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Email sent 25/7/09

Ms Mardi Lumsden,
Editor, Journey

Journey Towards a More Effective 'Fitzgerald Inquiry'

The July 2009 edition of Journey focused on the late-1980s' Fitzgerald inquiry. It posed the question 'what have we learned?' in the light of current indications of problems that might justify a new democratic reform initiative in Queensland.

On the basis of past experience, I should like to suggest how a future reform effort might be more effective.

The Fitzgerald Inquiry addressed symptoms of weaknesses in Queensland's civil society (ie abuses of political and police powers). A deeper problem has been a lack of realistic and up-to-date community understanding about government and public policy issues, which arguably has its origin in Queensland's colonial history and the 'curse' of rich natural resources. The latter seems everywhere to provide a path to influence by those who profit from natural riches rather than from quality leadership.

Fitzgerald's proposals addressed the symptoms but it did little to reduce the underlying problems (see Reform of Queensland Institutions - or a Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?). As a result Queensland's political system is still characterised by weak Oppositions, an ineffectual Parliament and scope for abuse of power by those who at worst can be virtually political con-men (see The Upper House Solution: A Commentary).

Developing competent support to the political system in dealing with the practical functions of government would probably be the best way to improve government's performance and accountability (op cit). This would, for example, provide Oppositions with the raw material required to insist on more effective policy and performance, and make things much 'hotter' for those who seek to abuse power.

In practice the Fitzgerald Inquiry resulted in a focus on 'reform' of democratic government which was not supported by solid understanding of what such government should actually be doing or how it should be doing it. Administrative 'reform' took the form of a poorly-informed and ruthless process of across the board restructuring and restaffing, under which forward-looking and tacit practical competencies were not understood or valued as much as compliance with often-simplistic political theories.

The lack of realistic policy awareness within the community that had allowed corruption to emerge under Bjelke Peterson's regimes, resulted in abuses of power in the pursuit of the almost-equally-out-of-date assumptions by those politically-endorsed to control Fitzgerald-inspired 'reform'. Theories developed by inexperienced academics in the 1970s, and later adopted by political advisers, lacked practical realism and were sometimes out-of-date in the 1990s (eg theories about change management and strategic 'planning'). Almost unbelievably the resulting machinery of government was even worse than the run-down system it replaced, and was not actually capable of doing much. This laid the basis for the substandard performance, crises and unethical behaviour that have continued to plague Queensland's Governments.

By 1995 the electorate had worked out that there was something wrong even though this was invisible to commentators who could not see through the smokescreen of trendy policy rhetoric (see Toward Good Government in Queensland, 1995). Some of the ongoing problems that have resulted from ineffectual government machinery over the past 20 years are outlined in The Growing Case for Professionalism (from 2001) and in analyses of various administrative failures.

An outline of, and comments on, Journey's recent articles are on my website. My comments address: the problem of reform failure; options for overcoming social disadvantages; current reform challenges; the Church's critically important roles; involuntary sexual behaviour; prison's systems; and support for the oppressed. The emphasis is on how the aspirations the Journey articles reflect might be transformed into practical achievements. More can be gained by developing an environment in which governments can be competent and successful than by protesting about the failures that occur in the absence of such support.

John Craig

Addendum: suggestions about the need for a more broadly based approach if future reform is to be more effective (eg one which includes attention to the civil institutions that provide advice and support to the political system) are in: Reform of Queensland Institutions: A bigger picture view and in Queensland's Next Successful Premier.

Journey Articles with Comments on

Outline of Articles  (with Comments) [Working Draft]

Relevant articles from the July 2009 edition of Journey are outlined below with comments.

In brief it will be suggested that the answer to the question "What have we learned from the Fitzgerald Inquiry after two decades?" is that: "Political involvement based on good intentions that are not supported by a realistic understanding of what is required for good governance can make complex problems worse".

The Fitzgerald Inquiry was a watershed in the history and culture of Queensland (according to Rev. Dr. Noel Preston). It provided a change to renew / re-discover democracy. It promoted a more just / open / tolerant society. The Uniting Church had striven to fight injustice since the 1980s under Prof. Rollie Busch. Christian groups had expressed theologically-informed dissent since the 1970s. Standing up against bad government was seen as a matter of personal morality. Frank Putland (who had been involved in trying to change police culture under Whitrod) noted that Jesus had faced even more hostile adversaries - and was shocked to learn that many he had dealings with were criminals. Dr. Tamara Walsh (Uni of Qld) suggested that Fitzgerald Inquiry created new era for marginalised people - as a policing culture can have an enormous impact on their lives. However the situation now is like that which existed 20 years ago - and Christians need to protect the alien / fatherless / widow. (Lumsden M., 'Corruption reopened').

Comments on Reform Failure: As Dr Tamara Walsh noted, a 'policing culture' had an adverse effect on marginalized people.

Likewise the 'policing culture' that characterised the poorly-informed implementation of the Fitzgerald reforms (see Outline History of the Breakdown of the Westminster Tradition in Queensland and the Growth of Public Service Bullying, 2002) had no less of an adverse impact on Queensland's Public Service (and thus contributed to ongoing ineffectual government and an environment in which political power could be abused -see A Little Scandal?).  The latter noted that politicisation facilitates corruption (eg because officials tend to be less willing to expose abuses of power). Moreover systemic incompetence also does so because: the capacity to detect abuses will be limited, and individuals will tend to consider only 'number 1' when an organisations' claimed goals and methods cannot be taken seriously.

Christians should participate in the political process and (as Dr Walsh also suggested) should be concerned to improve the position of the disadvantaged. However (despite the above article's assertion), they can't claim authority on policy issues on the basis of 'theologically informed dissent' or 'personal morality'.

The Bible provides guidance for individual behaviour, but governments deal with much more complex systems than individuals do and traditionally rely on quite complex administrative machinery to try to make sense of that real-world complexity.

Claiming that complex issues are merely matters of morality may provide 'warm fuzzies' and initially attract voters, but it may oversimplify issues and thus not lead to real solutions (see Restoring 'Faith in Politics', 2006 and On Populism, 2007). Without a solid basis for suggesting practical alternatives, good intentions can be counter-productive (eg see comments below regarding people with indigenous ancestry).

Most Australians live in a society that is fairly free of corruption - perhaps partly because of the Fitzgerald Inquiry. However there is a need for Christian activism to seek justice for the disadvantaged and to 'love your neighbour'. This needs to be extended on a global scale. There must be revolutionary voices speaking for righteousness (Lumsden M., 'Globalizing Fitzgerald').

Comment on Overcoming Social Disadvantages: The above article advocates seeking justice for the disadvantaged.

But what is the best way for the disadvantaged to gain 'justice'?

This is not a simple question, and answers that seem obvious may be suspect (eg see UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage?). The latter suggests that well-intended efforts to advance the position of some disadvantaged groups seem internally inconsistent and counterproductive. The main problem may not be imposed injustices, but rather the lack of difficult adjustments to their environment by disadvantaged groups which a 'rights' focus may reinforce. 

The above article called for 'revolutionary' voices to speak out for righteousness. Unfortunately this does not guarantee outcomes that are more constructive than the ineptly implemented Fitzgerald Inquiry reforms.

A key question is whether churches should focus on making it possible for individuals to be motivated / empowered to love and support one another by bringing them into the Kingdom of God (ie by carrying out Jesus' great commission as mentioned in Matthew 28), or by lobbying the state to try to compensate for: (a) individuals' failings; and (b) other sources of disadvantage.

For reasons suggested below individual / community efforts to reduce social disadvantage are becoming more important, so churches' first option is likely to be more effective, and is what governments have to rely on churches to do. It is thus of some concern that those charged with addressing 'social justice' on behalf of the Uniting Church seem at times to have focussed mainly on governments to provide solutions to the ever increasing social dysfunctions their researches revealed (eg see Is the Smart State a Just State: A Commentary, 2002).

Social disadvantage has various causes. At one level it can result from breakdown of the ethical basis of moral interpersonal relationships (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty). The latter refers, for example, to the widespread incidence of: child sexual abuse, dysfunctional families and family breakdowns which create disadvantage for affected children; weakened business ethics; bullying; etc.

At another level, disadvantage can result from market economies' tendency to reinforce pre-existing individual and regional advantages - and this has provided a rationale in countries like Australia for state intervention (eg in the form of public education and welfare programs).

However methods for combating disadvantage through state support have been under challenge. For example, concerns about welfare dependency have led to concepts of 'mutual obligation' under which individuals / families / communities are expected to be able to do more to improve their own position. Furthermore there are different approaches to meeting social needs in various countries, and costly state welfare programs are at risk of becoming unaffordable in the medium-long term, because of the constraints on government budgets that global competition imposes (see Whatever happened to welfare?). Moreover in recent years large scale transfer payments, funded by an unsustainable economic boom, have prevented serious inequalities becoming apparent even though many individuals were being left behind by rapid economic change. Large scale transfer payments are unlikely to be feasible in future to cope with the impact of economic change (see The Long Term Impact of the Global Financial Crisis).

17 year olds should not be in adult prisons - a Fitzgerald Inquiry recommendation (raised in May 2007 Synod) which has not yet been actioned. Siyavash Doostkhah (Youth Affairs Network) is amazed at lack of adherence to Fitzgerald recommendations. There was: insufficient investment; no safety for whistleblowers; no cultural change (merely targeting of a few top cops). Inquiry led to many positive outcomes - FOI legislation, creation of CJC / CMC and EARC. Marg O'Donnell (Legal Aid) suggested these promoted accountability (eg all submissions to EARC were published). However under later governments: CMC powers were diminished; FOI needs revamping; GOCs are less accountable. There is also concern about aggressive police powers and a lack of checks and balances. Government decisions are not open and accountable. There is a need for policy dialogue. Greg Mackay (UnitingCare Centre for Social Justice) suggests that another inquiry may be needed because institutions are compromised. Having emerged from decades of misuse. they are again weakening. Mark Lauchs (QUT School of Justice) said Fitzgerald report had little impact, because it has been watered down over time (eg in terms of FOI). Fitzgerald Inquiry did not indicate significant corruption - or else it would not have happened. Noel Preston's argument for an Integrity Commissioner was the best initiative for preventing corruption (though, according to John Harrison (UQ), there was concern that he would rock the boat too much). Governments now again head back to a 'trust me' approach. Churches' role as moral arbiters in society is to 'maintain the rage and be willing to have a say'. (Lumsden M., 'Issues unaddressed')

Comment on Current Reform Challenges: The concerns of various observers that are recorded in this article (ie about the lack of follow-through on Fitzgerald Inquiry proposals) seem reasonable. Similar concerns are emerging from other sources as outlined in Reform of Queensland Institutions - or a Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?.

However, as noted above, there are limits to what churches can achieve by 'maintaining the rage and being willing to have a say'.

Enabling governments to become effective is more likely to be useful than righteous indignation about their failures.

Competition and accountability to the community are built into the democratic political process and this should produce effective and responsible government providing: (a) information about desirable options is politically and publicly available; and (b) government's ability to act is not constrained.

One problem is that the necessary realistic and up-to-date information has not been available from Queensland's civil institutions, eg charities, NGOs, universities, unions, associations, institutes, community groups etc (see Queensland's Weak Parliament and The Upper House Solution: A Commentary).

Thus Queensland's political system is still characterised by weak Oppositions, an ineffectual Parliament and scope for abuse of power by those who can be virtually political con-men. This is arguably partly a consequence of the effect of the 'resource curse' on Queensland - as rich resources seem almost universally to provide an apparently effortless path to wealth and impede balanced development.

Overcoming this fundamental constraint on good governance simply requires hard work (rather than complaints) as well as collaboration by those who seek to reduce social disadvantages with others having information, skills and experience in many different areas.

The technical capability needed to overcome this problem exists in embryonic form in many organisations. Thus what might be very useful would be organising / motivating / updating / upgrading those with theoretical and practical information about social, economic and environmental issues to: (a) provide the political system with considered options for practical solutions; and (b) reduce the complexity that governments face by stimulating initiatives to deal as much as possible with problems and opportunities through apolitical mechanisms (eg commercial or civil entrepreneurship).

Increased complexity is one of the key challenges that democratic governments now face (ie everything seems connected to everything else, so simple answers are hard to find) - see Challenges to Australia's Democratic Institutions. To make democracy effective in such an environment (where populist oversimplification threatens good government), it is arguably necessary to improve the community's ability to understand complex issues and also to reduce the number of issues governments face (ie by de-politicising and decentralising responses).

As well as growing complexity, other constraints arguably require structural reforms before governments are likely to be effective (see Australia's Governance Crisis). For example, state governments have become little but a charade because increasing centralization of financial control has left them without the capacity to take real responsibility, or be held democratically accountable, for their nominal functions. Game playing for personal advantage behind a facade of policy seriousness has been encouraged, because what state political leaders claim to do often can't be taken seriously. The federal government controls the purse strings and uses this to impose tight policy and performance goals - and by doing so enforces a centralization of control within state administrations which prevents them from operating effectively,  A possible solution is suggested in Reducing the Adverse Effect of Vertical Fiscal Imbalance on Government Administration.  

The Uniting Church has always stood for social justice. (eg opposing alcohol and prostitution in the late 19th century, seeking indigenous land rights from 1960s; upholding Fitzgerald's inquiry, and now seeking to keep 17-year-olds out of adult prisons). Noel Preston says that Christian faith inspires a passion for social justice. It is a political faith. It is about engaging with powers that be as Jesus way to the cross demonstrates. Christian belief must expressed in a practical ethic - and concern for the disadvantaged must be central. While there may be a simple 'Christian line' on public policy, individuals need to be active. The Fitzgerald process provides a profound learning experience. Mark Young (former UC social justice advocate) suggested there was much to learn from Fitzgerald Report. Casualties were not only minority groups who disagreed, but also integrity of judiciary, government and parliament. Fitzgerald Inquiry and later reforms clarified the boundaries between them. Civil society (including people of faith) must still be vigilant about well-being of democracy. Dr Preston suggests that Church's fight against corruption stemmed from Jesus' teaching about love for neighbour. (which requires guarding against corruption and abuse of power). The Church must work with God to constantly renew the world. The combination of self-righteous, self-delusional power is a dangerous mix (and was the phenomenon Fitzgerald uncovered in Fitzgerald years). Religious organisations are still learning about what democracy and transparency means - and how power can be misused (as it can be in churches). Churches had often refused to question how things were being run prior to Fitzgerald inquiry - and today are still on the sidelines not engaged with body politic. A call to repentance is at the heart of Biblical message - and only those who examine themselves can call on others to do so. There is a need to re-hear Fitzgerald's caution about the need to constantly name the vested interests that subvert real reform while creating a new attractive but hollow facade to hide the continued misuse of power (Lumsden M., 'Church ethics and corruption').

Comment on the Church's Mission: The above article recorded a suggestion that Christianity is a 'political faith' which should engage with powers-that-be the way Jesus' path to the cross demonstrated.

There is no doubt that Jesus challenged the authorities of his day in terms of spiritual issues. He was targeted by religious authorities because he criticised them for teaching compliance with the letter of the Jewish Law, and their neglect of the spirit of that Law (which he said was summarised by love for God and others, and which he illustrated by many examples). He was eventually crucified because he claimed a divine status, which was seen as religious sacrilege by Jewish authorities and a political challenge by the governing Roman authorities because emperors based their status on claims of divinity.

However there is considerable doubt that Jesus' example and teachings should be the basis for a 'Christian line' on public policy. 

Firstly Jesus himself did things for the disadvantaged (eg healing, teaching, feeding them), and encouraged his followers to do so. He did not lobby the political powers of his day to do anything in particular.

Secondly, Jesus primary message was about about the coming of the long-predicted Kingdom of God (Mark 1: 14-15) / heaven (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17). He also: reportedly stated that this 'kingdom is not of this world' (John 18:36); rejected an earthly kingdom (Luke 4:5-8); and distinguished that which was 'Caesars' from that which was God's (Matthew 22:21). Jesus also:

  • made a clear distinction between the 'rulers of the Gentiles (who) lord it over them, and those who are great (who) exercise authority' and his followers of whom he said 'Yet it shall not be so amongst you: but him who desires to be great among you, let him be your servant' (Matthew 20:25-26);
  • placed more value on acquiring eternal treasure in heaven than on temporal material benefits (Matthew 13:44-47; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22)

Thirdly, after meeting their immediate needs, Jesus preached to the poor and sick (eg about how they might benefit by seeking the Kingdom of God - Luke 12:31), rather than preaching about the poor and sick to the political authorities of his day. For example, in Jesus' early teaching at Nazareth he is recorded (Luke 4) to have said:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord."

Fourthly, there is nothing in the Christian tradition that encourages the view that churches can speak with God-like wisdom about complex issues. The church may be the body of Christ, but Christians can not claim to have the mind of God or have any basis for making prescriptive claims about complex questions (eg the nature of morality). Consider for example, proclaimed constraints on human knowledge and wisdom such as:

On Eating the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: "And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17) .... . Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Genesis: 3:1-5).

"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? ..... Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? ... " (Job 38: 2-4)

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1: 7)

"My thoughts are not your thought, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55: 8-9)

And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?  And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?  How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?  And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath (Mark 2: 23-27):

 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders ..... ?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions". And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" (Mark 7: 5-9)

Jesus said: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5)

" For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; (1 Corinthians 1: 17-27)

Finally there are significant limits on human attempts to gain sufficient understanding about complex issues which lend support to those Biblical injunctions (eg see How solid are 'science, reason and critical thinking'?). The latter points, for example, to limits on science implicit in the incompatibility between the internal determinism of the laws of physics and the observed fact that things experience qualitative change (eg evolve) and to the limits on rationality that are widely recognised in various social sciences.

In Jesus' day, his immediate followers (and everyone else) had expected a 'political' Messiah - ie one who would promote justice by freeing people from oppressors. However Jesus proclaimed and established a 'spiritual' regime (ie the Kingdom of God - a relationship between individuals and God). Self-discipline by individuals who were directly accountable to God and guided by the 'spirit' of the law was emphasized. This was not understood by Jesus' followers until years after Jesus had left them. The regime had the effect of liberating, motivating and empowering individuals to help themselves and others thereby making them less likely to suffer or perpetrate injustices. It promoted 'justice' in society at a more fundamental level than could be achieved by any 'political' process.

There are moreover many purely practical reasons for concern about churches trying to take an active role in influencing specific public policies.

Firstly,  a combination of self-righteousness and self-delusion about one's level of knowledge and wisdom is a dangerous mix (as the above article suggested) and this was illustrated as much by the incompetent implementation of the Fitzgerald reforms as by what had gone before (see above).

Secondly, the spiritual contributions that churches need to make are arguably more important than any potential political involvement. The growing importance which this has in terms of reducing social dysfunctions was noted above.

Also the role of churches in creating a conducive social environment is foundational to the legal and government systems Australia inherited (in terms of their unusual presumption of individual liberty) and those foundations will be at ever increasing risk unless and until churches are successful in recreating a moral environment in which individual liberty does less damage to society as a whole. .

Moreover in relation to the dysfunctions in Queensland's government administration, there is increasing emphasis on 'legalistic' solution (eg ever more detailed external checks to ensure the probity of official actions [1, 2]). This can ultimately no more ensure truly 'good' behaviour than the legalism of the Pharisees that Jesus repeatedly rejected in favour of promoting adherence to the 'spirit' of the Law through entering the kingdom of God. 

Finally, it is unrealistic to expect political leaders to respect the separation of church and state, if churches do not do so.

The Judeo-Christian tradition has made a separation of church and state possible because: (a) it involves a system of moral law which does not depend on human authorities; and (b) such a separation was endorsed by Jesus (as noted above) - though no specific form for that separation was indicated.

Separation has created huge political and economic advantages through permitting the emergence of individual liberty, which is not possible where human authorities are expected to determine the nature of and enforce moral interpersonal relationships (see Cultural Foundations of Western Strengths: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual). The fact that the nature of moral values is now becoming increasingly a matter on which political leaders (and others) are claiming authority is putting at risk the viability of individual liberty as the basis of Australia's system of law and government (see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty and The Re-emergence of 'gods').

Christians need to be aware of not only the Bible but also the realities of the world (eg as recorded in newspapers or the Fitzgerald Report), and of the judgment of the world that God spoke through Jesus. Fitzgerald inquiry created wide debate about corruption in Queensland's public institutions. Jesus' message to Nazareth church in Luke 4 apply today. Everyone knew that corruption existed, but Fitzgerald made this public. People in churches who spoke as prophets were often told to keep public affairs out of the pulpit - a view endorsed by Bjelke Peterson government. Opinion was divided about church responses. When government changed, Synod advocated voting in terms of the Gospel. Mark Young (then Synod Social Justice advocate) outlined UC position on moral issues (eg abortion, capital punishment, homosexuality, firearms, the environment, Aboriginal sacred sites, economic justice) and many of those issues remain now (Don Whebell, ' The religious figure')

Comment: As noted above, there is a need not only to be aware of problems in the public domain, but of the realities of the world (eg that amateurish attempts to fix problems may be counter-productive). Reform failure is a major component of public administration literature, as is the potential counter-intuitive responses of complex systems to policy initiatives.

Fitzgerald report recommended state should review laws regarding voluntary sexual behaviour - and decriminalizing homosexuality was proposed. This divided churches - though Uniting Synod Social Responsibility Committee argued that existing laws discouraged homosexual men seeking help with AIDS. Government (without commenting on the morality of the issue) consulted churches about proposed decriminalization, and conducted a fairly open debate on the subject (Young M., 'The social justice advocate')

Comment on 'Involuntary' Sexual Behaviour: There is a need to look closely at the question of how 'voluntary' homosexual behaviour might be. There seem to be grounds for suspecting that this behaviour often arises from childhood abuse and neglect (ie is not simply a reflection of genetic factors or informed choice). If so, this suggests that churches might have a useful mission to perform in relation to serious social dysfunctions.

There was a hope that Fitzgerald recommendations would lead to a more compassionate, coherent and sensible world - but this hasn't happened. Marginalized people are now treated worse than before. People in prison before had usually done bad things - and prison was brutal. Now it is harder to expose this because marketing and media images of new prisons. Boggo Rd was better because inmates could at least protest. Prisons conceal the marginalised. They increasingly house aboriginal women, those with mental illnesses, the poor, those struggling with alcohol / drugs, those with learning disabilities. The systems is supposed to re-habilitate, but leads to re-offences  (Kilroy D., . 'The prisoner')

Comment on Prison Systems: This article raises complex questions about social disadvantage and the prisons' system. Some observation are:

  • undoubtedly individuals become embroiled in the prisons system as a result of social disadvantage. However, as noted above, (a) social dysfunctions are increasing for many reasons; (b) a major (and increasingly significant) requirement to reduce these involves development of functional families and communities; and (c) the latter outcome would better addressed by churches directly at the level of individuals (and thereby affect their social interactions) rather than by governments;
  • re-organisation in the prisons system in the name of increased efficiency needs to be viewed in terms of general questions about private involvement in 'public' functions (ie those that can't be provided simply through market mechanisms). Increased complexity is one likely consequence (eg because government must still try to manage the function as a whole while being unable to control individual elements) and this will offset hoped-for efficiency gains (see also Public Private Partnerships for Infrastructure and Neglected Side Effects of National Competition Policy);
  • there is nothing unique to prisons about suppression of dissent (eg see Outline History of Bullying in Queensland's Public Service). Arguably this results from assuming that complex problems must have easily-understood solutions.

Some in Uniting Church experienced conflict between church and state, and personal criticism. Remaining silent given unjust policies, corruption and the abuse of power would have meant abandoning the church's mission in the world. An alternative witness to Christ in the world was provided to government supporters who claimed to be defending Christian cause against social evil. For those who took a different view Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King were heroes, and Liberation theology the credo. Fitzgerald Inquiry opened the way to a new start for Queensland, but reforms were constantly threatened. (Noel Preston). In 1985 government sacked 1000 workers after electricity dispute, and Concerned Christians joined picketers and were arrested - on the basis of their association with picketers who were breaking law. In defence it was argued that Christians should be able to stand with vulnerable and outcast - and this view prevailed (John Woodley). Church leaders were behind Fitzgerald - having pressured government to set inquiry up. Government minister had pretended to be unaware of brothels, and to be taking frivolous approach to serious social problems (John Harrison) ('What impact did the Fitzgerald Inquiry have on your life and work?)

Comment on Standing by the Oppressed: 'Concerned Christians', who stood with some oppressed workers against powerful government forces in the mid 1980s inadvertently laid the basis for an incompetently-managed 'reform' process that generated equally unjust and powerful forces which eroded government effectiveness and oppressed others (whose predicament the said 'Concerned Christians' did not seem to notice).

The same could happen again unless it is recognised that good intentions that are not supported by a realistic understanding of what is required for good governance can actually make complex problems worse.

This is the answer to the question posed by the July 2009 edition of Journey:  "What have we learned from the Fitzgerald Inquiry after two decades?"

A: Independent Commissions Are Not Enough to Contain Political Corruption

Independent Commissions Are Not Enough to Contain Political Corruption - email sent 6/8/13

Michaela Whitbourn,
Australian Financial Review

Re: ‘Corruption and sleaze engulf Labor, business’, Australian Financial Review, 1/8/13

Your article noted that the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption recommended criminal charges against two former NSW ministers, and that this issue has national political implications because of:

  • possible dealings between allegedly corrupt NSW ministers and federal Labor ministers; and
  • efforts by the Prime Minister to promote reform of NSW Labor including a call for those who have acted corruptly to ‘face the full force of the law’.

I would like to suggest for your consideration that to really contain corruption there is a need for more than independent commissions who can recommend legal proceeding against individuals.

A fundamental problem is that Australia’s government machinery has been becoming increasingly ineffectual, and this facilitates corrupt behaviour (see Journey Towards a More Effective 'Fitzgerald Inquiry', 2009). The latter is based on closely observing the short and long term outcomes in Queensland of attempts over 20 years ago to clean up corruption that were recommended by the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

Queensland’s institutions were not effectively reformed after the Fitzgerald Inquiry. By way of background it is noted that I had a strategic policy R&D role in Queensland’s Coordinator General’s Office and Premier’s Department in the 1980s. I thus had an inside view of the Goss Government’s ‘reform’ process. This led me to conclude that not only was ‘reform’ not effective, but that it was not ‘straight’ (see Reform of Queensland Institutions or a Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?). The latter includes reference to:

  • My whistle-blowing in relation to the apparently economically and politically significant role of Japanese organised crime in Queensland in the 1980s – which led to;
  • Informal advice from the criminal intelligence group in Queensland’s newly-formed Criminal Justice Commission that the transition in government after 1989 seemed to have been accompanied by a transition in dominance in organised crime;
  • Queensland’s newly installed police commissioner apparently taking a strong interest in organised crime, before being framed for corruption and sacked;
  • Numerous published allegations of unethical or criminal activities in the ‘reformist’ Goss administration and its successors, and equivalent rumours that had circulated amongst disgruntled public servants.

It is of current relevance that those allegations included some against Australia’s Prime Minister who had had a central role in the Goss Government. I passed information about those allegations to individuals with ALP connections prior to the 2007 election so that any possible problems could be discretely investigated. I presume that this was done and that the allegations were found to be baseless.

However the core implication is that independent bodies to investigate allegations of corruption are inadequate in themselves. There is rather a need for structural reforms to Australia’s system of government to create the strength and competence needed for an environment that is hostile to unethical and criminal behaviour (eg as suggested in Australia's Governance Crisis and the Need for Nation Building).

John Craig

B: What happens to 'a house that is swept clean'?

What happens to 'a house that is swept clean'? - email sent 20/10/13

Hon Mr Campbell Newman, MP
Premier of Queensland

Re: Murray D., ‘Jail ‘em all’, Sunday Mail, 20/10/13

This article reports on your determination to drive out a particular criminal element – namely outlaw bikie gangs. However merely eliminating such groups may make Queensland easier for others that might seek to provide similar illegal services (or engage in similar activities). That the demand for illegal services is part of the problem is indicated, for example, by ‘Boomers hooked on drugs’ (Sinnerton J., and Cornish L., Sunday Mail, 20/10/13).

Queensland’s history shows what can happen when criminal factions are suppressed. While working in the Queensland Premier’s Department during the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police and political corruption I had become aware of, and blown the whistle on, the involvement of Japanese Yakuza gangs in making / facilitating major investments in Queensland. I was later informally advised by the criminal intelligence group in the then new Criminal Justice Commission that in the post-Fitzgerald environment the organised crime groups linked to corrupt police and Japanese Yakuza seemed to be being replaced by those with Mafia and Chinese Triad connections. Moreover public officials who took a serious interest in organised crime did not seem to last long under the AWU-dominated Goss administration (see Reform of Queensland institutions - or Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?).

The Bible records Jesus’ warning that removing an ‘evil spirit’, thus leaving a ‘house that is swept clean’, can merely create a space for other ‘evil spirits’ to move into (Luke 11: 16-36).

If not replaced by a ‘good spirit’, there is a similar risk now that driving out particular ‘evil spirits’ (ie outlaw motor cycle gangs) might create a niche for other ‘evil spirits’. And in Australia there seems to be an increasing, and very severe, threat from organised criminal groups (see Australian Crime Commission, Organised Crime in Australia – 2013 report – which notes that this phenomenon is now actually seen as a threat to national security). 

A replacement ‘good spirit’ might be present in a social environment that is characterised by:

  • little demand for the illegal services that outlaw bikie gangs, or their competitors, provide;
  • a sense of responsibility for one's own behaviour and enhancing the welfare of others that is deeply embedded in individual consciences;
  • community awareness of the risks that organised crime poses and grass-roots’ access to counter-tactics; and
  • better life options for those potentially recruited into organised crime gangs.

That the threat to Australians from organised crime is increasing can be illustrated by the prime minister’s recent efforts to promote close trade and investment links in East Asia without any apparent recognition of the role that organised crime is likely to play in such activities (see 'Rules' that favour state-linked businesses are not the only behind-the-border problem in economic dealings with China). There is traditionally no separation in East Asia between military / security activities and everything else (eg economic strategy, social relationships and even the activities of organised crime). The failure of the former federal government’s Australia in the Asian Century Asia Century White Paper to recognise this was highlighted in Asian connection has a dark underbelly (Townsend J. and Bergin A., Financial Review, 26/11/12). Stephen Seagrave (in Lords of the Rim) had argued in the 1990s that triads have traditionally acted as the ‘private armies’ of China’s Diaspora in seeking to exert political and economic influence across SE Asia. And it was noted just a couple of days ago that under Chinese culture the owner of a company was respected by subordinates as a 'war lord' because of his success in business, politics and the underworld (Garvey P., ‘How power and greed ruined inside trader’, The Australian, 19/10/13).

The challenge Queensland faces thus goes beyond eliminating a particular ‘evil spirit’. There is a need to replace it with a ‘good spirit’, and creating a social environment that is not supportive of organised crime requires diverse community-led initiatives. Action by government (eg to eliminate outlaw bikie gangs) is necessary but not sufficient. There is a parallel with the community-led initiative arguably needed to address the educational inequality that exists amongst individuals and regions that was revealed by the Gonski Review. Educational inequalities have complex causes in the social environment and can’t be remedied merely by throwing money at educational programs (see Gonski Review: An Example of the Limitations of Government Initiatives), any more than a community environment that resists organised crime can be created purely by law and order programs.

John Craig