Jul 292009
 

We in Queensland, who are older enough, all know who Tony Fitzgerald is and what he did in the 1980’s.


His inquiry turned over the shiny surfaced rocks of Queensland politics of the time and pointed out all the vermin hiding underneath. The resulting Criminal Justice Commission and its successor, the Crime and Misconduct Commission have worked to provide Queensland tax payers with a modicum of confidence that the days of the Joh era will never return to haunt us again. Or has it. Tony Fitzgerald doesn’t seem to think so.
His damning statement …

“Access can now be purchased, patronage is dispensed, mates and supporters are appointed and retired politicians exploit their political connections to obtain ‘success fees’ for deals between business and government. Neither side of politics is interested in these issues except for short-term political advantage as each enjoys or plots impatiently for its turn at the privileges and opportunities which accompany power.”

…speaks volumes. Peter Beattie’s shocked disclaimer equally speaks volumes, more from a perspective of ‘me thinks he doth protest too much’. One need only Google various issues surrounding Freedom of Information requests, Questions Without Notice in the Parliament and referrals of questioners to the Parliamentary Members’ Ethics And Parliamentary Privileges Committee to realise that corruption in Queensland politics still exists. The difference being that it no longer comes in brown paper bags. It’s now regulated, even legislated.
During a nine month period early in this decade, I did a contract stint in the Queensland Public Service. The department I was a part of administered the Queensland Investment Incentives Scheme (QIIS), a bucket of taxpayer monies purpose designed to encourage national and international businesses to come to Queensland, set-up and do business here in the Sunshine State. Corporations like Raytheon, which was operating its logistics division from South Australia, but saw benefit in coming to Queensland because payroll tax was rebated and cash grants were available to relocate, recruit staff and train them. EDI-Downer, which builds electric trains, awarded grants ostensibly for research and development of design software, but in reality to maintain business output levels and retain staffing in the lead up to a State election. Those with reasonable memories will recall the Murdoch news media hype over the Berri-National Foods-Arthur Beattie linkage. The way the Member for Callide bumbled his way into a Chairman Beattie trap, and the zero-sum outcome of a clumsy attempt to wedge open the slick Beattie chain mail. The QIIS is a political vehicle, as are numerous other buckets of taxpayer monies, used to achieve desired political ends. The other side of politics would be no different in its outlook & approaches either, so don’t imagine I’m denigrating one side of the fence in favour of the other. Far from it.
I can support Tony Fitzgerald’s comments because I’ve been a part of the machine. I’ve seen it in action. I’ve experienced the cynicism, the adherence to politically favourable regulation and manipulation of policy structure. For example, every single QIIS file which existed at the time – some 800 of them – and doubtless those which have eventuated since are subject to Department of Premier and Cabinet confidence because every single one of them was boxed up, trucked to George Street and spent time in a room where Cabinet met. None were read; none were ever unboxed. They simple sat on the floor in the Cabinet room while Cabinet met. Why? To put a dead stop to future Freedom of Information requests by political enemies of the Labor Party government. Every file became a Cabinet document and as such, subject to the 30 year disclosure moratorium regulated by the Cabinet Handbook. Why are such things restricted from public view? Wasn’t the Fitzgerald Inquiry supposed to open up the operations of government to the public gaze? Wasn’t the CJC/CMC structure meant to put an end to the Nuttalls, the police misconduct rumblings, the buying of political favours?
Fitzgerald’s entreaties are blunt, but accurate:

Under Beattie, Labor decided that there were votes to be obtained from Bjelke-Petersen’s remaining adherents in glossing over repressive and corrupt misconduct. Tacitly at least, Queenslanders were encouraged to forget the repression and corruption which had occurred and the social upheaval which had been involved in eradicating those injustices. Younger Queenslanders know little of that era and are largely ignorant of the possibility that history might be repeated. Even if we cannot rely on politicians to voluntarily curb their excesses or tell the truth, a well-informed community which is committed to doing so can influence the way it is governed, just as Queenslanders did in 1989. Matters are much better than they were but it is a mistake to take that for granted.