One of the nation’s most distinguished legal minds has called on the public not to be seduced and taken in by the growing push to destabilise the judicial process by campaigning against the courts.

This was one of many points touched on by the Honourable Margaret McMurdo who delivered the 2017 Tony Fitzgerald Lecture at the Queensland State Library.

In her 45 minute speech, the first woman to be the head of an appellate court in Australia, delivered a thought-provoking and entertaining discourse focusing on governance in Queensland thirty years after the start of the landmark Fitzgerald Inquiry into official corruption.

For many in the audience too young to remember Fitzgerald and its origins, the lecture provided an excellent summation of the Queensland political landscape which led to the three-year inquiry and its subsequent game-changing recommendations.

Justice McMurdo then presented a report card on the ‘state of the state’, detailing her thoughts on the current governance in Queensland focusing on the Parliament, Judiciary, the Executive , the Queensland Police service and the Crime and Corruption Commission.

Tony Fitzgerald AC QC and The Honourable Margaret McMurdo AC

Fitzgerald state three decades on

The former President of the Queensland Court of Appeal (1998-2014), Justice McMurdo praised the current state of governance but stated ‘we can do better.’

“Politicians can regain this growing loss of public trust and confidence by assuring voters they will follow the ethical principles of governance suggested by Tony Fitzgerald in 2015.” These principles are:

  • Act honourably and fairly in the public interest
  • Treat all citizens equally
  • Be truthful
  • Not mislead or deceive
  • Not withhold or obfuscate information to which voters are entitled
  • Not spend money except for public benefit
  • And not use the position or information gained from it for personal benefit or for family, friends, a political part or a related entity.

Campaign against the courts

Justice McMurdo also expressed concern over what she called a worrying tendency of some politicians and sections of the media to conduct orchestrated campaigns to disparage the decisions of the courts, particularly in matters like sentences and bail.

“This phenomenon, justified as anti-elitism, has been named ‘The Campaign against the Courts’ and has migrated from the USA to Australia and as Commonwealth politicians Greg Hunt, Alan Tudge and Michael Sukkar learned recently, the patience of the Australian judiciary has its limits.

“Courts will use their contempt powers, not out of vindictiveness but because a campaign against the courts is a campaign against the people and democracy.”

The Tony Fitzgerald Lecture Series and the Tony Fitzgerald PhD Scholarship Program was launched in 2009 by Griffith’sSchool of Criminology and Criminal Justiceto mark the 20th anniversary of the release of theFitzgerald Report. The latest lecture, hosted by the Griffith Criminology Institute, is the fifth in the series.

TheFitzgerald Reportmarks a watershed in Queensland and Australia’s political history. In addition to justice and governance reforms, the report and inquiry served as a catalyst and inspiration to many researchers and practitioners working in these fields.