Do not make us relive history - save the independence of the CMC

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My name is Peter Callaghan.  I am a barrister. I am also President of the Law and Justice Institute (QLD) Inc.  This institute represents a large number of lawyers who are based or have interests in Queensland.  It has no political affiliations, but was incorporated because of our shared frustration with the way in which legal issues are being discussed and decided in this State.

Many of our members were working in and around the legal system during the 1987 – 1989 Fitzgerald Inquiry.  That Inquiry uncovered widespread police corruption, bribery of politicians, the use of various mechanisms for the crushing of political dissent, cronyism, deeply ingrained abuses of process, and a politicised public service steeped in a culture of fear and silence.

Living through the Inquiry was like watching a patient convulse as a toxin was expelled from their system. It was horrifying to discover the extent of the sickness, and harrowing to endure the process by which it was purged. 

At its end, Tony Fitzgerald prescribed the means by which a similar trauma could be prevented, knowing that would be better than enduring the torture of another cure.  An independent anticorruption commission was part of this vision.

For 25 years the Queensland legal profession has worked within, for and against such a Commission. It has proven to be an effective mechanism for providing accountability, transparency and independent oversight of public administration. Critically, it has always been led by someone who was endorsed by both sides of politics. We know our public administration is not in perfect health, but because the Commission exists, and is in the custody of someone who is trusted by all, it is more resilient than it was. 

The need for the Commission is greater now than it was in 1989. We might still be concerned about a bottle of Scotch, an illegal brothel, or a bribe that can fit in a paper bag. But we do not have to look far south in order to contemplate the sorts of things that might be the subject of a corruption inquiry in the future. Like a coalmine. 

The same thought leads us to conclude that the need for senior Commission staff to be appointed with bipartisan support is greater now than it ever was.

By introducing into Parliament the “Crime and Misconduct and other Legislation Amendment Bill” the Queensland government has signalled its intention to tear up part of Fitzgerald's prescription.  This law will enable senior staff at the Crime and Misconduct Commission to be appointed without bipartisan support. 

Fitzgerald himself has described as this proposal as “outrageous”. It cannot be justified. It would be as sensible to drink poison. Such arguments as have been advanced in its favour could have been scripted by a political satirist. John Clarke and Brian Dawe could do no better.

The LJI remembers those who presided and postured as the cancer of pre-Fitzgerald corruption spread throughout our state. 

History has judged those people for their ignorance.  It now seems time to judge those who are ignorant of history.

For the future safety of our community, we ask for a guarantee that the CMC will remain a strong, well-resourced and truly independent organisation. 

We ask the government to keep it that way by ensuring senior staff are appointed with bipartisan support.  

We ask Parliament to reject the Bill that removes this requirement from our law.  

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