Story archive


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The material below comes from my original website published in 1995 when I was employed as a freelancer. For later material please see
The Courier-Mail website and The Australian website.

In 1996 Point USA rated the original website in the top 5% of Internet sites.

Corruption and reform

In the mid 1980s, Queenslanders were shocked when a royal commission headed by Queens Counsel Tony Fitzgerald uncovered institutionalised corruption at the highest levels. As a result,the police commissioner, four politicians, several police officers and others were charged with criminal offences and jailed. In July 1989, Tony Fitzgerald, QC, produced a report of his royal commission which called for massive systemic change to the state apparatus.

At the end of 1989, the state's 32-year old government was swept out of power, and a new (Labor) government headed by Brisbane solicitor Wayne Goss was installed. Since then, the government has passed much-needed legislation to redress the ills of the past, but there's evidence that the state is slowly slipping back into some of its old ways.

Fitzgerald recommended two new reform commissions to implement change and to monitor corruption. The first, the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC), recommended a host of change including electoral reform, local government reform, freedom of information, and reform of the parliament. It has now completed its work and disbanded.

The second, the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC), is a permanent commission which monitors politicians, the police, and the public sector for corruption and misconduct.

As well, outsiders were brought in from interstate to head the CJC and the Police Service. It has been renamed and revamped as the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC).

Reform of the police and the criminal justice system

In 1989 outsiders were brought in to reform the police service. Former Victorian Deputy Commissioner Noel Newnham became the state's new police commissioner, another Victorian David Blizzard his deputy. But they encountered heavy flack and were eventually rejected by the entrenched forces. Both left the state in controversial circumstances. Likewise former Tasmanian politician Sir Max Bingham experienced a rocky road as head of the anti-corruption watchdog, the Criminal Justice Commission.

By 1992, where these stories begin, the state was looking to replace this first wave of reformers.

Operation Toby

The genesis of the fallout between Police Commissioner Noel Newnham and Police Minister Terry Mackenroth was an allegation, vehemently denied by Mr Mackenroth, that he had accepted a donation from a dismissed Judge in return for a political favour. It was alledged that former Supreme Court judge Angelo Vasta had given Mr Mackenroth money while requesting that his dismissal as a judge be reconsided by an incoming ALP government. Labor won government the following month.

Shortly afterwards, Commissioner Newnham went behind Mr Mackenroth's back to draw the issue's attention to then Premier Goss. The Australian Federal Police placed a listening device and recorded conversations involving Mr Vasta and his brother-in-law Santo Coco, a Brisbane toilet paper manufacturer, which referred to this incident. A secret Federal Police transcript of part of these conversations follow.

Later Mr Mackenroth produced a receipt to show that whatever money he received from Mr Vasta had been forwarded officially to Labor Party coffers.

Reform of Parliament

Fitzgerald's report said the Queensland Parliament was an ineffective watchdog on the excesses of executive government. He recommended a revitalised parliament with a comprehensive committee system.

Legal and administrative reform

Likewise, accountability measures were prescribed for the bureaucracy. Freedom of information, an administrative review mechanism, measures to end nepotism influencing government appointments, and law reform were recommended. Emphasis was placed on reforming the state's prostitution laws. In the past, prostitution had been a good earner for some police who had been paid to turn a blind eye to it.

Electoral reform

One of the successes of the reform process was an end to the state's malapportioned voting system and its replacement with an approximation to one vote, one value. However the future of some electoral reform initiatives, such as optional preferential voting, is less certain.

The Golden Casket debacle

Queensland's Golden Casket Art Union office is a multi-million dollar revenue spinner for the state. In the early 1990s, the Queensland Government, in company with some innovative gaming hardware manufacturers, was well positioned to win lucrative overseas contracts in Europe, the UK, Spain and the Canary Isalnds worth billions of dollars. Instead, the opportunities were squandered, and money was wasted. The following stories show how this happened, and how the government was left with the embarrassing job of legislating retrospectively to validate some of the activities.

The Stuart Tait case

In 1992 the Criminal Justice Commission investigated expense claims by state Secretary to Cabinet Stuart Tait. The CJC said there was enough prima facie evidence for it to recommend action by the state Director of Prosecutions. However the Director of Prosecutions did not take action. The following year journalist Greg Abbott and I published an article suggesting that senior Goss government advisors had not corroborated Mr Tait's version of events.

As a result, the police conducted a protracted investigation to find the source(s) of our story, which of course we did not disclose. No action was taken on the police report on the alleged leak.

'Black' Angus McDonald named

Many Australians will remember the cowardly gunning down in 1984 of NSW drug detective Michael Drury in a professional shooting which allegedly involved a fellow NSW police officer. The events behind it were reenacted in the ABC television documentary Blue Murder. It remains Australia's most frightening internal police incident.

Later, the police superintendent in charge of part of the Drury investigation himself would be investigated. That man was the late 'Black' Angus McDonald, a NSW police superintendent who was the second husband of former Queensland Governor Leneen Forde. In 1996 he was named at the NSW Police Royal Commission in connection with the Drury shooting, as the story Angus pledges to expose gunman explains.

The Michael Paynter case

Despite massive reform, concern remains even in mid 1996 about the extent of cultural change in the Queensland Police Service. One concern highlighted recently was the adequacy of police internal discipline. Two cases, the 1991 police assault of Adelaide teenager Michael Paynter, and the infamous 'Pinkenba Six' incident, are outstanding examples. Here are a couple of stories on this issue.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs

In 1992, the High Court of Australia rejected terra nullus, the idea that Australian land was unoccupied before white settlement in 1788. In doing so, it recognised that Australia's indigenous people enjoyed native title rights.

The Australian Government's response was a three-stage reconcilation package. The first was formal recognition of native title through the Native Title Act 1993. The second was a $1b Indigenous Land Fund to compensation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who had been dispossessed of their land. The third was a social justice reconciliation package.

Some of the following articles appeared in Queensland's Indigenous newspaper, Land Rights Queensland.

McDonnell and East

Another story about a superannuation debacle involves failed Queensland retailer McDonnell and East, which after its collapse did not pay superannuation entitlements to staff. The company claimed its collapse meant insufficient funds were available for the payouts. But the story Failed super fund mystery unfolds reveals differently.

The Godfrey Mantle case

Godfrey Mantle is a property developer and owner of the three Jimmy's on the Mall restaurants in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall. Mr Mantle is suing the state government for $77 million, claiming it reneged on an approval it gave him in to build a $25 million public riverside attraction at the bottom of Brisbane's Kangaroo Point cliffs. However the major interest in the case is not the development, but the fact the Queensland Government was in trouble over its handling of Mr Mantle, as the story Federal Court probes government business dealings shows. The judge hearing the case has also floated the possibility that Goss Government apparatchiks could be sued. A mammoth court battle involving a four-month trial starts in February 1997.

How an MP's dicky knee totally humiliated the Borbidge Government

On Friday October 11, 1996, Public Works and Housing minister Ray Connor's knees collapsed on his way to the voting Chamber for a vital division. He didn't make it. The minority Borbidge Government subsequently was beaten and humiliated on the floor of the Queensland Parliament. The next week Connor underwent knee surgery to atone his sins. To read the saga of one of Queensland Parliament's most colorful nights, select Kneecapped.

Carruthers inquiry closed down

In October 1996, a retired judge appointed to investigate two cases of electoral bribery walked out of his job. Seven months beforehand, Kenneth Carruthers QC had been asked to investigate a deal between the Liberal-National party coalition and the Queensland Police Union, and another deal between the Labor Party and the Sporting Shooters' Association. Mr Carruthers left claiming another inquiry started by the State Government had compromised his inquiry by ordering he keep all documents he had generated, including draft of his report. The Labor Opposition and Gladstone independent MP Liz Cunningham, who holds the balance of power in the Queensland Parliament, tried to get Mr Carruthers to return. Mrs Cunningham put conditions on reviving the Carruthers inquiry. Meanwhile, one of Queensland's top barristers has offered to finish the inquiry. Claims that the Borbidge government deliberately undermined the Carruthers Inquiry led to new accusations about the former Labor Government's treatment of the 1989-1991 Cooke inquiry.

New rabies-like virus hits Australia

Australia is among few places in the world free from rabies, a form of lyssavirus. However, in May 1996 a new and seventh form of Lyssavirus was discovered in Australia in flying foxes. Meanwhile, the University of Queensland's bat colony could be culled because of the presence of the deadly equine morbilivirus.

Miscarriages of justice

Among the victims of the bad old days were those unfortunate people who were wrongly jailed in Queensland for crimes they did not commit. These were people convicted on fabricated interviews concocted by police, called verbals. Before winning office, the Goss government promised these people a Miscarriages of Justice Unit would be set up to redress their cases, but it didn't happen. Their predicament is outlined in:

Police, crime, prisons, and the criminal justice system

Modern Queensland inherited a rundown criminal justice system. Here's a few stories on criminal justice issues, and crime.

Queensland politics during the Goss years : Dec 89-Feb 96

Cataclysmic one day, tumultuous the next is a phrase that aptly describes the colour of Queensland politics. Here are some political stories written during the era of the Goss government.

The Mundingburra by-election : the Goss government falls

On July 15, 1995, the Queensland electorate returned the Goss Labor Government with a reduced, one seat majority. In the new parliament, Labor held 45 seats, the Opposition conservative coalition 44 seats, and unaligned Gladstone independent Liz Cunningham the remaining seat. But the government's new, third term was destined to last only seven months.

In November, the Court of Disputed Returns overturned Labor's 16-vote win in the North Queensland seat of Mundingburra and ordered a by-election, which took place on February 3rd. It was a disasterous campaign for Labor. For a start, Labor dumped its candidate, Emergency Services Minister Ken Davies, a week into the campaign. There was a possibility that Davies would face bankrupcy should he lose a drawn-out battle with the Commonwealth Bank.

Labor fielded local mayor Tony Mooney as its new candidate. The Liberal (coalition) candidate was Frank Tanti, a cabinet maker and bus driver. While Mooney was the more sophisticated candidate, Tanti's appeal as an honest plodder won the day. He was aided by Davies who, after being dumped by Labor, ran as an independent candidate for the express purpose of undermining Wayne Goss. He succeeded.

Because of Labor's loss, the parliament was now deadlocked -- 44 Labor seats, 44 coalition seats, with all eyes on Liz Cunningham, who held the balance of power. On Monday February 12th, Mrs Cunningham held a news conference under a tree behind her electorate office and brought down the Goss government. She announced she would support Rob Borbidge's coalition -- with her support, Borbidge would have a parliamentary majority of one.

It was all over for Wayne Goss and the reformist Labor government. Within a week, Mr Goss had resigned as Premier and Labor leader. The National's Rob Borbidge is Queensland's new premier, and the Liberals' Joan Sheldon is the deputy premier. As for Labor -- an internal party brawl is brewing. Goss's main leadership rival, Peter Beattie, is Labor opposition leader.

The Borbidge government : The future? OR Back to the future?

After almost six years in the wilderness, the National and Liberal parties were returned to power in Queensland in 1995. It was during their previous period of incumbancy that much of the corruption in Queensland occurred. So did this government represent a return to the past? Or, has it learnt the lessons of the 1980s? Here are some stories of political life under another new order.

The 1996 Federal Election

On Saturday March 2nd, 1996, Australians went to the polls and elected a new federal government and, with it, a new Prime Minister. The conservative Liberal Party and National Party Coalition was swept into power on a landslide which saw the former Labor government reduced to tatters.

John Howard was the new Prime Minister, and Labor's Kim Beazley was the Opposition Leader. In the new parliament the Coalition had 94 seats (Liberal Party 76 seats, National Party 18 seats), the Labor Party had 49 seats, and there were 5 independents. With 76 seats, the Liberal Party had a parliamentary majority in its own right. It didn't need a coalition with the National Party to govern, but the coalition agreement remained. It was Labor's worst poll result ever in Queensland. It held only two of Queensland's 25 seats. The following is a scant collection of articles on the federal election. I had covered mainly state affairs.

Internet stories

A few wild and woolly tales of life in cyberspace.

The media

The Queensland media played an important role in exposing corruption in Queensland. However the 1989 Fitzgerald report criticised some sections of the media for having a close relationship with the government. As a result, the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission, formed in the wake of the Fitzgerald report, looked at government-media relations. Here's some articles dealing with this topic and the problem of an ever-shrinking media monitoring government.

The Banks

Education, the arts, the environment, and heritage

The Port Arthur tragedy

In 1996 Australia witnessed the tragedy of 35 people gunned down at historic Port Arthur in Tasmania. As a result, Australia introduced new gun laws which banned automatics, semi-automatic, and pump action shot guns. While most Australians supported the changes, some sporting shooters and farmers continue to fervently oppose them. Here is a couple of short stories on their reaction.

Ostrich farming

For five years, Ostrich farming in Australia has been magnet for get-rich-quick schemes and the fast dollar. But the party is now over. This special report published in The Sunday Mail on 25 May 1996 looks at the state of the Ostrich industry and its future. Further, Australia's most famous tax cheat, Brian Maher, who was convicted after the famous mid 80s $400 million "Bottom of the Harbour" tax evasion investigation, is allegedly involved. (27 Oct 96)

The miscellaneous list