by Piers Akerman
Wednesday, April, 24, 2013

It would seem that Prime Minister Julia Gillard is not the only Labor figure to reach for the naïve defence when the hard questions are asked.

Yesterday, Dean Wells, a former Labor Attorney General in the Goss government, told the Queensland Child Protection Inquiry which is looking into the Heiner Affair that the Cabinet decided to shred internal documents because they were inexperienced and wanted to protect employees from defamation.

He said the 1990 order to destroy documents from an investigation into a youth-detention centre was the Cabinets baptism of fire as the first damned if we do, damned if we dont decision.

He is the third Cabinet minister to be summonsed to the inquiry – the first under newly expanded terms of reference – that is investigating the long-running Heiner Affair disgrace.

We had been out of office for 32 years, Wells said.

We did not know what was normal and within the area of the Cabinets concern.

What we did know that a minister had a problem that an inquiry that had been established by her predecessor had been pulled up.

The Heiner Affair centres on the destruction of documents from retired magistrate Noel Heiners investigation into allegations of mismanagement at the John Oxley Youth Centre.

It later emerged a girl, 14, was raped at the centre in 1988 and claims grew of a coverup of sexual abuse allegations.

The girl, now a woman, at the heart of this matter, still wants justice.

She was awarded approximately $140,000 in a hush-hush ex gratia payment or possibly compensation in June, 2010, by the Bligh Labor government.

Commissioner Tim Carmody asked why the government would offer to indemnify a man, then destroy the documents which might be produced in a court in a case against that same man.

That suggests no one thought about those two colliding facts, he said.

Wells said the government believed it wrong to keep documents which he believed contained untested allegations of misconduct which did not involve criminal behavior.

But Carmody said the Cabinet knew it was dong something quite risky which required serious thought.

It was such a serious decision it was deferred twice, he said.

Yet the Cabinet did not appear to apply careful consideration before green-lighting the shredding.

It (the consideration given) seems to have been less than might have been expected, Carmody said.

The questions that seems to have been obvious dont seem to have been asked.

Carmody suggested the documents contained not so much allegations of child sexual abuse but accusations related to industrial strife inside the John Oxley centre.

But he also suggested there were two competing sides in the equation – one side wanted to keep the material and one side wanted it destroyed.

He suggested the Labor Cabinet had taken one side, and allowed the destruction of the documents.

The inquiry continues and the commissioner is due to decide on the criminality of the shredding of the documents on May 6.

In as much as a number of the most senior judges from across the nation have in the past decided that the shredding of documents foreshadowed to be needed as evidence was prima facie a crime, Carmodys decision will be eagerly waited.

The Heiner Affair has never been properly investigated despite 11 reviews and it has cast a shadow over the Goss Cabinet and a number of senior public servants including the former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who was Premier Wayne Gosss chief of staff and later director-general of his Cabinet office.

It may be that the Newman government will finally see justice done in this long-running scandal.