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How the rats made the most of life in the Sunshine state

29 March 2014 386 views No Comment

‘Jacks and Jokers’
Matthew Condon
University of Queensland Press, $29.95

Brisbane author and journalist Matthew Condon has produced a highly readable, well-researched and multi-layered expose of police and political malfeasance in the Sunshine State. Following on from the widely praised ‘Three Crooked Kings’, ‘Jacks and Jokers’ begins in mid-1976. Exiled in the dusty western Queensland town of Charleville, Inspector Terence (”Terry”) Lewis is soon to be controversially appointed by the Bjelke-Petersen government as deputy commissioner, and then rapidly as commissioner of police.

As Condon makes clear, Lewis was aided and encouraged in his ascendancy by some members of the legendary Queensland ”Rat Pack”, including detective Tony Murphy, then based in Longreach; the controversial former detective Glen Patrick Hallahan; plus the so-called ”Bagman”, Jack Herbert, who had been a member of Queensland’s Licensing Branch.

This powerful troika helped motivate then premier Bjelke-Petersen to force the removal of the ethical, reformist Queensland police commissioner, Ray Whitrod. From the moment Lewis started work as commissioner on November 29, 1976, the Queensland police force became almost entirely politicised and, with a few conspicuously brave exceptions, utterly compromised. That was until the explosive findings of Tony Fitzgerald’s ”Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct” were tabled in Queensland’s one-house state parliament in July 1989.

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Soon after the ousting of Whitrod, Lewis arranged for the fearsomely talented Murphy to be brought back to Brisbane. He took command of the Consorting Squad in February 1977 and was ordered by Lewis to dismantle and refashion Whitrod’s ”police spy” operation, the Crime Intelligence Unit.

With the unit rebadged as the Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, Murphy and Lewis proceeded to increase exponentially the illegal funds coming to the ”Rat Pack” – including massive amounts of protection money derived from SP bookmaking and other lucrative forms of illegal gambling, and also for organised prostitution in so-called ”massage parlours”. Large sums of protection money from the latter were paid to members of the Licensing Branch, which reported directly to Lewis. By the late 1970s, ”Herbert was controlling a corrupt annual income of millions of dollars, a slice of which he distributed to Murphy and Lewis”.

In some of their corrupt dealings, and in their attacks on civil liberties including the right to march, Herbert, Murphy and Lewis were aided by future Liberal Party turncoat, the state member for Merthyr, Don (”Shady”) Lane, a former police officer who had worked in the state’s Special Branch. As former commissioner Whitrod had predicted on the day of his resignation, Queensland under Bjelke-Petersen’s authoritarian government had turned into a police state.

‘Jacks and Jokers’ is a fascinating true story of crime and corruption in Queensland in the late ’70s and early ’80s. In this important book, Condon documents a number of hitherto unknown cases of rape, murder, mayhem, drug trafficking, stand-over tactics and paedophilia that occurred during Bjelke-Petersen’s regime and Lewis’ damaging tenure as commissioner.

In 1982, when the Commonwealth Games were being held in Brisbane, institutionalised police and political corruption in Queensland was at its height, as were concerted attacks on civil liberties and the right to demonstrate.

Pushed From the Wings

In October 1982, shortly before Murphy resigned from the force, Lewis and his wife Hazel were photographed with the Queen on board the royal yacht ‘Brittania’. As Condon documents, this was a time when the corrupt commissioner was directly influencing the appointment of cabinet ministers and judges.

The reality is that few journalists, lawyers and academics in Queensland publicly protested against Lewis and especially against his powerful premier, who was eventually awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws by Queensland University.

For the record, under pressure from the Bjelke-Petersen regime, the University of Queensland Press was, in 1982, forced to withdraw, and then pulp, the second volume of my history of Queensland. During that terrible time when my wife and I looked like losing our home in Brisbane, the state government threatened me with prosecution for criminal libel. At that time, there had not been a criminal libel case in Australia since the 1951 trial of Frank Hardy for his novel ‘Power Without Glory’.

The final instalment of Condon’s provocative trilogy, ‘All Fall Down’, is due for release in 2015.

Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University and the author of 36 books.

‘Sydney Morning Herald’, March 29-30, 2014, Spectrum, Books pp 30-31

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