Games in choosing CJC head

by Chris Griffith
Published 30 August 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


They say the Queensland `gerrymander' is dead.

True! For the first time in decades Queensland will go the polls on impartially draw electoral boundaries, compromised only by the Goss Government's decision to implement vote weighting in Western Queensland.

But do we have, in a figurative sense, other gerrymanders - other instances of the compromising of a legitimate political process to effect a desired outcome.

In Queensland's case, the answer unfortunately is yes.

Last week, for example, parliament was dissolved and an election was called before the opposition could reply under parliamentary privilege to the government's proposed (and yet unpassed) budget.

The government claimed the opposition could respond to the budget during media interviews throughout the campaign, yet the opposition will not enjoy the full attention of the House and the press gallery in any media-driven analysis.

More disturbingly, however, was the Premier's handling of the selection process for what is arguably the most sensitive appointment in this state, the chair of the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC).

Far from being discreet, this process has involved the leaking of the fact the government views poorly some of the applicants, along with the Premier's public touting of his preferred candidate, Brisbane QC Robin O'Regan.

This happened before any applicant was considered by the Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee charged with endorsing officially any proposed appointment.

This column makes no comment on the suitability or otherwise of Mr O'Regan. In fact, I wish him well in the selection process.

However, what is highly questionable is Mr Goss's approach to what, at times, has been a weird and yet unfinished selection process.

For a start, there has been conflicting reports as to how many contenders applied after Premier Goss took home the documentation last weekend to perform short-listing.

Last Saturday, Brisbane's The Courier-Mail reported there were four contenders; on Saturday night, an ABC radio report said "about half a dozen"; by Monday morning Mr Goss said "eight".

Last weekend, it was also known that the Premier was unhappy with the qualifications of some applicants, and that he had approached Mr O'Regan to apply. Indeed The Sun-Herald predicted Mr O'Regan as the likely appointment. The secret was out.

On Monday morning Mr Goss said on radio he wanted to appoint "the only Queenslander" on the list; by that night Mr O'Regan was confirmed as that person.

Then came Tuesday, a parliamentary sitting day and the day the Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by Labor MLA Peter Beattie, was to meet and consider the applications.

The Criminal Justice Act says the Committee cannot endorse a new chair unless supported "unanimously or by a majority thereof, other than a majority consisting wholly of members of the political party or parties in Government in the Assembly".

This means at least one National or Liberal Party member had to endorse Mr O'Regan or any other candidate.

Interestingly, the Premier had given the committee the day before all the material on Mr O'Regan, and only a one-line resume on the other seven applicants.

Yet on Tuesday morning The Courier-Mail published on page one what was Mr Goss's endorsement of Mr O'Regan along with the expectation the parliamentary committee would select him.

The article directly quoted Sir Max Bingham, who apparently "last night" had endorsed Mr O'Regan.

Now it is incongruous that a person of the integrity of Sir Max would want to join in a government-sponsored political exercise designed to publicly pressure the parliamentary committee into selecting any candidate.

However, Sir Max says he never spoke to The Courier-Mail or any other media outlet on Monday regarding Mr O'Regan's application.

On the contrary, on Monday Mr Goss had asked Sir Max for written advice as to whether Mr O'Regan was a suitable candidate. However it was not intended any comment be published at that time.

Given the CJC's experience with Mr O'Regan, it was understandable Sir Max would have no hesitation in writing he was suitable.

However, it appears the Premier did not request of Sir Max a written assessment of any other candidate.

It is therefore interesting to speculate whether this supposedly private, selective letter of Mr O'Regan suitability by Sir Max made its way onto page one of The Courier-Mail as an endorsement backing Mr Goss's candidate.

Nevertheless, on Tuesday by 10.30am, Mr Beattie's parliamentary committee had been given the material on all eight applicants to consider at its meeting, which took place from 11.00am - 12.30pm.

That meeting, which also finalised a major report on the CJC, decided to adjourn until mid Wednesday so that members would have time to consider all applicants.

Meanwhile, the Premier called an election and dissolved parliament and with it all committees.

Mr Beattie's committee was left without endorsing anyone, and Mr Goss with the opportunity of circumventing the CJC Act and appointing Mr O'Regan because the Committee no longer existed.

Mr Goss, wisely, has decided not to make any appointment of the CJC chair during the caretaker period, but it is unclear whether he will wait for the parliamentary committee to be reformed after the election.

He should, so that the appointment can be the result of a fair and exhaustive process which has cross-party support.

In the meantime, the Premier could re-advertise the position to overcome what is an alarming reluctance by our talented QC's to consider the position. But who could blame them.