Attorney-General’s great leap backward

ATTORNEY-General Jarrod Bleijie thought Tony Fitzgerald was name-calling last week when he described sections of the Newman Government as "inexperienced, arrogant fools".

What he perhaps didn't realise was that the former head of the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption during the Joh Bjelke-Petersen regime was offering a considered assessment of a government seemingly on a one-track path to the past.

It is a view held not only by Mr Fitzgerald, whose inquiry let to the establishment of the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) and ultimately the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC).

Lawyers, their professional associations and eminent jurists are at one in their concerns about changes not only to the CMC but also a range of other laws that have or are being pushed through parliament by the Government and its Attorney-General.

Andrew Trotter, arguably one of the keenest young legal minds in the country, has no doubt. The Rhode Scholar Select won the QUT Law Medal in 2011. He has penned two papers released this year in partnership with Harry Hobbs, the Human Rights legal advisor to the ACT Human Rights Commission.

"The Great Leap Backward: Criminal Law Reform with the Hon Jarrod Bleijie" and "Under the Oak Tree: Institutional Reform in the Deep North" explain both the development of the rule of law over time and how a series of ill-considered changes are taking Queensland in a dangerous direction.

They conclude that the roll-back of carefully crafted institutions of good governance must be noted in detail. In due course, they say, steps must be taken to redress the Attorney-General's great leap backward.

The lawyers say to place Mr Bleijie's institutional reforms in the context of history is to illustrate the centuries of work that they undo.

Under the Oak Tree argues that moves to wind back freedoms enjoyed under the Right to Information Act and the lifting of the veil of anonymity from whistleblowers were against the tide of reform towards open and transparent government.

Equally, the authors say the removal of electoral donation and expenditure caps "threaten the democratic process by exaggerating the interests of the wealthy, a risk that has been identified and dealt with since 1883".

And rather than proclaim it as a huge success as Mr Bleijie has done, they see as alarming the reintroduction of legally and non-legally qualified JPs in a trial that has heard 2685 matters.

They say the practice was abandoned as soon as practicable and their return served no legitimate interest. Increasingly in Queensland, it appears, the lessons of history are being forgotten.