Joh escapes a second trial

Wednesday, November 6, 1991

By Jim McIlroy

BRISBANE — Farcical scenes broke out in the Queensland parliament on October 31 as attorney-general Deane Wells began to read a statement by special prosecutor Doug Drummond justifying his refusal to proceed with a second trial of Joh Bjelke-Petersen on perjury charges.

National and Liberal opposition members tore up documents, throwing them into the air, banged on desks and hurled insults at Labor government MPs.

Deputy opposition leader Rob Borbidge was suspended for 14 days after throwing a book of standing orders onto the bar table. Nationals' leader Russell Cooper was suspended for a week.

The opposition accused Wells of attempting to protect the special prosecutor, by providing parliamentary privilege for his statement, so that media coverage could proceed despite Bjelke-Petersen's lawyers' threats of legal action for defamation.

The government accused the opposition of trying to prevent the Queensland public finding out the reasons for the decision to drop further action against the former premier.

Joh's first trial ended on October 19 in a hung jury, with revelations that the foreman was a National Party member with links to the Friends of Joh group.

Bjelke-Petersen had been charged with lying to the Fitzgerald Inquiry when he denied knowledge of the business affairs of Singapore developer Robert Sng, who donated $200,000 to the Nationals in return for favourable consideration of his hotel project in Brisbane in 1986.

The decision not to proceed with a second trial has been generally welcomed by all conservatives and the media, and secretly approved by the Labor Party leadership — which feels the established order should not be disturbed any further by pursuing the issue.

Drummond gave his main reasons as Joh's advanced age and uncertainty that two key overseas witnesses would return to Brisbane for a second trial, thus making a conviction unlikely.

But this argument has been demolished by an interview with Robert Sng in which he said he was quite prepared to give evidence against Joh at a second trial "out of respect for the crown".

"I never stated I was not coming back", he said from Singapore on November 1.

The reality is that, from the special prosecutor to the big business media to all the major parties, the opinion is that to proceed again against Joh would be taking justice too far.

Best to end the Fitzgerald process now and let bygones be bygones. Otherwise people might get the idea that the legal system could really justice to all, irrespective of class, colour or creed.

However, for the general public of this state, the decision to let Joh go free leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

It underlines the fact that, Fitzgerald Inquiry or not, the law deals with ageing, corrupt former politicians one way, and with Aborigines, the poor and young offenders in quite another.

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