Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry News and Updates

Naive cabinet shredded Heiner papers to 'protect employees from defamation'


The Australian 

April 23, 2013 1:05PM

A FORMER Queensland government minister has told an inquiry cabinet decided to shred internal documents because they were inexperienced and wanted to protect employees from defamation.
Then-Labor government Attorney-General Dean Wells told the Queensland Child Protection Inquiry the 1990 order to destroy documents from an investigation into a youth-detention centre was the Cabinet's baptism of fire as the first "damned if we do, damned if we don't" 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 controversy.
Mr Wells said the executive was told there was no legal impediment to the shredding but said their decision may have been different if Cabinet had known more about the procedures and policies of government.
"We had been out of office for 32 years," Mr Wells said.
"We did not know what was normal and within the area of the Cabinet's 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 Heiner's 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 scandal has dogged successive Queensland and federal Labor governments, notably that of former prime minister Kevin Rudd, and has prompted 11 reviews. Proponents of the coverup theory argue there is a case to investigate senior public officials including governors, judges and politicians for their alleged role in the conspiracy.
Mr Wells said neither he nor other ministers looked at the files before ordering their disposal but were told they contained "scuttlebutt".
He said there was no understanding the issue would prompt "so much trouble".
"Almost the entire focus was what does sound policy required of us in these circumstances," Mr Wells said.
"Should we be keeping files in government (with) .. defamatory allegations that are untested about our own employees. That thought was absolutely outrageous."
He said it wasn't "a goal" to destroy the documents but acknowledged that was the outcome.
Commissioner Tim Carmody was this month granted an expansion to the terms of reference to allow him to make findings even if the evidence reveals there is no link to child sexual abuse.


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