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Email dated 20/9/07

The Australian

Shredder-gate: A 'Cock-up' AND a Conspiracy?

Your recent editorial seemed correct in identifying the destruction of the Heiner documents by the Goss Government as a 'cock-up'.

My interpretation of your editorial: Shredder-gate was a cock-up, not a conspiracy. Shredder-gate goes back to march 1990 when the new Labor government of Wayne Goss authorised the destruction of several documents - the product of an inquiry set up under Cooper Government. A magistrate, Noel Heiner, was empowered to investigate the management of Brisbane's John Oxley Youth Detention Centre. The decision to destroy the material was made because of the amateurish way the inquiry was set up. Heiner was not appointed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act. He and the Goss government became concerned about the exposure of themselves, witnesses and the public purse to defamation actions. On legal advice and with permission of the state archivist the material was shredded. This was an inappropriate decision, and the public interest would have been better served by giving it appropriate protection. However this was at worst a cock-up, not a conspiracy. However a small band and conspiracy theorists (and political opportunists) see it as equivalent to the grassy knoll. It has been pumped up to ludicrous proportions. Attempts to smear Kevin Rudd who worked for premier Goss at the time are ridiculous. The commonsense advice of Tony Morris, who conducted the first inquiry, should be adopted ('Queensland's Grassy Knoll', Editorial, Australian, 19/9/07).

I should like to suggest for your consideration (for reasons outlined further below) that:

  • it is not difficult to see how a 'cock-up' could have occurred in the environment created by the Goss Government's 'reforms';
  • there seems to have been a 'conspiracy' of sorts to conceal that 'cock-up' to protect inept public administration reformers;
  • that 'cock-up' had adverse implications for some individuals and for the integrity of Queensland's legal system;
  • the Heiner 'cock-up' was by no means the only one with adverse consequences that was apparently glossed-over under the Goss administration.

The real question is what sort of country Australia is. Should the politically well connected be able to abuse power as a result of such 'cock-ups' and escape with glowing reputations, while the less important pay the price? Or is it to be a country where everyone gets a 'fair go'?


John Craig


The 'Cock-up'

The Howard Morris report (Report to the Honourable the Premier of Queensland and the Queensland Cabinet of An investigation into allegations by Mr Kevin Lindeberg and allegations by Mr Gordon Harris and Mr John Reynolds, 10 October 1996) presented strong indicators of incompetence / ignorance / inexperience as probable factors in the original decision to destroy the Heiner documents. It documented management / staff infighting in the John Oxley Centre prior to the Heiner inquiry and a procedurally-obsessed paper war as the Goss administration's response to it.

The latter was characteristic of the lack of realism and practical orientation in Queensland's public sector that grew exponentially when the Goss administration 'reformed' the public sector by centralizing power and replacing experienced professionals with cronies and 'yes men' (see The Context below).

The 'Conspiracy'

There also seems to have been a 'conspiracy' of sorts to cover-up the 'cock-up' - presumably to protect the 'reformers' responsible.

For example, your editorial suggested that the common-sense advice of Mr Tony Morris, QC should be adopted. His advice was reported in a separate article (Thomas H. and McKenna M., 'Shredder claims ancient history, says QC', Australian, 19/9/07).

In effect he argued that the Heiner affair is now history. and is only being raised for political purposes.

While there is undoubtedly some political interest in the issue:

  • the official reason given for endorsing the destruction of the Heiner documents that your editorial mentioned (ie that the Heiner inquiry was not properly constituted) has been described as a 'red herring' by a former Queensland Police Commissioner (see Red Herrings and the Heiner Documents, 27/5/07); and
  • given claims that there have been numerous prior investigations of this matter I directed inquiries to various apparent experts asking them to identify which of those many investigations (a) were properly set up to investigate destruction of the Heiner documents and (b) found that there was no case to answer (see Cleaning Up Queensland's Messes, from 29/8/07). I was unable to get a positive response;

The Consequences

The Heiner 'cock-up' apparently had some real adverse consequences. For example:

  • individuals suffered injustices. The issue that caused concern that led to the destruction of the Heiner documents apparently related to an alleged rape of an under-age aboriginal girl during a supervised outing from the John Oxley Centre. Moreover I have been exposed recently to (unsubstantiated) accounts suggesting that the said aboriginal woman still suffers mentally from the effects of that event, and that the presumed rapist went on to commit murder;
  • the Heiner 'cock-up' apparently gained international recognition as 14th in a list of the worst 20th century scandals in the arcane world of archivists (Archives and the Public Good: Accountability and Records in Modern Society, Quorum Books, Westport, Connecticut & London, July, 2002);
  • legal eagles (such as Mr David Rofe, QC who reportedly recently submitted a 3000 page analysis of the affair which called for the appointment of a special prosecutor) seem to argue that the destruction of evidence needed for a court case contravened the Criminal Code and potentially undermined the integrity of the judicial system as a means for ensuring a fair trial.

The Context

By way of background, I note that I,

  • worked inside government in the first few years of the Goss administration;
  • had a long involvement in study of public administration - and the requirements for effective reform; and
  • was personally exposed to the sort of carry-on that the Heiner 'cock-up' represents (ie to bluster and wordy 'investigations' that did not actually deal with the subject in relation to a clear abuse of natural justice, followed by a refusal to further discuss the issue because it had already been 'investigated' so often).

The purposeless pomposity of those given power to control 'reform' under the Goss Government generated numerous 'cock-ups' - which were generally only apparent internally because that administration had few obvious goals other than 'reform' (see Toward Good Government in Queensland, 1995),

The consequences of those 'cock-ups' have mainly become apparent externally as subsequent governments have struggled to actually achieve practical results with the unworkable machinery that they were left with (see Queensland's Worst Government?, 2005).

Response 21/9/07

Email received 21/9/07 - reproduced with permission


The first victim of the Heiner affair may have been Peter Coyne, the Manager at John Oley Centre, who asked to see the Heiner documents that mentioned him.

He said, correctly, that he had a legal right to see them and this was confirmed by the government solicitor to the head of his department.

THEN Coyne threatened legal action to enforce his rights.

There may have been (and it seems there were) many other reasons for the shredding but the simple and inescapable facts above establish beyond any shadow of doubt that there was an agreement between 2 or more people to deny Coyne his rights - i.e. a simple criminal conspiracy.

It spread, obviously. The facts became complicated and the reasons more manifold, but nothing could change the simple and inescapable facts, not even any shadow that Coyne may have live under. I do not portray him as a hero, but he was certainly a victim.

And he is the easiest victim to identify. The crime against him was crystal clear. That alone required the law-enforcement authorities to act, when they became aware of the facts, and they did not. Instead they chose to sweep it under the carpet and dissemble and lie.

Getting back to basics can sometimes crystallise and clarify debates, don't you think?

Noel Newnham

Email received 9/10/07

Email received 9/10/07- reproduced with permission
on condition of anonymity


RE: Shredder-gate: A 'Cock-up' AND a Conspiracy?

Your suggestion that the Heiner affair mainly reflects a 'Cockup' is wrong.

Rumours that high level people on both sides of politics where involved in criminal activities at John Oxley Centre have been discussed for a number of years. The rumours suggested that people in positions of influence may have had access to the children in this Centre for sexual purposes.

Some people would know what was happening, including the management of the Centre. Some are likely to be issued a writ in a court case to pursue this matter, which I understand is nearing finalisation.

As everyone involved in destruction of the Heiner documents were professional public servants they knew they were committing an illegal act in destroying evidence of a crime, and have subsequently lied, up to and including to Senate Inquiries, you can assume it was not done purely to stop a 14 year old girl from seeking justice.

She was "persuaded " not to press charges, when in fact because of her age the Crown HAD to press those charges and failed to do so. Not by accident.

Lets face it, no one would go to all this trouble just to save two members of a union who happened to be in a supervisory role when the girl was raped. Otherwise we would all join a union if we were about to be charged so the Govt. would shred the evidence against us.

Everyone involved in this has been well rewarded eg, Supreme Court judges; Magistrates. etc. Not one person has gone against the system.

Remember in South Aust. there was a paedophile ring that included judges, politicians etc. and people died who tried to speak out against it. There are articles on the files on SA going back a number of decades where several people were murdered to cover up for a paedophile ring. 

Kevin Lindeberg is close to the final act in all this. He is taking too long but Howard knows all about it. Howard has only been stopped from supporting him by the women's lobby group in the Liberal Party who don't want to see women implicated: as in two Qld. Governors, DPP, Judges, Senior Public Servants.

Piers Akerman did a good job on the weekend [presumably "More calls for Heiner inquiry", Daily Telegraph, 6/10/07] covering off the article by Greg Roberts [presumably 'Far Right behind Shreddergate bid', The Australian, 5/10/07] which claimed everyone is a right wing nut case or conspiracy theorist who gets involved in this. Once again everyone forgets the 14 yr. old girl and shoots the messenger.

Roberts should be asked;
A. Was a 14 yr old girl pack raped;
B. Was the evidence destroyed knowingly when the Govt was advised it would be required for court action;
C. Has everyone lied subsequently to cover it up;
D. Why would anyone oppose this girl getting justice.

Here endeth the lesson.