Australian Senate Hansard for 27th May 1998


Whistleblowing: Heiner Inquiry

This document has DRAFT status

Senator WOODLEY (Queensland) (1.14 p.m.)--I rise today to talk on a matter of public interest affecting my state of Queensland that has considerable relevance to the outcome of the state election. I am referring to the shredding of the Heiner inquiry documents and further evidence that has come to light and been prominently featured in the media in recent days. All senators know that this is a matter that I have spoken on on quite a number of occasions. Indeed, I referred the matter of whether or not the Criminal Justice Commission may have given false and misleading evidence to the Senate select committee into unresolved whistleblower cases in 1995 to the Senate Privileges Committee on 5 December 1997 for further examination. In making this speech, I am not showing any disrespect to the deliberations of the Privileges Committee, but there is fresh disturbing evidence relating to the shredding that I believe this chamber and certainly the people of Queensland ought to be aware of and fully comprehend its significance.

Before I do that, I want to put on the public record something that has personally disturbed me ever since the unresolved whistleblower cases committee tabled its report in October 1995. In that report we described the shredding as `an exercise in poor judgement'. I have given that view very careful consideration ever since and I now wish to disassociate myself from that description and suggest that it was quite inadequate. In my opinion, in light of the facts and the emerging evidence, it was a very soft political view that can no longer stand. I believe that we sent our Australian community a bad signal by not facing the cold, hard facts that a so-called desirable, political objective may not always be lawful. That precise scenario is what the Howard government and Patricks may be facing in the courts in respect of the unacceptable sudden sacking of 1,400 MUA members supposedly to achieve a more efficient waterfront. I remind the Senate that Justice Wilcox said in the appeal court ruling that noble objectives cannot be achieved by ignoble means.

It has been argued that the shredding was done to protect people from suing each other over evidence given to the Heiner inquiry because of the way it was established. At first glance this looks fair enough, but standing between that objective was the lawful right of citizens to access those public records or, at the very least, to test that right in court through judicial interpretation of the relevant statute. Indeed, the known would-be litigant, Mr Peter Coyne, and his solicitor were deceived by the Crown into believing that the evidence was secure while, behind the screen of expectation that the Crown would act with the utmost probity, the documents were shredded to stop their use in that foreshadowed litigation. It is my view now that we should have taken greater consideration of the views expressed by now High Court Justice Ian Callinan QC, who represented Mr Lindeberg, that arguably the decision to shred the records seriously breached the criminal law.

In moving my motion to have the Lindeberg matter referred again to the Privileges Committee, I indicated that it appeared that what was shredded was evidence of possible child abuse. My worst fears appear to have been realised by the most extraordinary of circumstances. I refer to recent headlines in the Courier-Mail of 25 May 1998 that former Queensland Police Commissioner Noel Newnham, a man for whom I have the greatest respect, carried out a three-day investigation for Mr Lindeberg into what was told to Mr Heiner. I remind the Senate that the current opposition leader, Mr Peter Beattie, has described the Heiner inquiry as `a spat between public servants' in an attempt, I guess, to downplay its importance.

However, in his inquiry Mr Newnham found that Mr Heiner was given evidence of possible serious child abuse of detainees. He found that children as young as 10 and 12 had been handcuffed to water grates in the open air all night, with one child, who was told that snakes came out of the grate, being found the next morning with his blanket stuffed down the grate because of his fear. Others, it is alleged, were handcuffed to beds for extended periods. It is also alleged that there was inappropriate use of suppressant drugs for other than medical reasons, and that there was also psychological and physical abuse.

I want to add of course that I am not apportioning blame to anyone. That needs to be done by a proper investigation. I am indicating, however, that very serious evidence of possible abuse was given to Mr Heiner, and it was shredded. Undoubtedly, anyone accused had a right to clear their names, but the electorate also has a right to know what was going on behind those closed walls. The shredding prevented this.

Mr Newnham points out in his report that the use of excessive or unnecessary force against people in lawful custody amounts to criminal assault. He says:

In the case of minors such assaults by custodial officials, directly or indirectly, must always be regarded as extremely serious.

He further says:

. . . Australia has international treaty obligations regarding the treatment of people in custody and of children. It appears plain that officials disregarded some of those obligations.

He also said that it was an absurd notion to suggest that the Crown had to shred these documents to prevent people suing each other. I happen to agree with Mr Newnham. It is absurd to suggest that the Crown cannot handle documents containing such evidence and that its only remedy was to destroy them.

This fresh evidence obviously opens up very serious questions that, I suggest, the Privileges Committee may not be able to ignore, especially in the light of other revelations involving the CJC's handling of this matter. Mr Newnham suggests that it is quite inconceivable that the Goss government would have been unaware of these allegations when deciding what to do with the Heiner documents.

But it does not stop there. It turns out that a youth worker who gave evidence to Mr Heiner on these matters has been in contact with the CJC since 1994 by phone--and as late as October 1997 in writing--wanting the CJC to investigate these matters. The CJC has dismissed his concerns, the same complaints it now wants to investigate following the Courier-Mail's pressure and the intervention of Mr Newnham. All of a sudden the CJC now has an interest in the matter. The CJC never told the Senate of these contacts, leaving us to believe that all of the Heiner witnesses were relieved to see the so-called defamatory evidence destroyed. I believe that is gross deception on the part of the CJC.

On Monday, 25 May 1998, the CJC announced that it was going to investigate these 1989-1990 complaints, after considerable media uproar. It is quite inappropriate for the CJC to come within cooee of this matter. It cannot assure anyone of its impartiality. The fact that the CJC did not see any ethical or conflict of interest barriers to its taking on the task is something of even greater concern to me, and merely confirms that the CJC has lost its plot.

I believe that the CJC is an institution which must remain in the state of Queensland. It is critical that it do so. But it is a patient that is sick. It needs to take its medicine, it needs to get well and then perhaps it can get on with the job. The problem I have is that the CJC has not told the public about its glaring ethical impediment to its involvement now and that its deception is of the highest order. It is impossible to dissociate the shredding from what was actually shredded. They are both sides of the same coin.

We have already seen what happens to other people who go to the CJC on matters associated with the Heiner inquiry, and now it is inviting more public servants to face potentially the same fate. We have seen Mr Lindeberg disgracefully ridiculed in public by the CJC over his efforts to see the truth emerge. I hold a genuine fear for other people who might believe that the CJC comes to this matter with clean hands for I believe they could suffer the same fate as Mr Lindeberg. I am sorry to have to say that, but the CJC's credentials in relation to the shredding and anything to do with the Heiner inquiry are very much in doubt.

Mr Lindeberg made it quite plain in evidence to the Senate inquiry that he views the CJC's handling of his allegations as biased and contrived to obstruct the truth coming out. Mr Lindeberg's serious assertions, in my view, should be heard by the new Parliamentary Commissioner for the CJC, Ms Julie Dick SC, as soon as possible.

When this new evidence emerged in the Courier-Mail, the Queensland Premier, Mr Borbidge, publicly suggested that barristers Messrs Morris QC and Howard had looked at the Newnham revelations. That is quite untrue. Mr Morris QC has also dissociated himself from the Premier's comments. I must say that either the Premier was being unacceptably dismissive of them or he is so misinformed as to be out of his depth on this matter--as he is on many matters, I might add--and that is very sad indeed. The Premier further suggested that the Newnham revelations had gone to the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions. That also is untrue.

As for Mr Beattie, he wants the CJC to look into the matter. I am afraid that is a joke, and a sick one at that. The CJC is so compromised in this affair that any investigation into the shredding and related matters, including the fresh revelations, must include the CJC's handling of the Lindeberg allegations.

Finally, the scale of the corrupt tentacles associated with the shredding is so vast and so serious that it warrants the appointment of a special prosecutor who can take and hear evidence in public under oath and prosecute where necessary. Really we can have nothing less. The system itself is on trial. This matter touches the office of Governor in Council; the office of Cabinet; the office of Crown Law; the FOI Commissioner; the Queensland audit office; the Queensland police; the CJC; senior public servants, retired and serving; a trade union; and goes as far as a credit union. The time to act is long past. Justice has been delayed for too long for people like Mr Lindeberg. The Australian Democrats have continued to be the only political avenue for Mr Lindeberg to pursue justice in this matter. Both of the major parties have failed Queensland and Mr Lindeberg, and that failure continues to this day.

If we condone the shredding and ignore these recent revelations by further inaction, dithering and dodging, it will show that we have lost the plot about what a decent society means. We will have reduced ourselves to a state of ridicule and anarchy. This is above party politics. The Australian Democrats demand action to get to the truth of this matter immediately and in full.

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