In March 1990, the Queensland State Government had an enquiry underway into alleged irregularities at the Queensland John Oxley Juvenile Detention Centre, including the alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl. The Queensland government shut down the detention centre enquiry because of advice the detention centre enquiry had not properly been constituted to protect against defamation claims. To cap things off, the Queensland government destroyed the evidence which had been given to the enquiry in what became known at the time as “Shreddergate”.
The debate about this matter continues to the present time. On the day he was sworn in as the current Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, indicated that he would revisit the issue of the aborted detention centre enquiry and the shredding of documents. He did this by stating that the current Queensland government enquiry into child protection (‘the Carmody enquiry’) would cover issues relating to the detention centre enquiry and the shredding of documents. “Shreddergate” has just come up under the proceedings of the Carmody enquiry.
The aborted detention centre enquiry also has a continuing political aspect in that a key figure alleged to have been involved with the shredding of documents was the then-Premier’s chief of staff, Kevin Rudd. Mr Rudd later went on to become Prime Minister. In 2007, just prior to becoming Prime Minister, Mr Rudd indicated that he would use government resources to reopen this old case. He did not do so in his time as Prime Minister.
Why the matter is considered to be so serious is that many prominent legal people considered that the action of the government constituted an offence of destroying evidence and obstruction of justice. Oddly, one of those prominent legal people who had been pushing the issue was Mr Barry O’Keefe, of the Catholic Church’s PR unit for the current royal commission. Credit where credit is due, in this regard.
By sheer coincidence, this author was having a first meeting with Queensland government officials about the children’s homes abuse issue on the day the Queensland government decided to have the abovementioned documents shredded.
For a very good, detailed account of the controversy concerning the shredding of the documents and related matters, the reader is referred to this website: http://www.heineraffair.info/. Another person who has long pursued this matter is the former University of Queensland Professor of Journalism, Bruce Grundy. He is currently journalist-in-residence at the University of Queensland. His activities can be accessed at the website http://justiceproject.net/content/Contact.asp.
Just yesterday, the Carmody enquiry heard evidence from the former Queensland government Minister in charge of the detention centre at the time of the detention centre enquiry when the documents were shredded, Anne Warner. Ms Warner explained that originally Cabinet had hoped to store the subsequently shredded documents in the State Archives, however, because of impending new Freedom of Information laws (which could potentially have given people access to the documents for the purposes of compensation claims against the government), the decision was taken that it would be best to destroy them. Mr Michael Copley, counsel assisting the Carmody enquiry, put it to Ms Warner that, “In the end Cabinet decided that the best interests of the vast majority were better served by destroying the documents rather than keeping them.” Ms Warner said, “Yes. For the greater good.”
There are lessons to be learned from the above situation as they relate to the current (federal) royal commission into child sexual abuse. The extended periods of time between stages of the above two enquiries (detention centre and Carmody) contributed to confusion of the central issues and also allowed unusual behaviours such as shredding documents to occur.
It is now over three months since the Australian Prime Minister announced the current federal royal commission. In that time, there has been very little, if any, activity by the commissioners. However, interested parties such as the Catholic PR unit have been working full-time on their preparations. There has been no indication as yet as to when the highly paid commissioners will actually commence any form of public activity. The longer this process is delayed, the more likely it is that complications like the above could potentially arise. Not only should justice be done, it should be seen to be done, and at present we have seen very little.
While it is not at all suggested that the legalistic and political intrigues pertaining to “Shreddergate” are at all in evidence at this stage with regard to the royal commission, there should be protections against anything untoward of this nature happening. One of the best way for such protection to occur would be to ensure that anyone tempted to do anything amiss is not afforded sufficient time to do it. What this means in practice is that the longer the royal commissioners take to get proceedings underway, the less chance that true justice will be delivered to the many, many victims of child sexual abuse that has occurred within Australia’s institutions.
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TOMORROW: Shared lawyers
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)