Home > Opinion > Journey asks Rev John Woodley : What impact did the Fitzgerald Inquiry have on your life and work?

Journey asks Rev John Woodley : What impact did the Fitzgerald Inquiry have on your life and work?

Rev John Woodley
EARLY IN 1985 South East Queensland suffered weeks of power blackouts due to a dispute between electricity workers and the state government over safety and other issues in the power industry.

The government sacked 1000 of the workers, including an active member of the Uniting Church, and cancelled their superannuation and other entitlements.

A decision was made by Concerned Christians, an ecumenical group of clergy and lay people, to join the workers at pickets outside SEQEB depots.

At the New Farm SEQEB depot one morning 100 picketers were arrested, including members of Concerned Christians.

The large cross they had been standing under was confiscated by police.

In Court the main prosecution case was that the Concerned Christians were associating with striking workers who had broken the law.

Concerned Christians defence lawyer Myles McGregor Lowndes engaged Tony Fitzgerald as Barrister.

In their defence Tony Fitzgerald used a number of historic precedents to point to the absurdity of denying Christians the right to stand with the vulnerable and outcast.

He asked what such a denial might mean to Mother Teresa in India, who to avoid being associated with the poor and suffering would need to drive around in a car and throw packets of sandwiches out of the window.

The Concerned Christians were acquitted and a valuable lesson in Christian social justice was reinforced: the call to stand with and for those oppressed by powerful forces, even governments.

Four years later the Report of the Fitzgerald Inquiry was published and the government defeated in the subsequent election.

Rev John Woodley is a Uniting Church minister who served as a Senator for the Australian Democrats from 1993 to 2001 and has a passion for social justice.

Photo : Rev John Woodley