Queensland's (Liberal National Party) Government was elected in March 2012. It has a huge parliamentary majority and an opinionated but extremely inexperienced Premier who had never previously been a member of Parliament. By-election results indicate that it has lost much of its support in little more than two years, which isn't surprising.
Prior to its election, it failed to reveal its real intentions, and since its election it has ignored the requirements of good government and proper public administration, committed serious blunders provoked controversy and belligerently attacked anyone who dissents. Both the Premier and the Attorney-General, the Ministers most responsible for the government's predicament, appear to lack knowledge of Queensland's political history, insight into either their own limitations or understanding of the importance of the courts to a stable society, the proper relationship between the judiciary and the executive or the reasons why their populist attacks on the judges were improper.
In an attempt at political damage control, the government proposes to reverse some, but by no means all, of its errors. It refuses to acknowledge some of its most egregious mistakes and instead seeks to distract attention from them. Dishonest members of parliament, nepotism, preferential treatment of supporters, removal of limits on political donations, large-scale public service sackings, a major down-grade of hospital staff conditions, shutting down health and juvenile rehabilitation programs, reduced protection of the environment and support for commercial activities posing a risk of major damage to natural assets including the Great Barrier Reef and Stradbroke Island, termination of the office of Climate Change and approval of activities involving large-scale emissions, limiting union rights, ill-informed and sometimes invalid criminal laws, changes to electoral laws - an unfortunate reminder of the gerrymanders which gave the National and Liberal Parties an unfair advantage inpre-reform Queensland - and proposed public asset sales provide the background to the government's blitzkrieg on the institutions which protect citizens and inhibit government excess. In its brief period in office, the government has sacked, stacked and otherwise reduced the effectiveness of parliamentary committees, subverted and weakened the State's anti-corruption Commission and made unprecedented attacks on the judiciary and judicial independence.
Shortly after the election, the Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, a junior, inexperienced solicitor, appointed a junior, inexperienced barrister, Ryan Haddrick, as his interim Chief of Staff. Haddrick, who had previously worked in the offices of Commonwealth Liberal Party Ministers and a former Queensland LNP opposition leader, had been admitted as a barrister in 2010. At the time of the election, he was a member of a small group of barristers which also included Aaron Simpson, the husband of a media adviser to Bleijie, and Tim Carmody SC, a competent but unremarkable senior counsel in the limited fields in which he practised, who had briefly been a Family Court judge.
In July 2012, a few months after the election, Bleijie appointed Carmody to conduct an inquiry into child protection. Simpson and Haddrick, who had been a barrister for only about 2 years, were among those appointed to assist him. When Haddrick's appointment was criticised, Carmody publicly defended it, unconvincingly stating that Haddrick brought unspecified relevant experience to the role and that appointees were “not selected or excluded on the basis of their connections or perceived affiliations”.
Carmody delivered his report into child protection a year later, in July 2013. It included a startling, politically-charged recommendation that the entire Goss (ALP) Cabinet be considered for prosecution for action taken with the advice of the Crown Solicitor more than 20 years earlier.
Less than three months later, Carmody was appointed Chief Magistrate of Queensland and a District Court Judge. Simpson was also appointed a magistrate.
In the following month, October 2013, the government enacted extreme, ill-considered and sometimes invalid criminal laws which introduced political interference into the administration of criminal justice. New legislation required courts, on the say-so of police, to imprison some accused persons in solitary confinement before they were even tried and perhaps acquitted, and the Attorney-General was given power to over-rule some judicial decisions. In due course, the Court of Appeal decided that that was invalid, as it plainly was, causing Bleijie to broach a foolhardy proposal for a new criminal appeal court, perhaps with compliant judges.
Although a serving judge and, as such, obliged to remain independent and aloof from political controversy, Chief Magistrate Carmody praised the Attorney-General, publicly supported the government on its politically contentious "bikie" laws and exercised his administrative authority to exclude other magistrates from determining some contentious criminal proceedings arising under those laws.
Some months later, after a flawed, opaque process and without plausible explanation, the government appointed Carmody Chief Justice of Queensland. His meteoric rise is incomprehensible. His appointment as Chief Justice can't be explained by reference to his achievements or professional standing and there is a widespread view that he is unsuited to the position. A year earlier, he was an unexceptional barrister who provided the government with a report recommending that the entire Goss Cabinet be considered for prosecution for actions taken with the advice of the Crown Solicitor more than 20 years earlier. Soon afterwards, he was Chief Magistrate of Queensland and a District Court Judge. While holding that judicial office, he publicly supported the government and praised its inexperienced Attorney-General. The appointment of a judge with any expectation, however misguided, that he or she would favour the government and its policies would be an egregious departure from proper public administration. The government demeaned the office of Chief Justice and grossly insulted the judges of the Supreme Court by its risible attempts to justify Carmody's appointment on the basis that he is a “self made and knock about bloke” who has come from a “hard working, working class background”, both matters of overwhelming irrelevance.
The government's proposal to reverse some of its errors is welcome. However, its politically-motivated expressions of regret for its behaviour can't possibly be regarded as sincere. It has made no changes to the Ministry or explained why it acted as it did or why it persisted in its objectionable conduct for so long. Its pretence not to notice that there's an elephant in the room named Tim is absurd. Unless the government offers a credible explanation, speculation about Carmody's relationships and the reasons for his appointment as Chief Justice will the reasons for his appointment as Chief Justice will raise doubts about judicial independence which will blight Queensland's legal system for years to come. There is much more at stake than the government's political fortunes.
Instead of explaining, the Premier has staged a "reconciliation" with the lower levels of the judiciary, misrepresented the position of the Supreme Court judges and unilaterally "drawn a line in the sand". His delusion that he'll decide what may be discussed and when echoes his earlier suggestions that the public should be, and perhaps that a better informed public would be, grateful to his government. For the moment, at least, it's transparently clear that the government doesn't really regret its actions or intend to change its behaviour.