It’s hard to imagine Queensland now without the input of Tony Fitzgerald, QC, who charted a new accountable and transparent journey for the state in his landmark report, more than 30 years ago.
Next Tuesday, he is charged with delivering a second report on the operations of justice in this state, with the terms of reference of this inquiry looking specifically at the sometime wayward operations of the Crime and Corruption Commission.
Of course this probe, which began in February, is not as big as the one that was meant to last a few weeks, and lasted a few years instead, bringing down a premier, prompting two by-elections, the jailing of three former ministers and a police commissioner.
Politics in Queensland isn’t rotten to the core. But the focus will be on how Tony Fitzgerald and his co-commissioner, Alan Wilson QC, have used this past six months to ensure the CCC – a product of his first inquiry – works for Queenslanders.
Tony Fitzgerald is always capable of surprise – but it would be no surprise if he returned to his original model, where a Criminal Justice Commission ran alongside – but separate to – a body that looked at electoral and administrative matters.
That would make sense, too, because the CCC’s gambit is too wide currently, and its engagement in political matters has undermined its work in serious crime.
We should certainly expect a wide and forensic brush. While the botched investigation into Logan City Council will feature strongly, this Commission of Inquiry will consider how justice is dispensed – across politics, legislation, and process.
It will comment on the “extraordinary nature of the CCC’s powers and function” including the charging and prosecution of criminal offences. And it will be impossible to do that fully without looking at referrals to the Commission, how police are used and act, and the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
And while the terms of reference have been labelled by detractors as ‘narrow’, they allow for massive scope including review of “relevant case law, literature, research and data’’, along with how evidence is gained, and witnesses are treated.
The initial scope of Fitzgerald’s first inquiry, three decades ago, began with a smaller directive – and it would be an injustice, in many ways, if this report did not run parallel with the work by Peter Coaldrake to pare back the secrecy, lack of transparency and unfairness that now characterises our dealings with government.
A government should be judged by how it treats its citizens – those it serves – and the Coaldrake inquiry showed a staggering lack of openness and accountability.
Bullying. Short-term thinking. Secrecy. A lack of independence. Compromised public servants. Dubious and risky lobbying activities. A culture of fear that needed to end. Ministerial staff with too much power. Independent advice ignored. Disrespect. Belittling by senior officers. Unreasonable deadlines. Intemperate demands. A blurring of lines between political and public roles.
That doesn’t mean corruption. But it does mean a system that is in desperate need of reform. That’s what the Coaldrake report called for, and the Palaszczuk Government has promised to implement.
They are just words, so far, and her treatment of journalists who want answers to valid questions about the use of public money runs counter to her public protestations.
Demanding a male journalist be “kind”, when he simply asks for an answer? Just imagine if that was a male premier, demanding a young female journalist be “kind”?
I digress. But the Palaszczuk Government’s response to the son of Coaldrake – Fitzgerald Mark 2 – should be an enthusiastic determination to implement its recommendations.
Submissions made to the Inquiry will also become available next week, and paint a picture of how the CCC has used its enormous powers in the pursuit of justice, the mistakes it’s made, and the impact it has had on people.
But in addition to how it treats its citizens, this Government will be judged on how it responds to the report. And that should start with an unequivocal decision, on the spot, to release the report publicly.
A spokesperson for Fitzgerald Mark 2 yesterday confirmed that was a “matter for the State Government’’. And its citizens, one would hope.
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