Head of landmark late 1980s corruption inquiry says both parties have failed the voters and are serving only their own interests

Fitzgerald said both major parties used election wins to reward sectional interests, financial supporters and ‘ambitious camp-followers’. Photograph: Steve Gray/AAP

Bridie Jabour

The man who headed Queensland’s landmark corruption inquiry, Tony Fitzgerald, says both major parties have failed the voters and are serving only their own interests.

Fitzgerald has urged Queenslanders not to vote for either party in the state election and said the premier, Campbell Newman, and attorney general, Jarrod Bleijie, did not have the “slightest knowledge or understanding” about an impartial legal system and how it should be run.

“In practical terms, power has been substantially transferred to a small, cynical, political class, mostly professional politicians who represent, and act as directed by, one of the two major political parties which have entrenched themselves and their standards in the political system and collectively dominate political discussion and control the political process,” he wrote in notes handed out to the audience at the Griffith University school of criminology’s third biennial lecture in Brisbane on Wednesday.

Fitzgerald, who served as a judge for more than 30 years and headed the inquiry into political corruption in the 1980s, said both major parties used election wins to reward sectional interests, financial supporters and “ambitious camp-followers”.

He criticised Queensland’s Liberal National Party (LNP) government and the Courier-Mail newspaper, saying both were taking the state back to a “dark past” and treating voters like fools.

He referred to the skirmishes between the judiciary and the Newman government after lawyers and judges criticised the controversial bikie laws and the Newman government appointed a chief justice the legal community did not approve of.

“The opinions of people who have spent their professional lives implementing an impartial legal system in accordance with the rule of law and grappling with the complex problems associated with criminal justice were patronisingly dismissed by the premier and attorney general, neither of whom has the slightest knowledge or understanding of those matters,” he said.

Fitzgerald said voters who “did not know what they don’t know” were easy to persuade, especially on emotive matters such as law and order.

“Standard populist refrains build on envy and resentment to encourage ignorance and bigotry: educated people are “elites” who live in “ivory towers” and lack knowledge of the “real world”; evidence-based knowledge is inferior to intuitive “common sense” gained in a “school of hard knocks”; experts know less than a “table of wisdom” at the local pub; and judges, despite their oaths of office and obligations of impartiality and independence, should just do “what the people want”, he wrote.

Fitzgerald said the government had used the “populist facade” to sack, stack and reduce the effectiveness of parliamentary committees, subvert and weaken the state’s anti-corruption commission and make “unprecedented” attacks on the courts and judiciary. He said political standards should become a significant electoral issue but neither major party was willing to reform a flawed political process that benefited them.

“Political reform is therefore a task for the community. If Queenslanders want a free, fair, tolerant society, good governance and honest public administration, a sufficient number of voters must make it clear that they will decline to vote for any party which does not first satisfy them that it will exercise power only for the public benefit,” he said.

“It’s a lot to ask, but those who disagree with me might serve the public better by a reasoned explanation than just more spiteful bile.”