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Email sent 10/10/07

The Editor
The Australian

Shredder-gate isn't necessarily 'much ado about nothing'

Recent Australian articles have seemed determined to downplay Queensland's Shredder-gate / Heiner affair. For example, it has been variously suggested that:

  • continuing interest in the controversy over the destruction of the Heiner documents in 1990 is being driven by extreme right-wingers and conspiracy theorists (Roberts. G., 'Far Right behind Shreddergate bid', The Australian, 5/10/07);
  • the real source of the problem was the incompetent establishment of the Heiner inquiry by a previous government (Thomas H. 'Much ado about nothing', The Australian, 10/10/07);
  • Queensland's Cabinet was acting properly on Crown Law advice in ordering the Heiner documents' destruction (Thomas op cit); and
  • the issues involved have been thoroughly investigated (Roberts op cit; and Thomas op cit).

Unfortunately such assertions seem simplistic and misleading, because:

  • from my observation of the development of this affair, it seems that those who have primarily pursued it have no detectable political affiliations. Moreover, having attempted a study of the conspiracy theory genre, I doubt that ignorance of practical affairs (the typical characteristic of such theorists) has been a major factor;
  • it has been credibly argued that the way the Heiner inquiry was established was not a critical flaw (see Red Herrings and the Heiner Documents);
  • no one seems able to identify any of the numerous claimed 'investigations' that were both (a) properly set up to deal with the the destruction of the Heiner documents and (b) found that there was no case for those responsible to answer (see my earlier email, Shredder-gate: A 'Cock-up' AND a Conspiracy?,19/9/07);
  • the question of whether official advice to the then Queensland Cabinet about destroying the Heiner documents was paralleled by advice that doing so would actually be illegal apparently remains in contention.

It has also been implied that the only motivation for anyone to still pursue this affair would be a desire for political advantage by perhaps entangling Mr Rudd, the present Opposition leader who had a central role in the Goss administration in 1990 (eg Thomas, op cit).

However, while hopes for political gain undoubtedly motivate some interest, it may well not be the most important consideration. Reasons for this become more obvious on consideration of the context in which Shredder-gate arose.

In my earlier email I commented on, and generally endorsed, the suggestion of an Australian editorial (19/9/07) that the Heiner affair represented a 'cockup' by the Goss administration. Moreover, I suggested that:

  • there also seemed to be a conspiracy of sorts to cover this up - presumably to protect the careers of those responsible; and
  • under the Goss Government probable 'cockups', that were covered up in dubious ways, were not limited to the Shredder-gate affair.

However, there is a broader picture that needs to be be considered.

The Goss administration's main agenda was reform of Queensland's whole system of government, as a result of evidence of corruption and defective political institutions exposed by the Fitzgerald inquiry in the late 1980s. But that 'reform' process was neither effective nor 'straight' - and those facts had a potential relationship with Shredder-gate in 1990.

Firstly, the highly centralized / politicised machinery of government that was created simply couldn't work properly either then or now, as a result of the ignorance / inexperience / incompetence of the autocrats given administrative control under the Goss administration (see Queensland's Worst Government). As noted above, 'cockups' and abuses of power to cover these up were by no means unknown.

Secondly, there seemed to be areas of corruption in Queensland that the Fitzgerald inquiry couldn't get around to dealing with. Moreover persons involved in those 'other' areas (along with other established interests) were motivated and perhaps able to gain influential roles in some 'reform' institutions to turn the 'reform' process in directions favourable to themselves. Suggestions about some of those 'other' corrupt areas (eg a significant illegal drug industry; a paedophile network linked to institutions dealing with children; and corrupt members of the judiciary) are outlined in Reform of Queensland Institutions - or a Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?

The latter document refers to various indicators that in important ways the Goss Government's 'reform' process was not 'straight'. For example:

  • the primary goal was clearly to build a political power base, with little concern for practical performance - and there is good reason to believe that a politicised Public Service is more likely to turn a blind eye to corruption than a professional Service;
  • little real progress was made in developing the stronger institutions that the Fitzgerald inquiry had suggested as the best way to combat abuses of power - and abuses apparently now continue. All that has really changed is the political affiliations of those involved;
  • intelligence work by the newly-formed Criminal Justice Commission reportedly led to the view that some 'changing of the guard' in the world of organised crime occurred in the early 1990s - from groups under police protection and Japanese yakuza, to mafia connections and Chinese triads (personal communication);
  • a Police Commissioner who seemed to be taking a real interest in organised crime was apparently framed for corruption and sacked.

The possible link between organised corruption in Queensland and the Shredder-gate / Heiner affair was highlighted in an email I recently received. An observer repudiated my view that the Heiner affair started as a 'cockup' which required a cover-up, and referred to allegations of organised sexual abuse of children at the John Oxley Centre by persons on both sides of politics. If this was actually what had been happening, it would perhaps have been known to the Centre management and led to alarm in some quarters about what might have been alleged to Mr. Heiner in his investigation of the Centre's management.

While I know nothing about the reality of organised high-level paedophilic activity in Queensland, I can state with some certainty that:

  • rumours of a high-level paedophile network involving state institutions dealing with children have circulated for a long time;
  • persons involved in any such network would be highly susceptible to blackmail, and thus perhaps considered valuable contacts by those desiring to exert corrupt influence over legal and government machinery; and
  • the arrival of a person associated with the Goss administration was accompanied by unconfirmable rumours in the Public Service of a prior paedophilic scandal - one that would (if valid) have made that person susceptible to blackmail and corrupt influence, and also perhaps motivated to protect any paedophilic network.

For these reasons I submit that it is unwise for The Australian to act as the leading advocate for the view that Shredder-gate is 'much ado about nothing'. It may be, but it isn't necessarily, so.


John Craig