CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary

Queensland and the Curate's Egg - email sent 18/2/10

Dr Janet Ransley,
Deputy Director,
Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance
Griffith University

Re: 'It's bad but not rotten', Courier Mail, 15/2/10 (previously published online as 'Vigilance is needed to maintain reform agenda', 14/2/10)

Your article, which focussed on gains and ongoing challenges in reducing police misconduct in Queensland, was useful - though, as in the famous joke about the curate's egg, you seemed to be drawing a too-optimistic conclusion by overlooking some of the bad bits.

My interpretation of your article: Some symptoms in Queensland now (including misbehaving police) seem like pre-Fitzgerald era in the 1980s - though 'sin city' is now on Gold Coast. However, while there are problems, the situation is not as bad as in 1980s because of the Fitzgerald reforms (though he noted in 2009, that vigilance is always needed). From 1960s to 1980s top-level crooked police protected criminals - and this implicated commissioners. Favoured criminals built empires. Police accountability was non-existent, and police were used by then premier to further the government's agenda. Fitzgerald did not just expose police corruption - but also showed that: (a) corruption could be aided by: ineffective parliament; unfair electoral system; moribund / politicised public service and justice system; secrecy; lack of modern administrative appeals and judicial review; and (b) a one-off royal commission could not be a permanent fix and so he proposed EARC and CJC (now CMC). Lasting gains in the electoral system and judicial review were achieved - though real reform of government was not achieved, any more than integrity was ensured amongst ministers and senior officials. Gains in police system were achieved, but overall results are mixed. Misconduct remains a problem, but there are many agencies overseeing what police do. Corruption seems more localised. However police now often investigate police - and many such investigations are inadequate.

By way of background I note that, while working for the Queensland Premier's Department, in the late 1980s I had 'blown the whistle' on the apparent involvement of Japanese entities with Yakuza and ultra-nationalist linkages in not only making significant investments but also in exerting behind-the-scenes political influence over the then government (probably at the instigation of Ryochi Sasakawa, who was not only notorious but also a central player in the Japanese 'system'). As a result, these matters were investigated by the CJC who seemed to conclude that, at least in terms of criminal involvement, there was a problem. However in succeeding months, I was privately advised by the new criminal intelligence function in the CJC, that the organised crime groups which had been influential under the Bjelke Peterson Government (local criminals protected by top-level police and Japanese Yakuza) seemed to be losing out to local Mafia and to Chinese Triad groups (who play the same sort of unofficial enforcer role for Chinese diaspora as Yakuza do on behalf of Japan's social and political elites). Some time later the new Police Commissioner who had been appointed to clean the police system up, and seemed to be taking a strong interest in organised crime, was charged with corruption (framed?) and sacked.

'Smells' that emerged as the Queensland egg was 'reformed' (of which the above are examples) were in themselves sufficient to suspect that the thing might be rotten. But there was more unrelated to the 'reform' process. For example: allegations have long circulated about areas of corruption that nether the Fitzgerald Inquiry nor anyone else has yet properly addressed (eg related to a possible huge illegal drug industry and to paedophile networks in institutions dealing with children, which would make some in government and the legal system susceptible to blackmail).

Your article was spot on in pointing out that the post-Fitzgerald attempts to reform government itself were ineffectual. In fact they made the situation far worse (eg by politicising and de-skilling the Public Service to a degree that made the merely-neglected Service of the 1980s seem brilliant by comparison). And increasingly dysfunctional government over the past two decades has allowed insiders who wish to abuse power to prosper (Reform of Queensland Institutions - or a Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?), just as you noted that institutional weaknesses had done in the 1980s.

Your comments were valuable in highlighting some of the good bits in the Queensland 'egg' (ie aspects of policing), But there are other bits of the 'egg' that you did not allude to that need a lot of attention - and they won't get it unless Queensland's system of whole government becomes much better. Some suggestions about the cause of reform failure in the early 1990s and what might be more effective in future are in Journey Towards a More Effective 'Fitzgerald Inquiry'.


John Craig