Corruption-buster slams politics of deception

By: Tony Koch

FORMER anti-corruption commissioner Tony Fitzgerald has hit out at what he sees in Australia as an amoral political culture run by a governing class preoccupied with amassing power for itself.
The man credited with cleaning up public life in Queensland through the corruption inquiry he headed in the late 1980s told The Australian yesterday that young people felt ``totally excluded'' from decision-making.
Mr Fitzgerald will return to the public stage in Queensland next Tuesday when he launches a biography by this journalist on former Queensland Liberal leader and businessman Terry White, and later that day launches another book of essays that analyses the legacy of his landmark inquiry.
In that publication, The Fitzgerald Legacy, he writes in the foreword that small groups control the Labor and Liberal parties ``and indirectly the national destiny''.
``Dynasties are emerging as politics become, for some, the family business,'' he writes.
``Misleading or deceptive conduct is barred in commerce, but secrecy and misinformation (euphemistically called spin) are routinely employed by politicians.
``Political debate is often marked by spiteful, juvenile point-scoring and attempts to discredit each other, inevitably discrediting all participants.
``Media management insults and confuses the electorate, which is denied the comprehensive, accurate information which is essential to the proper functioning of democracy.''
Most pointedly, Mr Fitzgerald writes that (political) access and influence can be purchased and patronage is dispensed to supporters and used to silence potential critics.
That is a repeat of a warning Mr Fitzgerald issued last July when he addressed a Brisbane function marking the 20th anniversary of the delivery of his report.
He then criticised the plethora of ``consultants'' who fed off government -- most of them former MPs or party hacks.
Mr Fitzgerald said yesterday that ``the political class'' was interested in the acquisition and exercise of power, not democratic theory.
``Mature democracies restrain self-serving activities by dividing power and imposing effective constraints. Under our weaker system, whichever party is in government, with effective parliamentary control, can and routinely does indulge its adherents, supporters and ideology,'' he said.
``Well-connected individuals and small, usually wealthy, groups are provided with access to and influence on the political process. Decisions favouring special interests are common.
``Because all parties grasp opportunities when in power, opposition criticism is muted and the risk of an electoral backlash is low.
``Instead, the general public is becoming increasingly cynical, apathetic and disengaged.''