Former Supreme Court judge Angelo Vasta.
Former Supreme Court judge Angelo Vasta.

Ahern slams bid by Bob Katter on Angelo Vasta

FORMER Queensland Premier Mike Ahern has angrily rejected a bid by Bob Katter to overturn an historic decision which saw a supreme court judge thrown off the bench almost 30 years ago.

Mr Ahern, who spearheaded the push for the corruption-busting Fitzgerald Inquiry, said Queensland Parliament had voted to remove Justice Angelo Vasta in 1989 after a thorough process which included a Judicial Commission of Inquiry headed by Sir Harry Gibbs.

Chief Justice Gibbs went on to become a Justice of the High Court and Chief Justice from 1981 to 1987. He passed away in 2005.

The former Member for Landsborough, who still lives at Caloundra, said any reversal would be an 'insult to the memory of Justice Gibbs'.

He said Ian Callinan, a former Justice of the High Court, also advised his government at the time and still supported the decision.

The Courier-Mail reported Katter's Australian Party wants to a new law that would set aside or revoke the decision of the parliament to remove Justice Vasta.

Former Premier Mike Ahern in front of the government office building named after him.
Former Premier Mike Ahern in front of the government office building named after him. Warren Lynam

Significantly, it would also compensate Mr Vasta for loss of wages and associated benefits, including a judicial pension, and interest incurred on legal costs.

It follows former Queensland cabinet minister and current federal MP Bob Katter's confession last month that the injustice of the sacking, which he took part in, had dogged his conscience.

"This man's life was destroyed by a lynch mob - the Parliament of Queensland - of which I am ashamed to say I was a member,'' Mr Katter said.

Explanatory notes obtained by The Courier-Mail say the "time has come to correct that wrong".

"The Judge is now aged 76 and beyond the statutory retiring age for a Supreme Court judge," the notes say.

"However, the Judge's reputation and that of his family will be forever tainted until this matter is resolved and corrected."

Mr Vasta was appointed to the bench in 1984 but sacked by the Ahern government after allegations of improper tax arrangements.

Former Queensland Premier Mike and wife Andrea FILE PHOTO
Former Queensland Premier Mike and wife Andrea FILE PHOTO Chris McCormack/cm162789y

His name had been raised in the Fitzgerald Inquiry, prompting another inquiry that found no evidence of misconduct in relation to Mr Vasta's decisions as a Supreme Court justice.

But it did find that Mr Vasta had committed acts of misconduct, specifically in relations to tax arrangements, and it was that finding which prompted the Queensland Parliament to sack him.

Mr Ahern said there had been numerous attempts over the years to revisit the decision.

But he said both he and Mr Callinan remained adamant the right decision was made.

Mr Callinan had advised Mr Ahern, at the time, to accept the recommendation of the report, which was then put to the Parliament for a vote.

Angelo Vasta back in 1988, and right, Bob Katter.
Angelo Vasta back in 1988, and right, Bob Katter.

Mr Ahern said Mr Katter, a former Minister in his Cabinet, never said a word when the matter was raised in Parliament at the time.

"Bob Katter did not speak.''

"I would be very strongly opposed to the revisiting of this.

"Bob Katter has a very convenient memory of the matter.''

Mr Ahern warned any overturning of the decision could set a dangerous legal precedent.

"There were 160 people successfully prosecuted in wake of the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Are you going to go back and say we should revisit all of them as well?"

"The whole matter, I believe, should be left to rest.''

"This was the first judge in Australia (to be removed)… there was a proper process put in place by my government.''