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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 142

Senator WATSON (6:17 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

The Senate and its committees over the past decade have devoted significant resources to inquiring into matters raised and allegations made by Mr Lindeberg of Queensland. Mr Lindeberg has had ample opportunity to make his case. Three inquiries have now been conducted into Mr Lindeberg's allegations that false and misleading evidence had been given to the Senate committees but no inquiry has been able to substantiate the allegations. The committee suggests therefore that there would be little point in Mr Lindeberg pursuing his grievance further in these forums in the absence of compelling new and relevant evidence. The committee did not seek to test its constitutional powers by attempting to summons people who were, at the appropriate time, officers of a different branch of our Constitution—that is, the Queensland government. That would have raised some surmountable constitutional issues and created many precedents. But the number of persons who had been subject to adverse comment under privilege by Mr Lindeberg responded to that comment. Those responses have been printed and presented to the Deputy President. The only new matter raised in the inquiry is an allegation that the Heiner documents were destroyed to conceal evidence of sexual assault at a youth detention centre in Queensland. There is no reason to suppose that Mr Heiner took such evidence. In fact, the House of Representatives report on this matter, Crime in the Community, reported at page 74 that Mr Heiner vehemently denied that anybody told him about a pack rape.

I now want to comment on matters raised by another senator and member of the committee. Senator Harris gave an impassioned speech yesterday on the report of the Senate Select Committee on the Lindeberg Grievance, criticising amongst other things the conduct of the inquiry, especially in its later stages. I am deeply disappointed that Senator Harris has used the privileges of this chamber in such a manner. Not only has he misrepresented the committee's considerations and its report, but he has also made conclusions with scant regard for the evidence or the facts. Senator Harris focused in his speech on the issue of child abuse, but his words in no way reflect the committee's consideration of this issue. In fact, all members of the committee were deeply concerned by the abhorrent acts of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, raised in evidence to its inquiry. But the members recognised that these specific cases could not be resolved in a committee of the Senate. A Senate committee cannot adjudicate on alleged criminal offences. As you know, Mr Deputy President, these are matters for the Queensland legal system, and it is up to them to make a reference or a determination.

Rather than report on specific cases, the committee identified from the submissions and evidence received a number of systemic issues contributing to the occurrence of these abuses. But contrary to Senator Harris's statement yesterday, the committee's report concurred with the view that, had the alleged abuses been thoroughly investigated earlier, future incidents may have been averted. But Senator Harris also spoke yesterday about the Queensland Criminal Code, specifically the section relating to the destruction of evidence. Senator Harris quoted sections from different drafts of that code. But Senator Harris should know that the wording of that section of the code was never an issue for this particular inquiry. What was important were the interpretations of the law given to previous committees and whether those interpretations were deliberately misleading.

Senator Harris, with complete disregard for the evidence, claimed in his speech that Mr O'Regan gave opposing views to the Queensland government and to the Senate. It is simply specious to rely merely on unsubstantiated claims to make such a charge. The committee does not have evidence to support this. The committee has no evidence relating to the legal opinions Mr O'Regan may or may not have given to the Queensland government. To describe the committee's report as `an absolute travesty' reflects Senator Harris's limited engagement with this inquiry—which was indeed unfortunate—and his inability to grasp the specific fundamental issues before the committee. We were not set up to examine the issues of child abuse and rape.

Unfortunately, many assertions were made. Much speculation was presented as `evidence'. In a thorough and impartial manner, the committee unravelled all the allegations before it to focus on those germane to any possible contempt of the Senate. Four such allegations were identified. The first was that contrived interpretations of Queensland law, in particular section 129 of the Queensland Criminal Code, were given to previous Senate inquiries. The second was that a document known as `document 13' was deliberately tampered with to obstruct a Senate committee. The third was that evidence of pack-rape and sexual assault of a minor was deliberately withheld from a previous committee. The fourth was that witnesses failed to disclose evidence relating to a deed of settlement between the manager of the John Oxley Centre and the Queensland government.

In relation to each of these allegations the committee was unable to substantiate Mr Lindeberg's allegations of contempt. In reviewing the evidence and forming its conclusions, the committee was guided by the Clerk's advice that for a finding of contempt to be substantiated a culpable intention must be demonstrated. For example, in relation to the Queensland Criminal Code the committee concluded that the interpretations given by witnesses to previous committees were probably incorrect. However, contrary to Senator Harris's assertions, there was no evidence to prove that the interpretations were intended to mislead those committees.

With regard to the allegation of tampering with evidence, the committee requested that the Queensland government provide an unedited copy of the relevant document so that it could fully test the allegation. The Queensland government did not respond to that request. While the document was not forthcoming, Senator Harris is simply incorrect in saying that the Queensland government refused to provide it. It is very unfortunate that the document was not provided as it was an opportunity for the Queensland government to lay the allegations finally to rest. Without an original copy of the document, the committee made its conclusions on the available evidence, not on the basis of hearsay or rumour. The committee considered that the reasons originally given for altering the documents were perfectly reasonable—that is, certain words in the document had been blacked out to protect the identity of children named in it. The available evidence could not substantiate a finding of contempt in this matter.

On the third allegation, it was not established whether allegations of sexual abuse were made to the Heiner inquiry. This allegation demonstrates that myth and confusion still surround the Lindeberg grievance. Some have claimed, for example, that the Heiner inquiry was established to investigate the mistreatment of children at the John Oxley Centre. While the Heiner inquiry was established at a time when reports of child abuse at the centre were being aired in the media, those issues were not the reason for the Heiner inquiry. The Heiner inquiry related to staff complaints about their manager. As I said earlier, Mr Heiner, in evidence to a House of Representatives inquiry, said:

I vehemently deny anybody having spoken to me about a pack-rape.

The committee could not find that evidence of sexual abuse was deliberately withheld from previous Senate committees. In the fourth allegation, Mr Lindeberg claimed that the payout and wording of the deed of settlement between Mr Coyne and the Queensland government were intended to conceal child abuse and that this intention was deliberately withheld from previous Senate committees. After reviewing all the evidence, the committee found no basis for such a claim.

In addition to his principal allegations, during the inquiry Mr Lindeberg made serious and wide-ranging allegations of personal and institutional incompetence and corruption. Although the committee had serious reservations about publishing these allegations, we did so in order to ensure that Mr Lindeberg's allegations were fully aired. The committee invited the persons and institutions about whom allegations were made to respond. Further to such allegations about individuals and institutions, Mr Lindeberg also expressed dissatisfaction with the conduct and findings of previous Senate committees. In a supplementary submission, Mr Lindeberg has gone so far as to make offensive comments about the Senate itself. Mr Deputy President, as my time is about to expire, I seek leave to incorporate the rest of my speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Mr Lindeberg's supplementary submission states:

`I submit that by deliberate design in the provision of false and misleading evidence, the Senate has become an unwitting accomplice to the Queensland Government's (and CJC) double standards in the application of criminal law. The Senate has had its prestige used as a `clearance come laundering house', affording respectability to conduct, which, had the truth been told or known to the Senate at relevant times, it would have seen it for what it always was: corruption of the highest order—and doubtless would have reported accordingly in its findings.'

Despite fully airing Mr Lindeberg's grievance, including such wide-ranging gratuitous assertions, some members of the Committee are of the view that Mr Lindeberg has not been afforded adequate opportunity to state his case. However, the Committee indulged witnesses by continuing to accept submissions some months after the advertised closing date, giving them every opportunity to present relevant evidence.

This inquiry was conducted with the utmost regard for procedural fairness. The Committee scrupulously adhered to resolutions of the Senate, including those relating to privilege and potential adverse reflections, throughout the inquiry. At several junctures during its consideration of the evidence the Committee specifically sought the procedural advice of the Clerk of the Senate. One of the witnesses, Mr MacAdam, reported how courteously he had been treated by the Committee and commended the professional conduct of the secretariat staff. It is quite inappropriate to suggest that the inquiry was anything but thorough and considered.

As it is, the Senate and its committees over the past decade have devoted significant, scarce resources investigating matters raised by Mr Lindeberg. Two previous select committees took evidence on Mr Lindeberg's grievance as it related to the treatment of whistleblowers. The Committee of Privileges has twice investigated Mr Lindeberg's allegations that false and misleading evidence was given to previous committees. Neither of these inquiries substantiated Mr Lindeberg's claims. Through this inquiry, the Senate has again devoted significant Committee and secretariat resources to investigating Mr Lindeberg's claims. We have analysed voluminous documentation submitted to past inquiries, along with material submitted to this inquiry, without substantiating Mr Lindeberg's claims.

It is obvious from the submissions received and the speeches made in this chamber that the Lindeberg Grievance has become a highly charged matter. The Committee, in its report, has provided a thorough and impartial analysis of the evidence. The report, yet again, supports the conclusion that Mr Lindeberg's allegations of misleading and contempt of the Senate cannot be substantiated. I commend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.