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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2105

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (4:52 PM) —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, I present the committee's report entitled Crime in the community: victims, offenders and fear of crime, volume 1, incorporating a dissenting report, and volume 2, together with the minutes of proceedings.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —by leave—On 21 May 2002 the Minister for Justice and Customs referred to the committee the inquiry into crime in the community: victims, offenders and fear of crime. Crime has an enormous impact on people's lives and the Australian economy, costing an estimated $32 billion each year. Whenever Australians are surveyed, crime is one of the top three issues of concern.

In the first volume of the report, the committee has considered the fear of crime in the community, initiatives undertaken by local communities to reduce and prevent crime and the measurement of crime across Australia. The committee has made a number of recommendations, including further funding for the National Community Crime Prevention Program; standardisation of crime data collection and the introduction of a system akin to CompStat, developed so successfully during the mayoralty of Rudy Giuliani in New York; and the gathering of more accurate information on the extent of crimes committed against women. The volume presents a national perspective of how Australian communities experience and respond to crime and fear of crime. The extensive nature of the inquiry and the submissions received by the committee reveal just how aware the community is of the need for a proper functioning justice system.

The committee received substantial submissions covering all aspects of the inquiry. From New South Wales came very serious allegations of corruption in the New South Wales policing system, including allegations of protection of paedophiles, doctoring of police statistics, corruption of the newly introduced promotions system for duty officers, the failure of the Wood Royal Commission and the systemic failure of bodies set up to investigate such issues. Instead of being applauded for seeking remedies, the whistleblowers received punitive treatment. From the beginning, Labor members of the committee had a difficulty with the inquiry and seemed overwhelmingly concerned as to how it may reflect on various state Labor governments. Hence the attempt by a then Labor member of the committee to prevent former and serving police officers giving evidence of corruption to the committee. Although this action delayed evidence being taken, this attempt was thwarted and the officers gave evidence in February and March 2003.

From Queensland came submissions concerning the Heiner affair, first from Mr Kevin Lindeberg, a man who, in the words of a recent edition of Australian Story, is the David of David and Goliath and is `a pretty powerful human being', and later from Mr Bruce Grundy, journalist-in-residence at the University of Queensland. Mr Lindeberg became the crusader who revealed a cover-up of illegal behaviour by the then Premier Wayne Goss and his cabinet ministers when they joined together to authorise the destruction of documentation of evidence taken by Noel Heiner in 1989. Mr Heiner took evidence in 1989 about mismanagement and abuse of children at the John Oxley Youth Detention Centre in Brisbane. One of those cabinet ministers is currently Treasurer of Queensland in the Beattie government.

Volume 2 of the committee's report therefore focuses on the Heiner affair, the shredding of documents by the newly elected Goss government in Queensland in 1990—documents required in evidence for a judicial proceeding. Earlier this year, a pastor, Pastor Douglas Ensbey, was convicted under section 129 of the Queensland Criminal Code for the destruction of evidence required in a judicial proceeding—the same offence committed by the Goss government, including its cabinet. Thus it seems that, if you are an ordinary citizen, the law is clear: you cannot destroy evidence that may be required for judicial proceedings. However, if you are a government minister in Queensland, the law is different: you can with immunity destroy documents even when you have been put on notice that proceedings are intended, even when the documents contain evidence of abuse.

Given the principle of equality before the law, the committee has concluded, after analysing all the evidence presented to it, that ministers of the then Goss cabinet, who authorised the shredding of evidence required in judicial proceedings, have committed the same offence and should be charged accordingly under the Queensland Criminal Code.

The evidence also shows that a number of senior public servants at the time may well have been guilty of serious misconduct. The committee therefore also recommends that a special prosecutor be appointed, with access to all the documentation, and empowered to call all relevant people to give evidence. Had action been taken in 1990 to clean up instead of cover up, subsequent abuse, which continues to this day, could have been avoided and the culture changed.

I conclude with a shocking example of how the culture remains and was illustrated by evidence of practices in a care facility for the intellectually and physically disabled on Bribie Island, a private sector institution overseen by the Queensland government. The evidence given included a description of punishment meted out to a boy whereby his artificial leg was removed to force him to crawl.

The report goes some way to righting many of the wrongs that have been perpetrated in the Heiner affair. The inquiry has been long and detailed, and in this endeavour I would like to put on record the thanks of the committee to the staff, who are in the advisers box today, who have given an enormous amount of tireless work in gathering material together and presenting it so that public hearings could take place and these reports that I have here today could be written. I would also like to thank the committee as a whole for the work that it carried out even in difficult circumstances. Members of the committee have been in the chamber today. As I said, this report goes a long way towards righting some of the wrongs that have been perpetrated and perhaps restoring some of Mr Lindeberg's life. I therefore commend volume 1 and volume 2 of the report on crime in the community to the House.