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Jul 28, 2014

Courier-Mail v Tony Fitzgerald: Murdoch tab lays down gauntlet

Former royal commissioner Tony Fitzgerald has criticsed Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and The Courier-Mail's pro-LNP bias and has been lambasted for his trouble, writes freelance journalist Alex Mitchell.

Tony Fitzgerald QC, author of the history-changing royal commission into Queensland corruption during Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s era, has suffered the fate of public figures who dare to cross the Murdoch media. After criticising the egregious pro-LNP political bias of Brisbane’s The Courier-Mail and Murdoch-favoured Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, Fitzgerald has received a public lashing for his trouble.

The Courier-Mail splashed a tirade against Fitzgerald on its front page at the weekend:

“Tony Fitzgerald has dramatically shifted from apolitical corruption fighter to partisan commentator, with a savage attack on the Newman Government. In an extraordinary 1169-word tirade, Mr Fitzgerald attacked almost every facet of the LNP administration, from alleged ‘nepotism’ to hospital staff conditions and even its record on protecting the Barrier Reef,”

The front-page illustration was a mock-up of the Fitzgerald Report delivered 25 years ago with the addition of gold-embossed words: “From famed apolitical corruption buster to partisan commentator — New Fitzgerald Report”.

Fitzgerald Report

Fitzgerald is a former Supreme Court judge whom Brisbane’s only daily once hailed as among the state’s most influential leaders of all time. But on June 28 he blotted his copybook with the News Corp club by issuing a rare public statement that included the assertion:

“Presently, Queensland is effectively a single-party state. The LNP has a huge parliamentary majority which it uses to dominate parliament and, outside parliament, News Corporation publications, which dominate the local print media, consistently publish biased reports which favour the government.”

He also accused Newman’s LNP government of having “flaunted its disdain for democracy and good governance by attacks on the judiciary and judicial independence, emasculation of the State’s anti-corruption commission and interference with the electoral system”.

Fitzgerald’s stern rebuke to the LNP government was barely mentioned in the next day’s News Corp papers. They were exclusively preoccupied with the tawdry toilet photograph of Sydney rugby league player Todd Carney, who was giving new meaning to the expression “selfie”.

In the wake of the LNP’s byelection catastrophe on July 19 in the Brisbane seat of Stafford (which Labor won with a whopping 18.6% swing), Newman delivered a grovelling public apology to Queensland voters for past failures and mistakes and vowed to do better in the lead-up to the next election, due to be held no later than June next year. However, Fitzgerald wasn’t satisfied with Newman’s promise to restore civil relations with the judiciary, and in a follow-up statement said the Premier’s mea culpa was “politically motivated” and “can’t possibly be regarded as sincere”.

Although he did not mention News Corp media in his second statement, it earned a counter-blast from last Saturday’s The Courier-Mail with the bizarre objection that Fitzgerald had no right to depart from the apolitical role he rightly practised when he was on the bench. But Fitzgerald’s judicial career ended in 2001; do News Corp operatives seriously believe every judge should be held to a lifetime oath of political silence? Tell that to Michael Kirby.

Even more bizarrely, the paper appeared to suggest that the retired judge was planning to transmogrify himself and become the state opposition:

“[S]enior Government sources told The Courier-Mail it was clear Mr Fitzgerald was positioning himself as the Opposition and had abandoned his apolitical stance.”

Newman is badly advised to be engaging in a public brawl with Fitzgerald. The former royal commissioner, Federal Court judge and president of the Queensland Court of Appeals remains a folk hero in the Sunshine State, where he stopped sand mining on Fraser Island in 1991 and has the status of an “untouchable”. He sees himself as the guardian of the reforms that cleansed Queensland’s legal, political and police structures after the corrupt Sir Joh era.

With Newman facing defeat in his own inner-Brisbane seat of Ashgrove — where barristers, solicitors, doctors, senior bureaucrats and their partners occupy most of the upmarket residential real estate — Fitzgerald, at 72, has nothing to lose by aggressively arguing against the restoration of White Shoe Brigade Inc comprising coal miners, rampaging developers and other spivs.

ALP politicians may be intimidated by the Murdoch press, but Fitzgerald remains unbowed.

*Alex Mitchell is a former state political editor with The Sun-Herald in Sydney and a former president of the NSW parliamentary press gallery.

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19 thoughts on “Courier-Mail v Tony Fitzgerald: Murdoch tab lays down gauntlet

  1. drovers cat

    “ALP politicians may be intimidated by the Murdoch press.”
    Yes, well they’re about the only ones these days.
    News Corpse is a little playground bully whom everyone has realised has a tiny prick.
    Just ignore them – they’re going away soon enough.
    Keep up the good work, Tony F – it’s hell up here at present, with newmand and his gangsters trying to undo everything that has happened since 1989 – no wonder nothing’s moving forward here as all the work being done is political retrofitting – I’ve never known so many people looking forward to next March.

  2. Limited News

    The undercurrent of cowardice in Queensland politics likely stems from the absence of an upper house – any vindictive government whim can be visited upon any critic, on any pretence, and that includes News Corpse and its craven editors. Notably the ABC has sent their long-time Japan correspondent to Queensland, hard to intimidate someone who is able to pack up and leave.

  3. Venise Alstergren

    What is it about Queenslanders who elect corrupt politicians on a scale that would make Joseph Stalin, Josep Brodz, Pol Pot and Kim il un pale with envy?

  4. klewso

    Manuel (of “the Spanish Economy”) Newman, with his Limited News Party?
    I don’t expect he’ll take on Fitzgerald that much – he’ll leave that mud/heavy lifting to the Curry or Maul.
    [With politicians hooked on PR to get re-elected, with his Limited News Shelob-like dominance over our viewsmania web of deceit (here it’s their Curry or Maul) Murdoch runs a political protection racket, from his “Ministry of Misinformation and Obfuscation” lair – in his war on democracy, keeping the electorate ill-informed, stupefied, doped-up on opinion rather than fact.]

    As for that “Upper House”? They can be controlled by government too. Look what Howard’s Limited News Party did when they had the chance?
    I reckon a proportional representation gives a more reflective representation of the electorate’s thinking.

  5. thelorikeet

    The CM piece was even more risible with its imputation that Fitzy issued another MASSIVE tome of criticism. The article screamed that he pumped out in a “mass email” (I do not recall the exact number) some 1178 words!!!

    I cut-and-pasted the material from the website – a little over 1 page. Barely a school essay length. Here it is here:

  6. CML

    Obviously Limited News would see the need to counter anything that vaguely touched on the truth. They have NO conception of that word in any of their publications.
    I don’t live in Qld, but it sounds pretty bad up there. Roll on the election next year – I hope it changes things for all of you!

  7. The Cleaning Lady

    Somehow the verb “told” reads as “b*tched to” in this sentence:

    “[S]enior Government sources told The Courier-Mail …”

  8. The Pav

    The Murdoch Media Empire has forfeited any right to be considered credible.

    The few remaining journalists that are not just biased hacks are sacrificing their credibility for a pay packet.

    Fortuately the natural laws of selection will win and this nepotistic empire will collapse. Pity it will take a little while yet

  9. dazza

    Fitzgerald is obviously good for Qld. Why else would the murdock press be worried?

  10. zut alors

    Merely reading/hearing the name ‘The Courier-Mail’ causes me to wince.

    Tony Fitzgerald will remain a hero in our history books in a hundred years’ time whereas no-one will even remember Newman – even if he names a bridge or sporting stadium after himself.