environment (21 Jan 96)
- Voters have only six days to enrol (27 Jan 96)
- Aboriginal groups warm to Labor (28 Jan 96)
- Generation Xers get the scraps (1 Feb 96)
- Rudd attack scuttled (2 Feb 96)
- Langer to stay behind bars (4 Mar 96)
A few wild and woolly tales of life in cyberspace.
- PM plunges into cyberspace (15 Oct 95)
- University in 'Net privacy row (3 Mar 96)
- Group wants 'Net censorship changed (10 Mar 96)
- Queensland Police joins the Internet (2 Jun 96)
- Ruling thwarts net porn law (3 Nov 96)
- 'Net to slash phone bills (17 Nov 96)
The Queensland media played an important role in exposing corruption in Queensland. However the 1989 Fitzgerald report criticised some sections of the media for having a close relationship with the government. As a result, the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission, formed in the wake of the Fitzgerald report, looked at government-media relations. Here's some articles dealing with this topic and the problem of an ever-shrinking media monitoring government.
- Joh's chooks are better fed now (17 May 92)
- Code of silence hampers media review (25 Oct 92)
- Media review enters its final phase (27 Dec 92)
- Government, Nine network, thrash out Indy contra deal (9 Jan 94)
- 1000 media jobs go (May 94)
- Coalition rejects ABC cries of poor (25 Feb 96)
- Prominent banker faces $1 million charge (9 Jan 94)
- Pilot says bank 'conned' him (26 Nov 95)
- ANZ dealer blows the lid off foreign transactions (30 Nov 95)
- Opposition calls for banking Royal Commission (2 Dec 95)
- Bank of Queensland in tax dispute (17 Dec 95)
- Bank accused of $42 fraud (2 Jun 96)
Education, the arts, the environment, and heritage
- The academic dream turns nightmlare (13 Nov 94)
- Church in heritage dispute (23 Jul 95)
- Greens call for new Cape York wilderness park (24 Sep 95)
- Commissioner attacks "leading educators" (19 Nov 95)
- Historian to examine mining disasters (5 May 95)
- Dublin to see 'red' (12 May 95)
- Uni rethinks offer to staff (26 May 95)
- Dredging banned on the Brisbane River (27 Oct 96)
The Port Arthur tragedy
In 1996 Australia witnessed the tragedy of 35 people gunned down at historic Port Arthur in Tasmania. As a result, Australia introduced new gun laws which banned automatics, semi-automatic, and pump action shot guns. While most Australians supported the changes, some sporting shooters and farmers continue to fervently oppose them. Here is a couple of short stories on their reaction.
For five years, Ostrich farming in Australia has been magnet for get-rich-quick schemes and the fast dollar. But the party is now over. This special report published in The Sunday Mail on 25 May 1996 looks at the state of the Ostrich industry and its future. Further, Australia's most famous tax cheat, Brian Maher, who was convicted after the famous mid 80s $400 million "Bottom of the Harbour" tax evasion investigation, is allegedly involved. (27 Oct 96)