Queensland Anti-Corruption Drive
01 February 1990

`We members of the public are tired of sitting back and expecting the politicians to do everything. It's up to us Queenslanders to do something as well.'

Just two years ago high-level police and government corruption in the Australian State of Queensland began to unravel before the glare of the media and a stunned public. The revelations not only shook the mineral-rich State, but reinforced questions many Australians had about the soundness of State administrations and of Australian society in general.

Tony Fitzgerald QC, rigorous Commissioner of the long-running Public Enquiry into Corruption, said that he had only uncovered the tip of the iceberg. Even so a former State police commissioner was charged on 18 counts of corruption or perjury, two former government ministers resigned from parliament under a cloud and other former ministers have been brought before court hearings. The process continues.

Fitzgerald saw his primary task as the prevention of future corruption and so set about exposing the system and its `social culture'. He urged the State government to make far-reaching reforms in government and police administration and in the electoral system.

But he also said that `propriety and ethical behaviour are difficult to encapsulate in legal and structural terms' and warned that `the ultimate check on maladministration is public opinion'.

Tax-cheating, social-security and expense-account fiddling were, however, thought `smart' by many of the public and too few accepted the real connection between this and the highlevel corruption uncovered by Fitzgerald.

As one MP graphically put it, `Corruption doesn't start with $30,000 bribes. If we are to tackle corruption we need absolute moral standards. Relative standards haven't a chance.'

Aware of this, a group of people from different jobs and professions in Brisbane began to challenge dishonest community practices and provide a focus for the expression of public opinion. Roger Duke, a lecturer at the University of Queensland, said: `We members of the public are tired of sitting back and expecting the politicians to do everything. It's up to us Queenslanders to do something as well.'

Starting with themselves, they called on individuals to commit themselves to a fivepoint `super honesty' programme, as Perth's Radio 6PR put it.

The points were:
  • 1. to make no false claim on any expense account, government or private;

  • 2. to pay taxes honestly;

  • 3. to offer no bribe to win administrative favour, personally or on behalf of a company or business;

  • 4. to accept no bribe or inducement to give favourable treatment;

  • 5. and finally, if a corrupt or dishonest practice had been entered into, to make appropriate restitution.

  • Their `Declaration for a Corruption-Free Queensland' reached the public through churches and through press and radio. In it they said: `Any system, however well designed, is only as effective as the people who operate it and the community environment in which it functions. In the final analysis the only effective and durable answer to corruption is incorruptible men and women.'

    Some of those who pledged themselves to the five points contacted tax or social security offices to make restitution. One radio commentator when asked if he would sign up, said, on air, `This could cost me an arm and a leg.' Two MPs committed themselves to the declaration in the State parliament. The Moderator of the Uniting Church, the Rev John E Mavor, sent the declaration, signed by himself, to all parishes in Queensland, urging his fellow ministers to invite members of their congregations to take it on and inform their local state MPs.

    After 32 years in opposition, the Labor party beat Queensland's National party in a landslide victory last December. It was an election dominated by the issue of corruption. `Now let the clean-up begin,' proclaimed the Sydney Morning Herald. In Wayne Goss, the premier, and Tom Burns, the deputy premier, Labor have two honest and determined leaders. But cleaning up corruption will be no easy task and will need the committed backing of the Australian public.

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