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Sydney's Background - The Convict in us all

    

  Australia’s origin as a penal colony for the refuse of England’s unwanted criminals has often been used to deride us as tainted.  In fact some descendants of the original convicts for many generations kept this secret until the 1960’s when Australia came of age and since then each new generation of descendants proudly acknowledge their heritage.  Paradoxically it is not the original convicts who have brought shame on our reputation; rather the Marines who accompanied the 11 ships of the First Fleet.

When they landed and were given orders to guard the convicts, these Marines were offended; they were Marines, not soldiers, and guarding prisoners was not part of their brief.  Especially the Officers realised the potential opportunities the new colony afforded them – Land!  Had they returned to England their chances of acquiring land were remote, yet here was plenty and when Governor  Phillips was forced to return after 4 years due to ill health they seized the opportunity to have one of their own, interim Governors King and Hunter to grant them as much land as possible.  Ultimately they gained a monopoly on all trade in the colony and formed what is known as the Rum Corps. 

Initial attempts by Governor Bligh to curb their corruption failed when they simply staged a coup by arresting him and it took the appointment of Governor Macquarie in 1810 with his own regiment of soldiers to temporarily rein them in.  For ten years Macquarie kept the naysayers in check, however their continued reactionary sniping and subversive appeals to England claiming that he was “wasting resources on Public Works”  - roads, bridges,  schools, buildings….eventually saw the Bigge report support their case and by 1821 he too was recalled to England in disgrace.

Early Squatters who claimed large tracts of land under dubious legal grounds soon became wealthy and by 1840’s established a wealthy squattocracy known as the Bunyip Aristocracy.  They too soon developed a “Born to rule”mentality and treated their “lessers” with benign contempt.  Banjo Patterson’s Waltzing Matilda is a revolutionary song supporting the shearers in their disputes with the rich Squatters.  This movement eventually spawned the Labor Party.

Early Federation saw Australia surge forward with surprising advances in egalitarianism, votes for women, economic prosperity and a promising future.  The sacrifices of WWI, the depression and WWII soon put paid to this and it took until the late sixties for Australia to recover.

The “Born to Rule” motif continued with the rise of The Old Guard (quasi fascists) closely followed by the New Guard (led by Eric Campbell), paramilitary vigilante forces formed in the 1930’s to combat communism and the visionary public spirited government of Jack Lang.  Using the predictable tactics of press hysterics and smearing of profligate spending on Public Works (The Sydney Harbour Bridge was too expensive and would never be paid off) they managed to undermine Lang’s government and he was dismissed by Sir Phillip Game in 1932.  Depicting Lang as a captive of communism, the New Guard supported a New Australia Party, whipping up rabid frenzy and winning the election.

Similar philistine tactics were used to discredit the building of the Opera House and the much needed reforms of the Whitlam Government, as well as the rise of Tony Abbott to Prime Minister based not on positive programs, rather on vicious personal attacks on Julie Gillard,  the hysterical negative campaigns of “Stopping the Boats", a demonising of Asylum seekers, A Great Big Tax", a denial of climate change…..

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme  (The more things change, the more they remain the same!)

Civil standards are conditioned, internalised, becoming deeply embedded within a nation’s psyche.  Once established they become endemic and acceptable standards become a continuity in the nation’s traditions.  Australia is not among the world’s most corrupt nations, but we do tolerate a level of corruption higher than many.  Mateship condones a culture of cronyism infiltrating all levels of society.  Nepotism is acceptable, but only if it stays in the family.  Recent investigations into corruption in the States of Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales have all found systemic and routine evidence of widespread corruption including politicians on both sides, high level police officers, judges and many others.

Bob Bottom spent his life investigating, reporting and exposing organised crime and corruption at the highest levels from the early 1960's leading to the downfall of government ministers, a police commissioner, a chief magistrate and a high court judge.

Evan Whitton, who has been reporting on corruption for more than thirty years, received the Walkley Award for National Journalism five times and was Journalist of the Year 1983 for "courage and innovation" in reporting a corruption inquiry. He was editor of The National Times, Chief Reporter and European Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and Reader in Journalism at the University of Queensland. He is now a columnist on the online legal journal Justinian www.justinian.com.au

A fearless crime reporter, Whitton saw June 25th 1969 as the high point in the rise of organised crime in Australia.  Leonard McPherson, a well know colourful identity was fined a nominal $100.00 for consorting by Judge Murray Farquahar on dubious evidence given by Sergeant Frank Charlton. 

From that day until the mid 1980’s, black and white hats, including the Premier, Robert Askin, the Police Commissioner, Norman Allen and Fred Hanson, intermingled freely with the stench of corruption like a rotting carcass in a stagnant pool rising to the top, rolling over and slipping below the surface again.  (Evan Whitton)

Underworld figures have operated with impunity both in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney for years.  We also have evidence that politicians have been compromised, yet we simply put up with it.  How and why did things change?

Things only change with public pressure.  Many factors raised public awareness that things were not right and a concerted effort by a variety of public spirited leaders emerged to tackle the issue.  These include:  Artists, lawyers, journalists, Judges, Politicians and Special interest groups.

David Williamson’s The Removalists (1971) raised the issue of Police abuse of power and authority through brutal violence as did  a television series The Scales of Justice, highlighting the issues of casual corruption in the Police Service.  ABC Television exposed widespread corruption in various documentaries most noteworthy Chris Masters, 4 Corners program, The Moonlight State.    
    These created a climate for public discussion.

Honest police officers were a rarity in those days as one comedian quipped:

They found another honest policeman the other day. 

 What does he look like? 

We don’t know; we haven’t dragged him out of the river yet.

Human Rights Lawyers

Social reform lawyers and Queen’s counsel also advocated stronger curbs on excessive Police and Judicial power. Chris Murphy, a young criminal lawyer from the early seventies, waged war against the Police practice of Verballing (writing confessions for suspects to sign under duress)  Further it was the brilliant and tenacious work of  journalists, (Evan Whitton, Bob Bottom, Kate McClymont,  et el) that official corruption  received the  public scrutiny necessary to raise public awareness of the detrimental cost to the community.

Julian Burnside AO QC has been an excellent advocate attempting to humanise our response to the human misery of asylum seekers.  In 2009 he was appointed An Officer of the Order of Australia for service as a human rights advocate.

PETER RUSSO, DR HANEEF'S LAWYER: In 2007, a fearless Barrister who leaked the full transcripts of a Police record of interview with Dr Mohammed Haneef, falsely accused of consorting with terrorists. Russo successfully counterpoised selective releases by KEVIN ANDREWS, then, FEDERAL IMMIGRATION MINISTER, who allegedly was disingenuously attempting to foment a crisis situation, stoking fears of terrorism for political gain. 

Judges

A number of Judges were implicated in consorting with criminals throughout the sixties, to the early eighties.  Judges Murray Farquhar, John Forde, Lionel Murphy, David Yeldham, and Marcus Einfeld all betrayed their special position of trust demanding the highest standards of conduct.  As well a number of judges have routinely had to face Parliamentary committees to explain some of their decisions.

Sir Garfield Edward John Barwick, AK GCMG QC (22 June 1903 – 13 July 1997)

Known as the tax dodgers advocate, Barwick is seldom held in high regard by reformers.  According to Evan Whitton:  

The tax evasion sluicegates opened in 1957 when trial lawyer Barwick persuaded the High Court that "absolutely" in the 1936 Tax Act did not mean "absolutely"; there could be exceptions.

The torrent became a flood in 1974 when Barwick CJ, along with Harry Gibbs and Doug Menzies JJ, ruled that a profit of $2782 was a loss of $186,046. 

Credited with building new High Court – Gar’s Mihal - Justice Garfield gained notoriety with his controversial advice to Sir John K

err regarding the constitutional right to dismiss the Whitlam government in 1975.

However on the positive side, a number of Senior Judges have stood out as outstanding paragons of virtue either in exemplary dissenting decisions, speaking out or as the heads of Investigating Bodies.  In most cases these have been at great personal cost to their professional lives.  Many comment on what an isolating experience it becomes.

Those instrumental in conducting fearless corruption inquiries include:  Sir Lawrence StreetIan Temby, Tony Fitzgerald, James Wood, and many others.  At least two cabinet ministers have been jailed as a result of these official inquiries; Rex Jackson in NSW for accepting bribes in an early release of prisoners and Police commissioner Terry Lewis in Queensland.

Writing twenty five years later, Tony Fitzgerald reflects on the hazards of speaking out:

The pressure on Mr Fitzgerald and his team at the inquiry was relentless. "We couldn't stop, it was 24/7," he said. Asked about the impact at home, he agreed there had been "consequences", but even now he won't go into detail about what his family went through, explaining that they had all moved on from that fraught time.

"Can you rewrite history? No you can't," Mr Fitzgerald said. "In a sense, I think that anyone who does an unpopular task puts themselves at risk, whether it be physical or professional risk or critical risk. That's a consequence. It's always out there."

Mr Fitzgerald said ultimately he realised that it would be impossible for him to stay or work in Brisbane. In 1998, he and his wife moved to Sydney, where he became a judge of the appeals division of the NSW Supreme Court, though they kept their beach house on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

He is scathing of the legal bar in Brisbane, of which he was once a prominent member, branding it fearful of change. "Up there in the legal profession I'm a square peg in a round hole," he said. "There . . . are always character assassins, there are always the envious. Up there . . . to me, conformity is an absolute way of life."

JAMIE WALKER, THE AUSTRALIAN  SEPTEMBER 21, 2013 

Other High Court Judges have broken rank and spoken out about the politicisation and the closed culture within the Judiciary, including Justice Dyson Heydon and Michael Kirby.

Justice Mary Gaudron, the youngest female appointee to the High Court, made significant contributions towards fostering a more progressive climate towards a just society.  She is perhaps best remembered for the Mabo case, where in joint judgment with Justice William Deane, she said that Australia's past treatment of Indigenous Australians was "the darkest aspect of the history of this nation”. (Wikipedia)

Attack on Kirby split High Court

David Marr   April 2, 2011

BEHIND-the-scenes division in the High Court ended in a screaming match a decade ago after Senator Bill Heffernan accused the High Court judge Michael Kirby of using Commonwealth cars to procure young men for sex.

A new biography of the judge quotes Justice Mary Gaudron saying the then chief justice, Murray Gleeson, ''lost it'' with her when she proposed they put out a statement defending Justice Kirby.

''He was screaming at me. 'Who do you think you are? Have you appointed yourself press secretary to this court?'''

The biography, Michael Kirby: Paradoxes and Principles by A.J. Brown, of Griffith University, reveals that the judges were among the first to learn the dossier Senator Heffernan was using to smear Justice Kirby was bogus; that Justice Gaudron became the first known whistleblower in the history of the court by leaking that information; and that the row with Justice Gleeson led to her early retirement in 2003.  

Politicians too have had profound contributions, both positive and negative and have not been immune from the long arm of the law.

Paradoxically it has often been the conservative side of politics who have made the most far reaching exemplary reforms such as Malcolm Fraser’s Crime Commission in 1982 and Nick Greiner’s Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1989.  Both have been extremely effective in exposing and containing outrageous corruption. John Hatton, an independent politician, fought a relentless campaign against all forms of corruption.

On the darker side, the Fitzgerald Inquiry of 1988 in Queensland brought about the incarceration of The NSW Minister for Corrective Services, Rex Jackson in 1987 for collecting bribes in the early release scheme, and later Queensland Police Minister, Sir Terrence Lewis in 1989 for collecting over $700,000 worth of bribes protecting brothels.

It is this tolerance of corruption that makes Merele Day’s depiction of the activities of Harry Lavender in Sydney plausible and credible.

The Australian Identity

Brilliant Creatures on the ABC with Howard Jacobson


In the early 1960’s Australia quietly emerged out of a cultural, intellectual and economic backwater which had stifled a number of aspiring intellectuals, including Robert Hughes, Clive James, Germaine Greer and Barry Humphreys found stifling and boring. They discovered “overseas” and became celebrated ex-patriots in the Mother country.  Howard Jacobson had a difficult time understanding this as they made an instant splash in Britain as he went from Britain to Australia to teach in what he describes as a dynamic iconoclastic intellectual environment at Sydney University. 

“To the desert go prophets and hermits; through desert go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality.”  

― Paul Shepard, Man in the Landscape: A Historic View of the Aesthetics of Nature

Jacobson speculates about this paradox; perhaps it was the pressures of boredom, that a stultification produced such diamonds, the exhilarating dullness; such beauty and exhilaration.  He points out the contradiction that Australia reveres its writers more than England does, yet Australians are suspicious of tall poppies.

Colonial Australia has a larrikin nature about it. Jacobson describes them as raw, hedonistic and bloody-minded, outlandish, hoodlums in the playground with a healthy disrespect for vaunted authority.

The Australian language is one of verbal acrobatics - kangaroo cuckoo, not mealy mouthed but honest and unpretentious. The language of extremism, full of exaggerated, over blown, overstating things; pushing the language of hyperbole. 


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