Taint sticks to Bryce
Saturday, April 26, 2008 at 03:04pm
AN unprecedented legal challenge may prevent the appointment of Australias first nominated female Governor-General, Queensland Governor Quentin Bryce.
Documents lodged with the Queensland Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee on February 14, two months before Ms Bryce was nominated as Australias next Governor-General by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, have created a Constitutional nightmare for the Queensland Government and the Prime Minister.
The papers are contained in the nine-volume Rofe Audit (download the Rofe Report here), by leading Sydney barrister David Rofe, QC, into the long-running and unresolved Heiner Affair involving approval by the Goss Cabinet in 1990 of the illegal shredding of documents relating to investigations into allegations of child abuse at a Brisbane detention centre.
Ominously for Ms Bryce, the PCMC has already conducted what it terms a preliminary examination and has sought further advice on aspects of the material which contains a list of 68 alleged prima facie criminal charges and specific evidence and arguments in support of those allegations.
In response to that request, lawyers representing Mr Kevin Lindeberg, a former public servant who sought the involvement of the PCMC, last week told the committee that recent events had made the need for action more urgent.
They reminded the committee that since their complaint was lodged in February, Mr Rudd had announced his appointment of Ms Bryce as Governor-General designate to take up her duty on or about September 5, 2008.
The PCMC would be well aware that Mr Rudd is named in (alleged) prima facie criminal charges 1 and 2 of Volume 1, and the Hon. Quentin Bryce AC in the (alleged) prima facie criminal charge 67 of Volume IX of the Audit respectively, the lawyers wrote.
The letter also notes a recent judicial appointment in Queensland and says that with that appointment, the PCMC now held evidence alleging prima facie criminality in respect of six serving Queensland judicial officers, Justice Catherine Holmes, Justice Tim Carmody, Judge Julie Dick, Her Honour Leanne Clare, His Honour Noel Nunan and State Magistrate Michael Barnes.
Ms Bryce sought a report on the Heiner Affair from then Premier Peter Beattie on October 23, 2003.
Premier Beattie presented the report to her in April, 2005, almost two years later, but did not make the document public, in stark contrast to the manner in which he handled the Anglican Churchs report into abuse which he tabled in the Queensland Parliament before the resignation of former Governor General Peter Hollingworth in May, 2003, as a matter of public interest.
Rev Hollingworth, a former Archbishop of Brisbane was the subject of a relentless campaign during which he faced allegations that he had participated in a church cover-up and failed to act against church officers engaged in sexual abuse.
A fortnight before Mr Hollingworths resignation, then Labor Opposition Shadow spokesperson for Children and Youth and the Status of Women, Ms Nicola Roxon, told Federal Parliament on May 13 that: We cannot afford to brush it aside, keep it behind closed doors or say it is someone elses issue. We need to be prepared to take a leadership role here. It might be awkward for the government. We need to take some action so this terrible issue is dealt with. The community thinks that leaders in this country are covering up what has happened in the past. Whether they think it is church leaders, politicians or other powerful people, we must make sure that we are never part of that conspiracy. We on this side of the House and, I am sure, the people on the other side of the House do not want to cover up this issue ...
The following day, Victorian Labor Senator Stephen Conroy continued the attack, telling the Senate that: Victims, parents and the community do not want any more cover-ups. They want their stories told, they want perpetrators brought to justice and they want further generations of children to be protected from such suffering.
He was followed by South Australian Labor Senator Nick Bolkus, who said In our performance, in our response, we also will be judged on whether and how we respond to this important challenge. If we as a national parliament do not take the right and proper moral stand on issues relating to paedophilia that affect our children, then we too could be condemned - and I think quite fairly so - by the public of Australia for turning a blind eye to paedophilia, its victims and those who tolerate it.
On May 26, three days before the Mr Hollingworth resigned, the then Opposition leader, Simon Crean, told the House you cannot have people in authority who have covered up for child sex abuse. It is as simple as that, and Isnt a person of authority who failed to act on issues of child sexual abuse guilty of moral turpitude? Of course he is. This is a person in authority. This was a person to whom the allegations were made, and he failed to act.
The key to the allegations made against Ms Bryce and several other senior Queensland politicians and judicial officers echoes the point made by Mr Crean: they were made aware of allegations and failed to act.
Under the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Act 2001 and the repealed Criminal Justice Act, government authorities must act if they receive allegations of suspected official misconduct. Failure to do so falls into the category of abuse of office in commission.
The Rofe Audit makes it clear there is evidence that goes well beyond this low threshold.
The PCMC review follows the release last August of the so-called Judges letter which stated that any action by Executive Government which may have breached the law ought not be immune from criminal prosecution where and when the evidence satisfies the relevant provision.
It would seem that the best possible course for Mr Rudd and Ms Bryce is to insist on all matters being investigated and resolved before the Governor General designate takes up her new post.
Until then she should decline to be sworn in to prevent a significant taint being attached to the highest public office in the land. For that matter, Ms Bryce should stand aside in Queensland until a proper investigation clears removes forever this taint from the Queensland government and the office of Governor in that State.
The Heiner Affair - a matter of concern
Balson's letter to Quentin Bryce (May 2005)
Return to the shredding scandal