Ministers involved in shredding of ‘Heiner Affair’ papers may be guilty of criminal offence

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25 years after allegations of sexual abuse at the John Oxley Youth Detention Centre in the 1980s, Commissioner Tim Carmody, QC, has delivered his final reports on the long-going investigation into the shredding of documents by the Goss Government in 1990. Although the reports found no grounds for cover-up, Queensland Attorney General, Jarrod Bleijie (pictured above) stated that cabinet ministers are not out of the line of fire just yet.

“While the inquiry found there was no factual basis that the then Goss Government destroyed the documents in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse in youth detention centres, questions still remain,” Bleijie said in a statement following the conclusion of the investigation.

“The very act of shredding the documents may have been unlawful and I will consider the report’s recommendation to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions.”

A recommendation to the DPP could potentially put everyone from former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss, former Treasurer David Hamill, former Attorney-General Dean Wells and former MP Anne Warner in the firing line. Furthermore, the then chief-of-staff – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – would also be closely examined in any trial into the matter.

WHAT IS THE HEINER AFFAIR?

Following a inquiry headed by retired magistrate Noel Heiner into the John Oxley Youth Detention Centre in 1989, Whistleblower and former union official Kevin Lindeberg argued that the inquiry produced documents alleging child abuse. The inquiry was soon abandoned as the incoming Labor government won power from the Nationals, and the documents – including the details about the rape of a 14-year-old Aboriginal girl – were shredded after a Cabinet decision in early 1990 by the newly elected Goss Government.

18 years after the shredding of the documents, Lindeberg lodged a complaint to the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee (PCMC) in February 2008, and referred concerns about the handling of the affair to the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) and its predecessor body, the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC). Attached to the application for review was a nine-volume audit produced by David Rofe, QC,  that contained details of 68 alleged charges that he believes could be brought against public officials past and present.

Such officials include Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the Governor-General Quentin Bryce – who allegedly took no action after requesting and receiving a report on the affair from then Premier Peter Beattie in 2003 – and six serving Queensland judicial officers. The review also included a statement of concern sent to Mr Beattie in 2007 from prominent legal figures, including former Chief Justice of Western Australia, David Malcolm, among others.

In late 2012, a two week (soon-turned 44 day) hearing into the allegations began, centered on the apparent knowledge of sexual and physical abuse of adolescents at the John Oxley Youth Detention Centre in 1988 and 1989, and the involvement of the Goss Government in potentially covering up the matter by destroying vital evidence from the original inquiry.

REPORT FINDINGS

The reports handed down on Monday – after a year of deliberation and $9 million later – clearly concluded that the original inquiry heard almost nothing about child sexual abuse, rather testimonies from hours staff unhappy with the way the centre was being run. It also concluded that the Labor government did not cover up child abuse, with Mr Carmody calling the accusation “scandalous, disingenuous and groundless”.

However, the reports did find that a jury could conclude the Labor cabinet handed the documents over for destruction “to ensure that they could not be used in evidence if required in an anticipated judicial proceeding,” and that in itself, is a crime.

“Therefore, strictly as a matter of law, each of them is at risk of being convicted of an offence against Section 129 of the Criminal Code for their role in making cabinet decision number 162 of 1990,” Mr Carmody stressed.

Under s 129 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld), “A person who, knowing something is or may be needed in evidence in a judicial proceeding, damages it with intent to stop it being used in evidence commits a misdemeanour.”

The maximum penalty for such an offence is 7 years imprisonment.

The 700-page report – which includes 121 recommendations in to child protection – is expected to be the ‘blueprint for child safety for the next decade’, after spanning for 44 days, and receiving 443 submissions, held more than 150 meetings and examined a wide range of literature on child protection. The recommendations include a return to locking up a small number of deeply troubled teens to ensure they receive proper counseling and guidance, and that the creation of a secure care facility would be a last resort for children at serious risk of harm to themselves or others.

Significantly, the report recommended that the Queensland Attorney-General hand the matter over for further legal investigation, with Bleijie stating on Monday, “I will consider the report’s recommendation to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
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We will update any further developments in the aftermath of the Heiner Affair.

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