Full Transcript

Queensland's Secret Shame

Reporter: Paul Ransley


Sunday, 28th March 1999

PAUL RANSLEY, REPORTER: It’s March 1990. In an office of the Queensland Department of Family Services, three senior public servants secretly shred evidence gathered during an investigation into the management of a youth detention centre. The material contains serious allegations from staff at the centre, but for extraordinary reasons the government has ordered be destroyed, the inquiry abandoned. The shredding occurs behind a veil of deceit constructed to prevent people who have a right to the documents learning of their fate. It represents an astonishing abuse of power by a government and its public servants.

NOEL NEWNHAM, FORMER QLD POLICE COMMISSIONER: There was a cover up of illegal behaviour. That illegal behaviour certainly extended to a criminal conspiracy and probably worse

REPORTER: Because of the cover up, it’s taken ten years for the allegations, given to former magistrate, Noel Heiner, to be made public. And it’s clear they should never have been destroyed.

BERYCE NELSON, FORMER FAMILY SERVICES MINISTER: There were allegations that children were being mistreated. There were allegations that children were being sexually exploited. There were allegations that the, there was corruption in terms of staff practices in bringing in drugs and supplying them.

REPORTER: There were allegations that inmates as young as 12 were left shackled in handcuffs to an outdoor fence overnight. Evidence was given that in one instance, a young boy was handcuffed to a grill covering a drain. He spent the night in fear having been told snakes nested in the hole.

NEWNHAM: Quite frankly if you or I did that to kids we could probably finish up in jail and rightly so. That was a cover up of bad treatment of children. Children who were in the care and protection of a crown agency

REPORTER: The government which destroyed the evidence has always claimed it was unaware of those allegations. But today for the first time, Sunday can reveal cabinet ministers did know.

PAT COMBEN, FORMER CABINET MINISTER: In broad terms we were all made aware there was material about child abuse. Individual members of cabinet were increasingly concerned about whether or not the right decision had been taken.

REPORTER: One of the nation’s leading QC’s now argues that the ministers who ordered the shredding, five of whom serve in the current Queensland cabinet, could be charged with criminal offences carrying prison terms.

BOB GREENWOOD, QC: There is potential for them to have committed an offence under the criminal code of Queensland. Section 129. Which deals with the destruction of evidence.

REPORTER: The story of the shredding and what followed as the government attempted to cover its tracks remains a scar on public administration in Queensland. And, even though much has come to light, for some the cover up continues.

GRUNDY: It spreads right throughout the whole of public administration in this state people looking after each other and finding reasons to sort of shove it under the carpet and that’s outrageous

REPORTER: The genesis of this extraordinary saga can be found behind the razor wire of this youth detention centre on the northern outskirts of Brisbane. In late 1989, 24 state wards lived here. Their ages, from ten to mid teens. It was a troubled environment. Earlier that year youngsters had rioted and many were absconding. Staff were also deeply divided over the way the place was run. Some wanted the manager, Peter Coyne, sacked. Others applauded his work. In October 1989, one group produced written statements containing serious, though unsubstantiated, allegations. They were given to the Queensland state services union who passed them to the government demanding Coyne be sacked. It was a call that fell on sympathetic ears. The then minister had separately heard disturbing reports.

NELSON: We felt there was a poor, a poor mix of people, poor staff recruitment, lack of training, lack of any incentive and motivation to achieve any change in the behaviour of these children.

REPORTER: Nelson appointed a retired magistrate Noel Heiner, to investigate the staff’s complaints. She says his task was to determine if the allegations had any substance.

NELSON: I made it very clear that I wanted this to achieve outcomes very quickly and that if we needed to go to a major inquiry that we had the platform in place to take it to a major inquiry.

REPORTER: But within week’s nelson’s plans unravelled. In a December election, her government was tossed from power. The Labor party, led by Wayne Goss, won the treasury benches.

FILE FOOTAGE WAYNE GOSS: December 2, 1989 is the end of the Bjelke Petersen era. END FILE FOOTAGE

REPORTER: A former trade union official, Anne Warner, became minister for family services. She appointed Ruth Matchett as her new acting director general. Two and a half months later they killed the Heiner inquiry. The reason has never withstood close scrutiny.

ANNE WARNER, FORMER FAMILY SERVICES MINISTER: What we did was rectify a mistake that a previous government had made.

REPORTER: Anne Warner, claims the investigation was improperly set up: that because it wasn’t a commission of inquiry, the investigator and the witnesses could be sued by the manager, Mr Coyne and they had to be protected

WARNER: A number of people had in good faith given evidence to what they thought was a properly constituted inquiry and had made various statements and allegations. They were potentially defamatory in the view of the crown solicitor.

REPORTER: But that’s just the first of a number of contradictions in this case. It’s clear from an internal crown law memo, that the investigator was protected.

EXTRACT READ FROM LETTER READ OUT: Mr Heiner would have qualified privilege in relation to any action for defamation against him. I believe the threat of any legal action to be a very unlikely prospect.

WARNER: We didn’t abandon the inquiry as such. Mr Heiner abandoned the inquiry. It came as a huge shock to him to discover that he wasn’t properly indemnified and at that point he said that he didn’t want to proceed.

REPORTER: But the memo from Crown law directly contradicts the former minister. It was written after a meeting between the author and the Director General of the Department of Family Services.

EXTRACT LETTER READ OUT: It appears that the services Mr Heiner is providing or may provide are no longer in keeping with the wishes of the chief executive. Therefore, in my opinion, the most appropriate course is to indicate to Mr Heiner that the chief executive does not wish him to carry out his investigation any longer.

REPORTER: The only formal indication Mr Heiner ever gave that he was uncomfortable about his role was after the family services boss questioned his authority to conduct the investigation. He wrote a letter saying he wouldn’t continue until crown law clarified his position which it did advising he was “lawfully permitted” to do what he was doing. The minister also claims the former magistrate, who declined to speak with us, believed his inquiry wouldn’t go anywhere.

WARNER: He furthermore said he would not deliver any substantial recommendations on the basis of the material he had at the time gathered.

REPORTER: But according to the previous minister he was never going to do that anyway. All he was set up to do was substantiate the allegations and she would then set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry.

WARNER: Well, that’s news to me because I don’t believe it was Mr Heiner’s view of the matter.

REPORTER: But it was Mr Heiner’s view. That was also made clear in an internal crown law memo.

EXTRACT READ OUT: He intended to make findings of fact, but no recommendations in his report.

REPORTER: In other words, Heiner was doing exactly what the previous minister had asked of him. Because the government has never convincingly explained its decision to axe the investigation suspicions have been raised that the staff unions were behind it. That although they had originally wanted the inquiry they had become increasingly dismayed by Heiner’s approach. They criticised him because instead of simply pursuing the case against Coyne, he was exposing wider deficiencies in the centre which ultimately could threatened the jobs of union members.

REPORTER: Did you kill the inquiry because the unions wanted you to.


REPORTER: I mean that’s one of the conspiracy theories?

WARNER: I know. That’s rubbish.

REPORTER: After abandoning the inquiry the government did what the unions wanted. It moved the manager, Coyne, to a desk job at head office. No independent authority ever established that Coyne or other staff were guilty of wrongdoing. And for extraordinary reasons you’ll see later Coyne was legally prevented from publicly defending himself.

NEWNHAM: He was denied natural justice. You’re not allowed to act against somebody’s interests certainly in the public sector, without hearing what they have got to say. After all you might be making a mistake.

REPORTER: Right from the beginning, Coyne’s solicitors and his union representative, Kevin Lindeberg, had been trying to establish that a mistake had been made and were demanding Coyne be given copies of the complaints and be permitted to defend himself.

REPORTER: Did he have a right to those complaints?

KEVIN LINDEBERG, FORMER UNION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. He had a right to those complaints

REPORTER: On what basis?

LINDEBERG: On the basis of the law.

REPORTER: But the government was determined to prevent that. At first, the family services boss, Ruth Matchett, denied she had any complaints about Coyne on his file.

EXTRACT MATCHETT LETTER: A perusal of your personal file indicates no such records are attached. I am not aware of any other departmental file containing records of the investigation which would relate to your request.

REPORTER: It was a remarkable response since 15 days earlier Matchett, had been told in a memorandum that there was a file containing the complaints. It got worse. After written warnings from Coyne’s solicitor’s that legal action was planned, the government secretly transferred them to the cabinet office hoping cabinet privilege would protect them. Crown law said it wouldn’t. So, the minister decided to shred the material.

PROFESSOR BRUCE GRUNDY, JOURNALIST: We learned nothing from the Joh experience. Within days of the new regime they were doing exactly the same kind of trample over the law, trample over a citizens rights that Joh did. The new bunch.

REPORTER: Arranging for the destruction of public documents takes time, so the government invented on a subterfuge to prevent Coyne learning of the plan, lodging a writ to force the documents into the open. The director general…who had earlier denied a file existed…. Now repeatedly informed Coyne that the documents were in the possession of the crown law office awaiting legal advice.

LINDEBERG: Now they’re writing letters in February and March still seeking Crown Law advice when they’ve already got the final advice. So that’s how bad the lie is, but it gets worse than that. The documents are shredded and then there are further letters sent to Coyne’s solicitors saying we are still seeking on going legal advice.

REPORTER: After they had been shredded?

LINDEBERG: After they had been shredded.

REPORTER: And the suggestion was they hadn’t been shredded.

LINDEBERG: That’s precisely right.

WARNER: What’s your view on the actions of the director general. She was misleading Coyne and the union and his solicitors the fact that they could possible get them once some decision had been made.

WARNER: It depended on the advice she received from crown law as to what we would do with the documents. So I don’t believe that that was misleading at all.

REPORTER: But you also don’t tell lies do you? You don’t say the Crown Solicitor is thinking about it when you know that cabinets already decided to get rid of them?

WARNER: No the Crown solicitor was thinking about it.

REPORTER: A second matter which raises questions about the government’s actions was its dealing with the state archivist whose permission was needed to destroy material on the public record. The cabinet secretary wrote requesting her approval. He said the matter was urgent. He also said. The government is of the view the material…….is no longer required or pertinent to the public record.

REPORTER: The archivist was not told about Coyne’s battle to see the documents. She was not told he had a legal right to see them. Neither was she told his lawyers and a union had warned of legal action to secure them.

CHRIS HURLEY: I think she was arguably duped in the first instance by the government who simply didn’t give her the information she needed.

REPORTER: Chris Hurley, formerly Australia’s representative on the international council on archives says if she had been told she should have denied the government’s request. The Queensland archivist, who has declined to speak with us, has also been criticised for taking just a few hours to examine a 100 hours of tapes, transcripts and computer disks and approve their destruction,

HURLEY: The speed with which the destruction was being sought should have rung alarm bells.

LINDEBERG: Just because an executive government may want documents shredded doesn’t mean to say that the archivist has to agree. Because if that’s the case the archivist becomes nothing more than a rubber stamp to the desires of executive government and that’s a very, very dangerous notion in a society that relies upon the proper protection of public documents.

REPORTER: The greatest controversy centre’s on the cabinet’s decision to shred the document. Ministers authorised a cabinet official and the senior archivist to collect the material from the cabinet office in the executive building and take it a 100 metres down the road to the Department of Family Services. There joined by the director general’s executive officer they secretly destroyed everything. The government has always argued that if had the permission of the archivist and was following the advice of the crown solicitor, Ken O’Shea. But that advice was heavily qualified.

EXTRACT CROWN SOLICITOR LETTER READ: This advice is predicated on the fact that no legal action has been commenced which requires the production of those files.

REPORTER: Bob Greenwood QC, one of Australia’s leading barristers, believes that was the government’s downfall because it misinterpreted the meaning of the words “no legal action” and it’s ministers are now vulnerable under section 129 of the criminal code.

GREENWOOD: Any person who destroys documents or anything which is or maybe required in a judicial proceedings commits a criminal offence liable to a period of imprisonment.

REPORTER: Greenwood argues that although court proceedings hadn’t begun the government was told of pending legal action verbally and in writing on at least four occasions by Coyne’s lawyers and his union.

WARNER: I think there was a fair bit of debate about whether or not the letters that were received from Mr Coyne’s solicitors constituted pending legal action and that is a lawyers argument. Now our crown solicitor said and he said on subsequent occasions that was not the case.

GREENWOOD: They have no authority for saying that on my understanding of it. And the precise wording, English words being what they say, any person who knowing that any book, document or other thing of any kind is or maybe required in evidence in a judicial proceeding destroys it etc commits an offence.

REPORTER: If Greenwood QC’s is correct the entire cabinet, five of whom are ministers in the current Queensland government, could be charged the public servants who carried out the shredding could also be charged under another provision.

GREENWOOD: Section 92 of the criminal code says that any person who being employed in the public service does or directs to be done in abuse of the authority of his office any arbitrary act, prejudicial to the rights of another is guilty of a criminal offence.

REPORTER: One more issue casts doubt on the honesty of government officials in this matter. It involves the realisation, after the shredding, that a second set of documents existed. These were the original written complaints, and photocopies, the department had received from the youth workers. They had not been included in the evidence taken by Heiner. The government knew from subsequent crown law advice that Coyne was entitled to that material and it could only be destroyed with further permission from the archivist. Astonishingly, the department gave the originals - back to a staff union. They’ve not been seen since. The photocopies were shredded. Without reference to cabinet or the archivist.

GREENWOOD: It goes to the very foundation of the democratic process that you don’t have governments being a party to cover ups and all this was done in what was supposed to be the post Fitzgerald era of purity of mind of the new look Queensland

REPORTER: After the break Kevin Lindeberg’s battle to expose the truth. Also the evidence that, despite continued denials, cabinet ministers knew of those allegations.

[Commercial Break]

REPORTER: There have always been two views of the Goss government’s decision to abandon the Heiner inquiry and shred the evidence. Generous minds have argued that an inexperienced government simply bungled a difficult issue. It’s motives pure, to protect the public purse and restore peace to the youth centre.

WARNER: I know that I did nothing wrong. I am very confident that my director general did nothing wrong and that we did things for the reasons we said we did them.

REPORTER: But the other argument goes like this.

NEWNHAM: I think they all behaved quite badly. They neglected what the law and their ethics required.

REPORTER: A series of extraordinary events that followed the shredding have only encouraged claims of a conspiracy. The first involved the union organiser, Kevin Lindeberg who represented, Peter Coyne. On behalf of his client, Lindeberg had aggressively pursued the release of the Heiner documents after they were shredded he was sacked. One of the reasons given by his boss at the professional officers association was that he had insulted the minister for family services.

LINDEBERG: My boss came back to me and said the minister will no longer deal with you. She said you have threatened her career and the career of senior public servants. I said this is bullshit and there was uproar inside the union itself with other industrial officers saying well what happens if we upset the minister.

REPORTER: Did you have Lindeberg sacked?


REPORTER: He says you did?

WARNER: He’s wrong.

REPORTER: Other members of his union said that there was a pressure from the government to have him sacked.

WARNER: The only thing that occurred was that I bumped into a member of the union’s executive who I happened to know at the airport and I said listen … He makes inappropriate approaches in an aggressive manner towards my staff will you please get him to desist from that behaviour.

LINDEBERG: I didn’t do that. I was just acting appropriately as a union official. What’s the big deal about upsetting an employer.

REPORTER: Gallery owner, Michel Sourgnes, was on the union’s governing council at the time. He didn’t know Lindeberg. But says everyone was aware of the row with the minister.

MICHEL SOURGNES: Minister said she was insulted by Lindeberg and action on the case, wanted him punished. It was a very well known it was a case of retribution.

REPORTER: According to Sourgnes, there were many in the union currying favour with the new Labor government. Lindeberg’s boss, Don Martindale, and other officials later took senior positions in the public service.

SOURGNES: I would say the union were very well doing the government bidding. They were very close. The union never questioned any initiative of the government.

REPORTER: It took two attempts by Lindeberg’s enemies to get rid of him. In the end, the governing council agreed by a very narrow margin.

SEAN CURLEY, FORMER PRESIDENT QPOA: I mean the treatment of cabinet is just simply appalling. It was anti union and people were just shocked by his treatment.

REPORTER: After Lindeberg was frozen out, the government then bought the silence of the centre manager, Peter Coyne.

WARNER: No. We weren’t buying his silence at all. He was given what I thought was a pretty fair payout.

REPORTER: A year after, he’d been moved from the detention centre Coyne received a special redundancy payment of $27,000. In return he was forced to sign this deed of settlement banning him from ever discussing this issue again…even with former colleagues.

LINDEBERG: They wanted to keep a lid on it and get Mr Coyne out of the system.

REPORTER: And what makes it look so contrived is that he wasn’t strictly entitled to most of the money which purported to compensate him for travelling and unpaid overtime.

LINDEBERG: Mr Coyne was gazetted from Wacol to Brisbane which cancelled out any right for any claim for excess travelling time... Also under the award Mr Coyne was at a classification where he was paid a flat rate where you don’t get paid overtime.

WARNER: When people to terminate their employment they seek some negotiation. That negotiation was entered into. The results of that negotiation were no excessive in my opinion.

REPORTER: With the inquiry axed, the evidence shredded, Coyne silenced and Lindeberg out in the cold, the matter should have ended there. After all the child abuse allegations were still a secret. But no one banked on Kevin Lindeberg and the sense of injustice. Gnawing at his insides.

LINDEBERG: The initial act, it can be said, was a great lie. That you can shred documents in order to prevent them being used in court without offending the law. The system then went into action to cover it up. But the system can only survive that type of activity providing if you like, one person doesn’t accept it.

REPORTER: The first door he knocked on belonged to the criminal justice commission, the body responsible for keeping Queensland’s public officials and politicians honest. He complained to its investigators that cabinet had broken the law by shredding the documents. The CJC followed up his information by writing just one letter to the cabinet secretary.

LINDEBERG: The then secretary, Mr Stewart Tate, wrote back to the CJC saying look these documents about the Heiner inquiry are defamatory etc. They got permission of the archivist. That’s it. On that one letter they dismissed the case.

REPORTER: The head of the complaints department said the CJC did it’s job.

MICHAEL BARNES, QLD CRIMINAL JUSTICE COMMISSIONER: Before an elected person could be found guilty of official misconduct you have to prove their actions could constitute a criminal offence. We came to the view that once it had been established they were acting in accordance with properly obtained crown law advice you couldn’t prove that had occurred and therefore there was nothing further for us to investigate.

REPORTER: Did you determine whether the legal advice was correct?

BARNES: Yes we did. We agreed with it and no one of note has disagreed with it as far as I am aware.

REPORTER: Greenwood QC he is fairly substantial. He suggests that advice was well flawed?

BARNES: I’m aware that some people think that legal analysis is open, but as I said Crown Solicitor disagreed with that opinion, as did the DPP. The fact that Mr Greenwood or other lawyers may have a different view is neither here nor there in my opinion.

REPORTER: Lindeberg went to the media and forced a second investigation.

This time an outside barrister, Noel Nunan, was hired. After interviewing Coyne and Lindeberg he wrote just one more letter.

LINDEBERG: It was written to Miss Matchett requesting information about the payment of $27,000 to Mr Coyne.

REPORTER: What was Nunan’s finding?

LINDEBERG: He found no official misconduct. This is what the CJC’s investigation boils down to is two letters.

REPORTER: As a result of these two investigations the CJC now claims it has thoroughly examined the matter.

BARNES: I think it had been investigated to the nth degree.

REPORTER: But I’m sorry, how could you call writing two letters and separate investigations to the nth degree. You didn’t talk to any of the witnesses, you didn’t talk to Mr Heiner, you didn’t talk to the archivist.

BARNES: We had no need to talk to those people to determine the issues that we had to determine. It is not for us to second guess the merits of government decisions. We can only determine whether or not there’s been official misconduct.

REPORTER: But two years ago, at a royal commission investigating the CJC, it’s own counsel conceded the organisation didn’t pursue the Lindeberg’s complaints as well as it should have.

EXTRACT LETTER: The Commission accepts that in hindsight it could have investigated the matter more extensively and could have gained access to documents which may have led it to come to a different conclusion about certain aspects of this affair.

REPORTER: There’s also a bizarre twist to the CJC investigation. After he was interviewed, Lindeberg received a copy of the tape recording. It contained a puzzling drop out right at the spot where the investigator had expressed an opinion about conspiracy theories. These were his words:

LINDEBERG: If I had to choose between a cock up and a conspiracy I would choose a cock up every time.

REPORTER: Lindeberg believes the comment may have been erased to prevent suggestions the barrister’s mind was closed to the wide ranging allegations.

LINDEBERG: The words plainly in my view and in the view of other people give an indication of mindset. It says Kevin, I don’t care what you are going to say to me it is a cock up. It is not a conspiracy.

BARNES: Mr Nunan denies that he obliterated the tape .. experts can’t tell us whether anything was deliberately obliterated or whether there has been some malfunction .

REPORTER: That might have indicated a mindset?

BARNES: It might have done that but I would suggest the mindset is one that many people would share.

MOODY: Well in the absence of having the original tape and the original recording equipment it was very difficult to establish exactly how this gap appeared.

REPORTER: Professor Miles Moody, is an expert in signal processing who analysed the recording.

MOODY: Well, it seems unlikely to have happened by accident.

REPORTER: At the same time there’s no hard evidence it was deliberately erased. What reinforces suspicion is the gap itself. It starts right at the end of a sentence and continues to the beginning of another. Professor moody estimated the chances of that happening by accident to be 1/2500

REPORTER: What does that tell you?

MOODY: Well, that would be a situation you would have if someone tried to erase a complete sentence for instance.

REPORTER: The CJC finally wiped its hands of Lindeberg in early 1993. So, he took his complaint out of Queensland to a senate committee considering a bill to protect whistleblowers. After hearing Lindeberg, the senate recommended Queensland launch an independent investigation. The premier, Wayne Goss, refused saying the allegations had been investigated. Lindeberg then went to the Queensland police.

LINDEBERG: I pointed out to the Police Commissioner that this matter was to come before the Australian Senate .. and I have a letter in my possession signed by Assistant Commissioner Williams that says they believe the Senate is the appropriate body to investigate the allegations and once they had handed down their finding, they’d take the matter up.

NEWNHAM: That’s unprecedented in my view. I have never heard of police agencies saying the Senate should investigate criminal allegations.

REPORTER: And, although the police told Lindeberg the senate was the appropriate forum, they and the rest of the Queensland government refused to co-operate with it. Nevertheless, the second senate inquiry held six public hearings and heard from scores of witnesses including the CJC whose stout defence of its own position caused controversy.

SENATOR JOHN WOODLEY: What happened of course as the inquiry went on we became more and more disturbed about the evidence the CJC was giving in a number of cases …I have to say they sailed very close to the wind as far as I am concerned.

REPORTER: That’s a pretty serious thing to say about the CJC?

WOODLEY: WellOh it is.

REPORTER: The committee’s report was critical of the Queensland government. It said the inquiry was “conducted without proper regard to notions of natural justice to all participants”. It described the department’s refusal to deny Coyne the documents as “ineptitude at best or deliberate deceit at worst”. It said the shredding was “an exercise in poor judgement.” It confirmed the payment to Coyne was “Technically illegal”

REPORTER: But the senate ducked the question of whether the law had been broken.

WOODLEY: The problem was of course that we didn’t have the documentation we now have, particularly in relation to the Lindeberg case and I regret that we didn’t have that documentation.

REPORTER: Despite all the cost and effort involved a senate committee can’t force a state government to right a wrong if it doesn’t want to. So the useless report was simply filed along with the thousands of other documents gathered by Lindeberg.

REPORTER: A breakthrough came a few months later. The government changed. Voters rejected the Goss Labor government in favour of a National party led Coalition. The new premier, Rob Borbidge, appointed two barristers, Anthony Morris QC and Edward Howard to conduct a thorough investigation of the Lindeberg allegations. They report was finally a stunning affirmation of nearly everything Lindeberg had said.

LINDEBERG: I was elated. My wife…no…because….

REPORTER: You thought it was over?

LINDEBERG: That we’d been vindicated. Notwithstanding that, they had recommended a public inquiry but you see this is only the tip of an iceberg that we had been vindicated after six year’s struggle.

REPORTER: The barristers were unable to investigate politicians because they were denied access to cabinet documents, but they exposed a sordid web of lies, deceit and misconduct spun in the department of family services.

BARRISTERS VOICER: It is open to conclude that official misconduct … was committed by officers of the Department of Family services.” “It is open to conclude that the payment to Mr Coyne involved a criminal offence.” “There is evidence capable of supporting the conclusion.

REPORTER: The report called for a public inquiry. Instead, the Borbidge government sent the report to the director of public prosecutions. After seven months the DPP said that because so many people had pursued the case for so long without any result it wasn’t in the public interest to continue with it.

REPORTER: It must have been devastating for you and your family thinking that it was about to come to an end.

LINDEBERG: Utterly devastating. Utterly devastating. What then comes into play is the enormity of this matter because this is a clear example of systemic corruption how the system covers up corruption.

REPORTER: At this stage Lindeberg was still unaware that the ill-fated evidence given to Heiner seven years earlier including the allegations of child abuse. His first hint of that came in late 1997. It was a dramatic turning point that brings us to the present. And it was almost accidental.

LINDEBERG: I met a youth worker from the John Oxley youth centre who made a comment about this and the fact that after the closure of the Heiner Inquiry he had been contacting the CJC on a regular basis to ask them to investigate the allegations of suspected child abuse.

REPORTER: The youth worker, who wouldn’t speak publicly, has since confirmed to Sunday the complaints made to the criminal justice commission in 1994 and again in 1997 were the same ones he had made to the abandoned Hiener inquiry. But the CJC wasn’t interested.

LINDEBERG: I couldn’t believe it. I mean I couldn’t believe it.

REPORTER: That’s when former qld police commissioner, Noel Newnham, entered the picture. He knew Lindeberg and agreed to carry out an investigation of his own.

NEWNHAM: Some complaints concerned the handcuffing of children… allegations the children had been sedated inappropriately to cope with a management problem, and of course there were allegations of bad management practice in general. Those kinds of concerns were all known in 1989. Quite high up in the department.

REPORTER: Newnham doesn’t accept the argument now being put that the problem was solved after the department moved the manager, Coyne.

NEWNHAM: Moving Coyne didn’t address the issue at all. It only covered it up.

REPORTER: By the time Noel Newnham completed his inquiries the government had changed again. Labor was back in power, but just surviving on the vote of an independent. During a vote of confidence, the fledgling one nation party forced the Premier, Peter Beattie, to table the hitherto secret cabinet documents from 1990. For the very first time the nature of the Goss cabinet’s involvement in the shredding emerged. It was clear ministers approved the shredding specifically to deny Coyne his right to the evidence. Ministers were told solicitors were threatening legal action so the destruction of the documents was urgent.

LINDEBERG: The cabinet knew that once the writ was issued they couldn’t withhold the documents at all. They knew that. They had advice from the Crown Solicitor.

REPORTER: The cabinet documents don’t mention that the evidence contained allegations of child abuse, but the question still arises, were the minister’s told and did they ignore that serious information. Surprisingly, the minister responsible says she didn’t know.

WARNER: At that time I did not have that knowledge.

REPORTER: How could you not have the knowledge, you were the minister?

WARNER: Well, because those matters had been happening before our time in government and you may know public servants do not tell you everything and anything,….

REPORTER: But you were considering killing an inquiry and shredding the documents it contained but you’re saying you didn’t know the full detail of what was in them?

WARNER: No, I didn’t know the full detail and deliberately didn’t know the full detail.

REPORTER: How is it that you didn’t know but other ministers did know?

WARNER: Well, I find that difficult to believe that other ministers would have that information.

REPORTER: Well, we’re told by a former Minister that the whole of cabinet knew, that in a general sense there were allegations involving the mistreatment of children.

WARNER: Well, I’m sorry I don’t believe you would have heard that from a previous minister

REPORTER: Pat Comben was environment minister in the Goss government. At the time. He has an entirely different recollection.

COMBEN: In broad terms we were all made aware there was material about child abuse. That there was material which was said to be highly defamatory and it was accepted on face value that if this matter was of such concern that it got to a level of cabinet decision then those allegations must have had considerable merit and substance.

REPORTER: Why would a former Minister tell us he was aware and cabinet was aware that the Heiner Inquiry had taken evidence of mistreatment of children.

WARNER: He was aware of that. I find that impossible to believe.

REPORTER: Why would he tell us that then?

WARNER: I have no idea why any cabinet minister would tell you that. And I would be very interested to see that particular piece of footage.

COMBEN: Certainly individual members of cabinet were increasingly concerned about whether or not the right decision had been taken.

REPORTER: Comben says he was unaware any legal action was being planned by Coyne’s solicitors.

COMBEN: I think now you look back and say well we made the best decision on the information we had at the time, we should have first of all said lets have a look and do it properly and secondly with some of the material that has come out since you wonder about the totality of the information that was in front of you as you made a decision.

REPORTER: It is possible cabinet might have been misled in some quarters?

COMBEN: I think it is possible looking back and listening to a lot more material these day’s after many years there was perhaps a selective presentation in some areas about the situation.

REPORTER: The public revelations of what Heiner was told in 1989 caused uproar in Queensland and coincided with the exposure of many other disturbing incidents at other institutions over the years. In October the current family services minister, Anna Bligh, set up a Royal Commission chaired by the former Queensland Governor, Leneen Forde, to examine the state’s child protection record.

FILE FOOTAGE: PRESS CONFERENCE FORDE: “It’s important for our society that we face the truth of our past no matter how painful this may be for some of us”. END FILE FOOTAGE.

REPORTER: Kevin Lindeberg and others also want the Royal Commission to investigate the circumstances of the shredding and the cover up. It has refused claiming it does not have a reference to do that.

ANNA BLIGH, FAMILY SERVICES MINISTER: I can find no persuasive argument to spend one more cent of taxpayers money investigating something that has been so thoroughly scrutinised and on every occasion found to be without substance….

REPORTER: Name one organisation that has scrutinised it and said no problems?

BLIGH: I can’t think of an organisation that has scrutinised it and has said there should be further action taken.

REPORTER: Howard Morris inquiry found problems …found there were problems?

BLIGH: You keep using the word found .. they didn’t find anything. They expressed a view.

REPORTER: And identified problems ….

BLIGH: I am not saying there has been no criticism. What I am saying, nobody has found the basis for any further action and in my view the matter should be left to rest.

REPORTER: The Queensland government still seems to believes the stench from this case will dissipate without full and frank disclosure of what happened. Events of the past ten years have taught them nothing. Important questions need answering and people will keep asking them because this is about more than incidents at a youth centre and the actions of a cabinet. Conspiracy or cock up, it suggests systemic weaknesses exist at the heart of public administration in Queensland. Any investigation must consider the roles played by a range of public bodies who failed to address the issue. There are lessons to be learned that could benefit the community at large. And we wouldn’t know none of this without Kevin Lindeberg, who for ten year’s persisted in his quest for the truth.

LINDEBERG: The impact on our family has been very considerable. But despite all the tension the battle goes on to make sure governments are open and accountable.


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