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Attacks on the judiciary cause extreme damage

4 December 2013 517 views 5 Comments

RESPECT for the independence of the judiciary has always been a central Liberal Party policy. Sadly, this no longer applies in Queensland.

The Newman government’s savage attacks on the judiciary have damaged Queensland’s national and international reputation. This matters mightily in today’s global economy, as it directly affects the state’s ability to attract investment, research money and economic growth.

It is not in Queensland’s business interests to look like an autocratic banana republic. In particular, the Newman government’s slanging match with nationally respected crime fighter Tony Fitzgerald is extremely damaging among most voters who respect the separation of powers.

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Newman’s crackdown on criminal motorcycle gangs had widespread support. But that could have been achieved without denigrating the judiciary. The ongoing bitter dispute between the state government and Queensland judges will almost certainly have a detrimental effect on the Liberal National Party’s vote in the Griffith by-election next year brought on by the resignation of Kevin Rudd.

Few serious commentators expect the Abbott government to win the federal by-election, but Newman may be putting it beyond doubt. To put it mildly, Tony Abbott doesn’t need friends like Campbell Newman.

The Queensland Premier hates criticism, which he takes very personally. Since becoming Premier, Newman has been ruthless in his attacks on anyone who disagrees with him. He constantly denigrates any perceived parliamentary, community, union and civil liberties opponents in the Sunshine State. This has been partly fuelled by his personal anger at Labor’s cruel attacks on him and his family during last year’s state election campaign.

In that campaign Labor ignored its record in office and went for Newman’s jugular. The strategy was an abject failure, and left the ALP with only seven seats in Queensland’s one-house parliament. But, despite his landslide victory, Newman has neither forgotten nor forgiven.

This means that a nastiness has returned to Queensland politics not seen since the days of the authoritarian Bjelke-Petersen governments. Then, Joh Bjelke-Petersen went so far as to order his MPs not to sit in the parliamentary dining room with Labor MPs. Former Labor Premier Peter Beattie arguably heralded in a new era of political decency by approving a state funeral for his old rival. But Newman has destroyed that goodwill in less than two years.

The Premier urgently needs to restore some decency and integrity to state politics if Queensland is to reach its full potential and avoid again becoming the redneck state of Australia. Provided that Newman delivers the leadership, Queensland has the potential to be not just a leading research centre but Australia’s strongest state economy. However, this will not eventuate if the LNP government makes Queensland look like a bunch of hillbillies.

The Beattie government paved the way with investments in innovation under the Smart State strategy, which put Queensland on the international map for excellence in biotechnology, aviation, information technology, mining services and innovation. Unfortunately, that reputation is fading.

Yet there are still positives. In particular the Queensland economy is recovering from the global financial crisis that hit royalties from the mining sector hard, as did the loss of stamp duty from the slowing of the property market.

Newman’s initiative for a 30-year plan for Queensland’s future is a worthwhile strategy that involved 78,000 Queenslanders contributing their ideas. The 10 key recommendations are sound and sensible.

To be fair, these policies in different forms have been on the agenda of numerous governments of both sides of politics. Indeed, Nationals premier Mike Ahern commissioned a futuristic report for Queensland in 1988 and the Goss, Borbidge, Beattie and Bligh governments all encouraged trade, education, infrastructure investment and innovation.

But Newman has a problem. To achieve six of the 10 objects in his 30-year plan, the state’s global reputation needs to remain strong if Queensland is to continue to be an internationally attractive place in terms of study and investment. The ugly reality for Newman is that Queensland will not attract the best innovative brains if it again becomes the redneck capital of Australia. Reputation matters.

Next year the Newman government will face its first electoral test in the Redcliffe by-election following the forced resignation of errant LNP member Scott Driscoll.

The Newman government would need to suffer a swing of 10 per cent to lose the seat and, despite the unpopularity of the government’s sackings, that seems unlikely. The real issue will be the magnitude of the anti-Newman swing, as that will affect the government’s momentum as it builds for an election late next year or early in 2015.

Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 36 books.

‘The Australian’, December 4, 2013, p 12.

5 Comments »

  • Campbell Newman said:

    On your bike, Ross, I’ll be judged on results

    I AM loath to respond to Ross Fitzgerald’s interesting observations on me, my government and my state.

    Given he believes I hate criticism, any response risks validating his assertion. However, I’m not prepared to be silent on an ill-informed critique of what really is happening in this great state.

    Fitzgerald’s narrative fits neatly into that espoused by the Australian Labor Party since I had the honour of becoming parliamentary leader of the Liberal National Party. Rich in rhetoric, but factually wanting.

    However, on one point Fitzgerald and I agree: reputation does matter.

    My government has gone to great lengths to restore integrity to the Queensland parliament.

    In the 20 months since the LNP team was elected, we’ve acted to make government more open, accountable and accessible for all Queenslanders.

    We reinstated laws making it a crime to lie to parliament; we kick-started an “open data” revolution by proactively releasing information; we routinely publish details of ministers’ diaries; and we responded decisively when our own Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee failed to uphold our high standards of accountability. The committee system has, contrary to some reports, been used extensively, with 116 of the 122 bills my government has introduced being referred to a committee.

    Confidence in Queensland has surged over the course of the year. We’ve seen billions of dollars in foreign investment. New tourism investment stands ready to flow in to Queensland from as far afield as China, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. A Westpac survey has reaffirmed this, the Business Confidence Index for Queensland increasing 12.9 points to 63.3, the highest level since the election in March last year.

    We strive towards becoming the best state in Australia, with the best-performing economy, government, hospitals and schools. We are ensuring that support for the science and biotech industries isn’t just a slogan, but a reality.

    That is why we have invested millions of dollars into science and innovation including Alzheimer’s research, robotics and the grains industry.

    Equally, we want our state to be safe, a place where families can live without fear of crime and criminal gangs. I was heartened that, just last month, former South Australian Labor attorney-general Michael Atkinson put his political views aside to support my government’s crackdown on the criminal bikie gangs, suggesting we had the “magic formula”.

    These tougher laws have also been backed by Gold Coast Tourism chief executive Martin Winter who said our tough stance was the key to protecting the tourism trade, which attracts 12 million people to the region a year.

    I cannot agree with Fitzgerald’s assertion of a “slanging match” between the government and Tony Fitzgerald.

    While I may not share many of his opinions, I have frequently defended his right to express them. That’s the way we conduct government in Queensland.

    Similarly, I stand accused of denigrating the judiciary. Again, I plead not guilty.

    My words have been carefully chosen, and have displayed not a hint of bitterness. I utterly reject the notion that because you believe sentencing should reflect community standards you are somehow a redneck or are trashing the separation of powers.

    It is a totally reasonable position, supported – I believe – by the vast majority of Queenslanders. My government believes that for too long the scales of justice have been tipped in favour of the perpetrator rather than the victim, and we will not tolerate that any longer.

    Sadly, there has been a lot of hypocrisy on this issue. In 2007, Kevin Rudd when prime minister said he was “appalled” by a judge’s “disgusting” decision; while Peter Beattie, Anna Bligh and other Labor figures have also been far less measured in their critiques.

    I’m excited to head into the new year on the back of some fantastic achievements from the LNP government. Queensland now has the best-performing emergency departments in the country, with 75 per cent of patients leaving within four hours.

    We’ve also put more police on the beat and our state economy is set to grow at an average of 4 per cent over the period of the current budget, far outstripping growth in other states.

    Queensland is well on its way to becoming the best state in Australia to work, invest and live.

    Campbell Newman is the Premier of Queensland.

    The Australian, December 6, 2013, p 12.

  • P. A. Smith said:

    Lessons from History

    ROSS Fitzgerald rightly highlights that Queensland Premier Campbell Newman should pay more attention to the lessons of the state’s history when he seeks support by denigrating the judiciary (“Attacks on the judiciary cause extreme damage”, 4/12).

    Newman’s description of judicial critics as “apologists for pedophiles” when they noted the wider risks of the LNP government’s decision to give the Queensland Attorney-General the power to bypass the courts and keep some sex offenders behind bars is of course reminiscent of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era.

    That was an era of police corruption that ended in the jailing of three former Queensland ministers and a Queensland police commissioner as a direct result of an inquiry presided over by Tony Fitzgerald.

    P. A. Smith, Mt Archer, Qld

    The Australian, December 6, 2013, p. 13

  • P.A. Smith said:

    Newman is off key

    CAMPBELL Newman deftly misses the point (“On your bike, Ross, I’ll be judged on results”, 6/12).

    An independent judiciary protects the rule of law whereas a politicised legal system sanctions mob rule under the rubric of community standards.

    Standing up for the legal rights of pedophiles does not win votes but it does underpin the rights of all citizens, however heinous the crimes they have committed. It is easy for Newman to dismiss a response to the attacks on this underpinning (“Attacks on the judiciary cause extreme damage”, 4/12) as coming from an “ill-informed critique” whose “narrative fits neatly into that espoused by the Australian Labor Party” — and to add that under his government the trains are now running on time.

    The key point that Newman does not address is: what is his government doing to strengthen the independence of the Queensland judiciary?

    P. A. Smith, Mt Archer, Qld

    The Weekend Australian, December 7-8, 2013, p 35.

  • James Jeffrey said:

    Just popping in

    CONGRATULATIONS to Labor senator and former homme sans visage Mehmet Tillem, who was in August appointed to fill David Feeney’s former Senate seat for Victoria. Courtesy of historian Ross Fitzgerald, we know Tillem scores on two levels. First, he is the first Turkish-born member of federal Parliament. Second, because he was an unsuccessful Senate candidate at the federal election in September, he gets to deliver his maiden speech this Wednesday in the knowledge he’ll be out of the joint when his term expires at the end of June. In technological terms, this counts as built-in obsolescence. Make it a damned good one, Senator.

    December 10, 2013, STREWTH, p. 9.

  • LAST POST said:

    LAST POST

    With regard to senator Mehmet Tillem (“Just popping in”, Strewth, 10/12), this is surely the first time anywhere that a defeated candidate gets to give a maiden speech.

    Ross Fitzgerald, Redfern, NSW

    The Australian, December 11, 2013, p. 13