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.