Terry O'Gorman was raised in a right wing, Catholic family and is one of fifteen siblings, two of whom have also taken high profile positions in Queensland public life. Terry specialises in criminal law but began his legal career with Aboriginal Legal Aid. It was during the days as a uni student and under the rule of Joh Bjelke Petersen that he first became aware of the need to protect civil rights and took up the fight. That fight has now become a battle spanning over two decades. Terry told Richard Fidler his first exposure to an abuse of rights was during the tour of the Springbok football team in 1971 when Joh Bjelke Petersen, who was just elected on a narrow margin, declared a State of Emergency to ensure the match proceeded without incident. Police were bussed in from country areas to enforce the declaration and Terry witnessed a police presence like never before. Legal observers, his uni colleagues, witnessed police break up, beat-up and arrest protestors outside the Springbok hotel. They were so traumatised by the incident that they resigned and Terry took up their position.
In Terry's early career with Aboriginal Legal Aid he saw first-hand how his clients were frequently verballed and assaulted by police. In order to combat the problem, Terry and his colleagues took matters into their own hands and began covertly taping the police. They would go out at night to hot spots and police stations and film evidence, which they would later use in cases to prove a miscarriage of justice. In 1977, a major inquiry recommended all police record interviews to curb the practice of verballing. The police objected and Bjelke Petersen yielded, so it continued until 1987. Ironically, those reforms were implemented by Terry's brother, the Assistant Police Commissioner Frank O'Gorman.
Terry O'Gorman cross-examined Joh Bjelke Petersen during the Fitzgerald Inquiry which ultimately changed the culture and mindset of the politicians and even the judges, who previously refused to believe police were abusing their position of power. Terry reflects that civil liberties on the streets have improved, but he says the battle has moved to a 'law and order auction' being played out in the media, which used to be centred around the political cycle but now appears to be a permanent fixture.
An interview with Terry O'Gorman broadcast on ABC Radio in 2008
Click to listen to the interview (51 minutes 45 seconds)