The Brisbane Times has omitted pertinent facts from today’s story headlined: 'Goss cabinet knew it destroyed documents wanted for court case'.
The article is based on cabinet documents made public under the 30-year secrecy rule and concerns evidence gathered by magistrate Noel Heiner into allegations of child abuse, sexual assault and the management style at Wacol’s John Oxley Youth Centre in the 1980s.
The Heiner Inquiry had been established by the 1986 National Party Government in such a way that it was judged by the Solicitor-General that witnesses would receive no protection if they were sued for defamation.
Indeed, centre manager Peter Cayne was threatening legal action.
The main point missing from the Brisbane Times story is that there was an independent inquiry by the state’s Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) as early as 1992 in response to complaints by Kevin Lindeberg that the evidence had been illegally shredded by the Goss Government.
The CJC responded to Mr Lindeberg’s complaints on January 20 1993.
The relevant part of the response is: “In your letter dated 13 May, 1992, you have alleged that "the shredding of the Heiner Report was in itself a deliberate illegal act." You have alleged breaches of five Queensland Acts.
“You allege a breach of the Criminal Code s129, which is headed "Destroying Evidence". I note that the decision to destroy the records was made by Cabinet after approval was obtained from the State Archivist. As no judicial proceeding was underway at the time of the destruction of the documents I am of the view that no member of Cabinet has committed the criminal offence referred to.
“The members of Cabinet and those public servants who-actually: destroyed the documents appear to have honestly believed that they had the right to do so because the approval of the State Archivist had been obtained and Crown Law had advised that those who had given evidence would not have the immunity from suit usually applying to such inquiries.
“There is also nothing to suggest that the members of Cabinet and those who destroyed the documents were not acting impartially as the term is used in the definition of "official misconduct" in s2.23 of the Criminal Justice Act 1989.
“When interviewed you could not point to any specific section of the Libraries and Archives Act 1988 which had been breached but you thought that the State Archivist had been misled because she was not informed that the documents were required for the purposes of litigation. There is no offence of misleading the State Archivist and under the Act he or she would appear to have an almost unfettered discretion to decide which public records should be preserved and which records can be destroyed. Therefore I can see no breaches of this Act.
“Whilst I can appreciate the distress and concern the whole episode may have caused you and Mr Coyne, the Commission remains of the view that there is no basis on which to reasonably suspect official misconduct by any person holding a position in a unit of public administration.”
The letter is signed by M A Barnes, Chief Officer, Complaints Section. Official Misconduct Division, CJC
Despite this finding, the Newman Government sought to resurrect the issue in 2013 and referred it to Tim Carmody.
The LNP’s regard for Carmody probably goes back to 1996, when the Coalition Government appointed the Connolly-Ryan Commission of Inquiry, in what was widely seen as an attempt to undermine the Criminal Justice Commission. Carmody was appointed counsel assisting.
The Inquiry was abandoned when it was found to be biased.
The Brisbane Times merely refers to Carmody having ruled in 2013 that the decision to shred the documents was unlawful and that charges should be considered - without putting the matter in context.
The entire issue has been raked over many times over the intervening 30 years but it should be noted that this is not the first time the Heiner Cabinet papers have been released.
On July 30 1998, in one of his first speeches in Parliament as Premier, Peter Beattie broke the long-accepted government convention of confidentiality and secrecy by tabling every cabinet document relating to the Heiner affair in a vain attempt to put an end to the controversy.
*In 1990 I was an advisor to Premier Goss on corruption issues and in 1998 I was Premier Beattie's principal media advisor.