'Shreddergate' ranked one of last century's worst cover-ups
By Adam Hicks
THE Heiner "Shreddergate" affair in Queensland has been ranked among the worst document-shredding scandals of the past century by an international publication on accountability and record-keeping in modern society.
The United States-published Archives and the Public Good is a collection of articles and case studies by a host of international expert archivists, designed to be used as a teaching tool in universities around the world.
In the book's introduction, co-editor David Wallace said records were essential sources of evidence and information that provide the glue that held together, and sometimes the agent that unravels organisations, governments, communities and societies.
The book rates the Heiner affair among shredding scandals such as the destruction of public records by the South African state in the final years of Apartheid and the destruction of records on Nazi war criminals in Canada.
Journalist Bruce Grundy, who has worked on the case for more than 10 years, said: "It sets the shredding of these documents in the context of some of the most outrageous document-shredding scandals of the 20th century."
The Heiner affair began more than a decade ago when an inquiry by retired magistrate Noel Heiner raised allegations of child abuse in the John Oxley Youth Centre (JOYC).
The inquiry was later shut down by the Goss Labor government, which ordered all documents regarding the case be destroyed.
The book alleges that the documents were shredded to cover up abuses by politicians, bureaucrats, staff and union officials and to prevent legal action that might have resulted.
"It will obviously be ignored as much as possible in Queensland, but it won't be ignored in other places," Mr Grundy said.
Former union official Kevin Lindeberg, a central figure in the affair, said: "The cover-up has put our so called "Smart State" into the category of a rogue state on the world stage of public record keeping and the right to a fair trial.
"What an indictment!"
Queensland One Nation Senator Len Harris said the affairs implicated the Beattie government, which contained ministers who were in the Cabinet room when the shredding decision had been taken.
"They knew the circumstances through which the documents had arisen and against the best interest of the public they chose to order the shredding," he said.
Mr Lindeberg also praised the role of Bruce Grundy, former editor of The Weekend Independent, for publicising the Heiner affair.
"The role of The Weekend Independent and its editor Bruce Grundy in dragging the truth out of government over the years is now showing that the shredding aided in covering up known child abuse at the centre," he said
"It has been independently acclaimed by this internationally important book.
"It is most fitting."
Mr Grundy said watchdogs and the authorities still continue to try to sweep the affair under the carpet.
"But they won't get away with it forever," Mr Grundy said.
ACCC seeks advice
By Bruce Grundy
AUSTRALIA'S powerful consumer watchdog, the Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), has taken legal advice to determine its power "to take action against the Crown Solicitor of Queensland" over the destruction of documents gathered by an inquiry into a children's detention centre in Brisbane 13 years ago.
The action of the commission follows its recent interest in a case in Victoria in which a tobacco company being sued for damages by a cancer victim had destroyed documents relevant to the woman's claim.
At the time the ACCC was reported as saying it would investigate whether the company or a prominent legal firm involved in the destruction process had breached the Trade Practices Act through misleading, deceptive or unconscionable conduct.
The Queensland Independent believes a senior officer of the commission recently flew to Brisbane to examine records connected with the Goss Labor government's controversial destruction of the Heiner Inquiry documents in 1990.
Following that visit, the commission sought legal advice as to whether its misleading, deceptive and unconscionable conduct powers were triggered by the actions of the Queensland authorities at the time.
In correspondence seen by TQI, the commission said it had "acquired legal advice regarding the commission's jurisdiction to take action against the Crown Solicitor of Queensland" over "their involvement in the destruction of the Heiner documents".
The commission said it had been advised that "although Crown Law may act as an independent body from the government now, it is highly likely that this was not the situation in 1990".
Most government departments, the commission was advised, had "only moved to a 'user pays' system in recent years" and therefore it was likely that at the time the Queensland Crown Solicitor was "not acting as an autonomous body".
At the time of the destruction, the government and the Office of Crown Law were aware of the likelihood of legal action being taken in connection with the Heiner Inquiry documents.
The ACCC determined that on the basis of its legal advice it was "unable to take any action against the Crown Solicitor for their involvement in the destruction of the Heiner documents".
In June, TQI revealed a former inmate of the youth centre concerned had lodged a statement in the Supreme Court claiming damages against the state of Queensland for negligence and unconscionable conduct in connection with an alleged rape.
Earlier this year, a former staff member at the centre said he had been questioned by the Heiner Inquiry about the rape of a 14-year-old girl.
He also said staff had been advised by a superior officer not to talk about the incident involving the girl.
- Bruce Grundy is a Journalist in Residence at the University of Queensland