Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Fitzgerald's proof that politics can make a better world


Kevin Rudd and Frank Brennan

Friday evening's Eureka Street Discerning Conversation between former prime minister Kevin Rudd and our own Fr Frank Brennan was billed as being about the 'things that matter'. The event took place at Melbourne University to celebrate Eureka Street's 21st birthday.

It was the end of a week during which federal parliament enacted legislation for offshore refugee processing.

In a rare bipartisan moment, politicians acted on their collective reading of the mind of the Australian electorate. According to this, what matters to Australians is keeping our lifestyle to ourselves by locking asylum seekers up for many years. Preservation of a set of comforts was considered to matter more than compassion for people who, in their own countries, lacked basic human securities.

If there was a message from Friday evening's conversation, it was that things don't have to be like that. 

In the course of their discernment of the will of the Australian people, politicians can choose between attending to our base instincts or to our aspiration for higher humanity. The high road is the more challenging option that involves short-term pain for the sake of long-term gain for all of us, and the risk of electoral oblivion for politicians.

The Rudd-Brennan conversation began with recollections from their common home state Queensland in which politicians opted for the high road several decades ago to the benefit of the whole population. The turning point was the political acceptance of the findings of the Fitzgerald Inquiry into Police Corruption (1987–89) and the putting in place of a range of checks and balances to ensure greed no longer holds sway over the common good.

Brennan remembered Eureka Street was launched 21 years ago by the head of that commission, Tony Fitzgerald, who 'spoke at the opening about the need for the world of ideas and greater transparency in Australian society'.

Rudd responded: 'If you reflect back on what things were like in the late '80s compared to what things are like now, you can see the profound nature of changes that have come about. In that context, Fitzgerald played no small part ... You could have had entrenched racism and entrenched sexism [rather than] deep societal change.'

Apologists for political culture describe politics as the art of the possible, often in an attempt to excuse compromise that is actually veiled greed. Fitzgerald paved the way for a politics that demonstrated decisively that politics is indeed the art of the possible, and that the common good does not need to be compromised and higher ideals and principles can be embraced and popularly accepted. 

It was public anger over the Fitzgerald revelations that caused heavy defeat for the Queensland Nationals in 1989 and brought the ALP to power for the first time since 1957 in what was to prove one of Labor's more powerful — and hopefully seminal — moments.

Eureka Street is proud that we owe a common debt of gratitude with Queenslanders to a man who launched us on a path where a better world for all is the guiding principle. 

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Frank Brennan, Kevin Rudd, Tony Fitzgerald, Eureka Street, Queensland



submit a comment

Existing comments

ps.just get rid of julia she's the big problem of labor

shirley | 20 August 2012  

And as those who follow the Assange story know, it was the Fitzgerald Enquiry and its uncovering of secrets that first inspired the politics of young Julian and his free-thinking mother, back in Queensland all those years ago.


Ha! I'd second that, Shirley is it? It's sad really, as, without wanting to divulge too much of myself, have been ALP all my life. She, to me anyway, has done, and continues to do, much damage, and, does the ALP, for want of a better word, injustice to it's values! The sooner she's gone maybe, just maybe, the better off Labor will be!

Phillip | 20 August 2012  

Shirly, with what Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott made clear what he is and what he isn't prepared to do, wouldn't get the job if it was he you had in mind to take her place.

L Newington | 21 August 2012  

In spite of the Fitzgerald Report, which did result in some reforms, Queensland still has a seriously flawed, grossly unjust democratic system. The LNP gained 49.65% of the primary vote in the 2102 election, but gained 87.6% of the seats! Were Queensland to have a proportional representation voting system, a fairer system, as in New Zealand, the LNP would have had to negotiate with another party to form government. Katter's Australia Party would have gained 10 seats, not 2, and the Greens would have gained 6 or 7 seats, not 0, with the ALP on 24 seats and the LNP on 44 seats. Queenslanders, don't be deluded into thinking you have a just democratic system. You no longer have an upper house to give checks and balances to the lower house. You no longer even have preferential voting, but optional preferential voting, which does not ensure the selection of the most generally acceptable candidate. I challenge Queenslanders to put pressure on their politicians to reform their seriously flawed democratic system. How could anyone with any reasonable sense of justice not fail to act? How can we leave this unjust system in place for our children and grand-children and still call ourselves Christians? Grant Allen

Grant Allen | 28 August 2012  

Similar Articles

How not to have a revolution

  • Justin Whelan
  • 23 August 2012

Syria was touted as an example of the limits of nonviolent struggle against a ruthless dictator. Now it is fast becoming a case study on the even greater strategic weaknesses of violence. As the nonviolent movement came under sustained repression, some people decided to take up arms, and opened a Pandora's Box.


Assange tests British diplomatic principle

  • Tony Kevin
  • 20 August 2012

Julian Assange sits securely in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, as Cardinal József Mindszenty did for years inside the US Embassy in Communist-ruled Hungary. This is a benefit of the Vienna Convention. If Britain violated this principle by storming or cutting off utilities to the Embassy, the diplomatic protection of its officials and their families around the world would be weakened immediately.