Tony Fitzgerald QC says Joh-era lessons forgotten

By: Tony Koch, Sean Parnell

QUEENSLAND'S pre-eminent corruption reformer Tony Fitzgerald QC broke two decades of silence to warn last night that the state was sliding back to its ``dark past'', in a speech that savaged deals between so-called Labor mates, business and government.
Mr Fitzgerald reserved his harshest criticism for former Queensland premier Peter Beattie, now ensconced in a $490,000-a-year position as the state's Los Angeles-based trade commissioner, suggesting that Mr Beattie's election in 1998 had been the trigger for him to move to NSW.
Speaking for the first time on the reform process since he delivered his ground-breaking report on police and political corruption in July 1989, Mr Fitzgerald blasted the ``ethics'' of the current and former Labor governments.
Secrecy was re-established by ``sham claims'' under which documents sought through Freedom of Information provisions were placed off limits by being run through cabinet.
``Access can now be purchased, patronage is dispensed, mates and supporters are appointed and retired politicians exploit their connections to obtain `success fees' for deals between business and government,'' Mr Fitzgerald said.
``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.''
Mr Fitzgerald spoke out after Premier Anna Bligh said she would mark the 20th anniversary of the release of his landmark report by reviewing the increasingly controversial interaction between politicians and big business in Queensland.
This could lead to reform of political fundraising, including the practice by both Labor and the conservatives of selling access to ministers and frontbenchers to business representatives at state conferences and to hold dinners and other functions at a charge of thousands of dollars a plate.
``The time has come now for a frank and open public discussion on a number of topical integrity and accountability issues,'' Ms Bligh said yesterday.
Separately, Queensland's Crime and Misconduct Commission is to investigate the relationship between political parties and donors.
CMC chairman Robert Needham said there was ``no doubt'' companies and unions expected something in return for donations, especially to governing parties.
The flurry of official action caps a dramatic fortnight in Queensland in which a former Beattie government minister, Gordon Nuttall, was jailed for accepting $360,000 in corrupt payments from wealthy businessmen Ken Talbot and Harold Shand, and the CMC exposed a cash-for-confessions racket involving implicating 25 police and hard-core criminals in prisons.
Mr Fitzgerald said the current concerns about political and police misconduct were a predictable result of attitudes adopted in Queensland since the mid-1990s.
Mr Fitzgerald's inquiry and report resulted in the jailing of five Bjelke-Petersen-era National Party ministers as well as then police commissioner Terry Lewis.
In recounting those times, Mr Fitzgerald said last night: ``At the end of 1989, in the aftermath of my inquiry, Queenslanders decided they had had enough of the systemic corruption and repression of Bjelke-Petersen and his cronies, and voted in a new government.''
But by the mid-1990s, after Labor's Wayne Goss had lost power in Queensland, and the then National Party-led coalition returned to office under Rob Borbidge, Queensland followed the national lead of being ``wearied of change''.