Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian Police Corruption Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Investigative media reports prompted the formation of a royal inquiry into high-level police corruption in Australia. The Fitzgerald inquiry, which spanned two years, broadened to include a much larger investigation into all levels of government. The inquiry resulted in fundamental changes to Parliament, party politics, law, police work, and the practices of commissions of inquiry. Furthermore, many officials were forced to resign, including the premier of Queensland and the state’s police commissioner.

Summary of Event

The Australian media had hinted that there was a major problem in the state of Queensland, and especially in the city of Brisbane, with illegal gambling, drugs, prostitution and brothels, bribery of officials at all levels of government, and police corruption during the 1980’s. Two reports proved to be the end for the corrupt politicians and other civil servants. Journalist Phil Dickie wrote an investigative report that was published in the Courier-Mail (Brisbane) on January 12, 1987, and a follow-up report was aired on the television program Four Corners by Christopher Masters. The revealing television episode, “Moonlight State,” aired on May 11 and provided further substantial evidence of government corruption. Both Dickie and Masters are award-winning journalists. [kw]Police Corruption, Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian (Jan. 12 and May 11, 1987) Fitzgerald inquiry Police corruption;Australia Bribery;Australian police Fitzgerald inquiry Police corruption;Australia Bribery;Australian police [g]Australasia;Jan. 12 and May 11, 1987: Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian Police Corruption[02240] [g]Australia;Jan. 12 and May 11, 1987: Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian Police Corruption[02240] [c]Corruption;Jan. 12 and May 11, 1987: Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian Police Corruption[02240] [c]Government;Jan. 12 and May 11, 1987: Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian Police Corruption[02240] [c]Radio and television;Jan. 12 and May 11, 1987: Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian Police Corruption[02240] [c]Publishing and journalism;Jan. 12 and May 11, 1987: Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian Police Corruption[02240] [c]Law and the courts;Jan. 12 and May 11, 1987: Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian Police Corruption[02240] [c]Politics;Jan. 12 and May 11, 1987: Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian Police Corruption[02240] [c]Social issues and reform;Jan. 12 and May 11, 1987: Media Reports Spark Investigation of Australian Police Corruption[02240] Dickie, Phil Masters, Christopher Fitzgerald, Tony Bjelke-Petersen, Johannes Lewis, Terence

Soon after the television show aired its report, government officials formed the Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct in Queensland, which came to be known as the Fitzgerald inquiry. The commission confirmed the existence of systematic government corruption, confirmation that ultimately led to the resignation of Queensland’s premier, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, as well as the state’s police commissioner, Terence Lewis, and many others.

Premier Bjelke-Petersen was out of the country when Four Corners aired its May 14 episode. Four Corners, which first appeared on television in 1961, continued as the longest-running investigative television program in Australia into the twenty-first century. The program, which focuses on a single current-affairs issue with each episode, has received many awards and was one of the first such programs to expose questionable actions by public officials.

After the Four Corners broadcast, Bjelke-Petersen’s deputy, Bill Gunn, ordered the inquiry in the premier’s absence. Justice Tony Fitzgerald was appointed to conduct the inquiry. Fitzgerald, who was well respected in government and known for his upstanding character, twice extended the probe from police activities to include higher levels of government. The inquiry continued for two years and led to the creation of an independent oversight entity named the Criminal Justice Commission Criminal Justice Commission (CRC), now the Crime and Misconduct Commission Crime and Misconduct Commission.

The Fitzgerald inquiry began on May 26 as an initial examination of police corruption and included allegations against specific persons. On June 24, the terms of reference were expanded and a number of handpicked Queensland Police Service (QPS) officers assisted with the investigation. On July 27, Commissioner Lewis was brought forth as the first witness. The inquiry’s focus of reference expanded once again on August 25. Three days later, police detective Harry Burgess admitted to corrupt activities and resigned his position. He was followed in resignation by the assistant police commissioner, Graham Parker, who also admitted to corrupt activities. In the next few months, two retired inspectors admitted to corruption as well.

In August, Fitzgerald, for the first time in an inquiry, granted an indemnity, a legal exemption from penalties or liabilities, to Jack Herbert—who was alleged to be a bagman, or collector-distributor of illicit funds—to persuade him to testify. Herbert was the bagman for Lewis and collected his bribes. In April of 1989, Lewis was removed as the police commissioner.

The Fitzgerald Report was submitted to parliament July 3, nearly two years after the inquiry began. Without the extension of the terms of reference, the inquiry would not have had the same long-ranging effects. One motivation that Fitzgerald had for extending the inquiry was the desire to go beyond specific allegations against single persons and explore the system that allowed such corruption to develop and exist. As a result of the Fitzgerald inquiry, the thirty-year reign of the National Party government came to an end. The rule of law in Queensland was drastically changed and a new standard for commissions of inquiry had been put into place by the efforts and practices of the inquiry.

Many of the prosecutions that resulted from the inquiry, including that of Lewis and Bjelke-Petersen, were heard by Douglas Drummond of the Office of the Special Prosecutor, which had been appointed in December, 1988. Lewis was convicted of corruption and subsequently stripped of his knighthood and confined. Bjelke-Petersen was charged with perjury but was found not guilty because he supplied evidence for investigators.

The corruption extended to many others across the political and nonpolitical spectrum. Also revealed as participants in corrupt practices were celebrities, judges, businesspeople, bankers, lawyers, and real estate agents.

Impact

The inquiry included 339 witnesses and 21,504 pages of testimony transcript, received 2,304 exhibits, and approved 10 indemnities (immunities) against prosecution. The Fitzgerald Report contained 630 pages and more than 100 recommendations that fell into three categories: the establishment of the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission (EARC), the establishment of the CRC, and the reform of the Queensland police force.

One of the most important reforms to result from the Fitzgerald inquiry was the establishment of the CRC, an independent oversight body that was given the power to investigate any public servant, including police officers, and the power to investigate any politician. Another important reform was the implementation of whistle-blower legislation, which increased sanctions attached to serious misconduct, including questionable recruitment and promotions. Also, the Fitzgerald inquiry was the first such inquiry in Australia to implement the use of indemnities in exchange for testimony. Fitzgerald inquiry Police corruption;Australia Bribery;Australian police

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brereton, David, and Andrew Ede. “The Police Code of Silence in Queensland: The Impact of the Fitzgerald Inquiry Reforms.” Current Issues in Criminal Justice 8, no. 2 (1996): 107-129. This article examines the impact of the Fitzgerald inquiry on the code of silence among Queensland police officers and their supervisors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dickie, Phil. “Fateful Trail Had Dramatic End.” Courier Mail (Brisbane), May 15, 2007. Award-winning journalist Dickie, who broke the story of police corruption in Queensland in January, 1987, provides a brief, twenty-year retrospective on the exposé and the start of the Fitzgerald inquiry.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Road to Fitzgerald. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1988. Written as the story unfolded. Dickie discusses the events that led to the formation of the Fitzgerald inquiry, still in session when this book was published.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Finnane, Mark. “Police Corruption and Police Reform: The Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland, Australia.” Policing and Society 1, no. 1 (1990): 159-171. Examines the Fitzgerald inquiry’s findings and places it in the context of the history of Australian police organization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herbert, Jack, and Tom Gilling. The Bagman: Final Confessions of Jack Herbert. Sydney: ABC Books, 2004. Jack Herbert, the so-called bagman who collected bribes for the police commissioner, Terence Lewis.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Prasser, Scott, Rae Wear, and John Nethercote. Corruption and Reform: The Fitzgerald Vision. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1990. A collection of papers presented at a conference on the Fitzgerald inquiry that address police, government, and electoral system reform, among other topics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Queensland, Australia, Criminal Justice Commission. Integrity in the Queensland Police Service: Implementation and Impact of the Fitzgerald Inquiry Reforms. Brisbane: Author, 1997. A detailed assessment of the efforts to address police integrity in Queensland after the release of the Fitzgerald Report in 1989.

Atherton Report Exposes San Francisco Police Corruption

U.S. Senate Committee Begins Investigating Organized Crime

Belgian Media Reveal How Police Bungled Serial Murder Case

Police Corruption Is Revealed in Los Angeles’s Rampart Division

Prominent Belgians Are Sentenced in Agusta-Dassault Corruption Scandal

Categories: History Content