: All Fall Down

All Fall Down

Kate Galloway

All-Fall-Down-150Matthew Condon; Penguin Books, 2015; 
584 pages; $32.95 (paperback)

A professor hailing from the UK who had made Queensland his home told me some years ago that Queensland was too small a talent pool to govern progressively. His argument was that in this state, we draw our politicians, professionals (including the legal profession), industry leaders, and so on all from a small number of schools and universities. He suggested that this inevitably generated an inward-looking elite, and in the absence of stringent frameworks of governance, could easily result in corruption but would also tend to be self-serving.

I was reminded of these observations while reading Matthew Condon’s masterful final book in a trilogy charting the years of endemic corruption in Queensland’s police force and its circles of power. Following the previous instalments covering earlier decades, All Fall Down deals mainly with the 1980s. These years coincided with my last years at school, my years at uni and early years of legal practice. What struck me was not just that I recognised the leading news stories of the day, but the extent to which the events Condon meticulously chronicles were interwoven with my own life. I wasn’t ever inside the circles of corruption he describes, but I lived in these streets, I partied at these clubs, and I knew many of these people. That’s the way Brisbane was. As my colleague had pointed out, it is a small pool.

The story continued to connect with my own life after I arrived in Cairns as a junior lawyer in 1992. The Vincenzo Bellino defamation trial was in full flight, and it would spend many more years before the courts before being resolved against him. Bellino had sued the ABC and journalist Chris Masters for defamation following the broadcast of The Moonlight State on ABC’s Four Corners program. The program had lifted the lid on corruption in Queensland, and is credited with triggering the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

Condon’s book deals with the same subject matter. He uses his years of forensic research and wide-ranging interviews to paint a detailed picture of the Queensland in which I came of age. The book describes comprehensively just how The Joke worked, right up to the denouement of the main players — Police Commissioner Terry Lewis, bagman and police officer Jack Herbert, and brothel owner Hector Hapeta. These men were the stars, but Condon introduces the reader to all the players: crooks, working ‘girls’, victims, honest cops, lawyers, straight politicians and many, many, other characters. His epilogue, reporting on the final interview with former Assistant Commissioner of Police Tony Murphy, was tantalising. I was left with the impression that there remains more to discover, and more to be told.

The book’s narrative follows a succession of brief incidents all of which build up to paint the full picture of vice. Paedophilia, prostitution, pornography, drug syndicates, gambling and crooked development deals were rife in Queensland — and all of them took place under the watchful eye of the most senior police and some politicians and bureaucrats. The SEQEB dispute, judicial appointments, the Canberra Hotel redevelopment, knighthoods, Constable Dave Moore, notorious trials — all the infamous events of the early 80s are relived.

Since the high watermark of post-Fitzgerald reforms in Queensland, successive governments have slowly eroded the structures of governance designed to forestall a return to the days of vice and corruption. According to Tony Fitzgerald himself, the Newman government expedited the breakdown of checks and balances in Queensland’s institutions.

That is why this book, and its companions, are so important. We have seen that it is easy to undo the structures that strive to support transparency and accountability — regardless of the honestly held beliefs of those in power. Tony Bellino, former proprietor of The Beat and Roxy in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, has said, ‘When there’s money, there’s corruption and greed.’ (22 July 2009, The Australian.) It is incumbent then on our leaders to ensure that we retain the institutional structures to deal with this. Condon’s book brings this point home.

KATE GALLOWAY teaches law at James Cook University.

(2016) 41(1) AltLJ 73
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