There are lessons for a lifetime in the Heiner affair. I hope I am humble and wise enough to learn them.
The folklore of the Heiner Affair has evolved - for some of us - into a full-blown scandal that according to one submission to the Governor of Queensland should have seen an entire government dismissed. Kevin Rudd had a central role, Quentin Bryce had a central role, the Goss Labor Government shredded evidence to hide the pack-rape of a small girl and other evidence of the sexual mis-treatment of children.Not one of those things is true. Not one.
There are traps in exposing scandal. Many a career has disappeared into a Godwin Grech dead set certainty that wasn't so. But for all the furphies and conspiracy-theories, there are evil organised crooks in our world who do bad things and cover them up. We're better for the finding out - in a world where the 7 deadly sins are the personal mission statement of many of our leaders.
When the cause is right it's worth it. Often painful and lonely - but worth it. And that's the big question - is the case right and worth it.
I have a 3-fold test that I apply to myself each day as I invest more and more of me into The AWU Scandal.
Will this be a finite time - will it finish?
Will it be worth it, worth doing, will the result be important enough to justify the sacrifice?
Am I on the side of right, will I win and be able to say to my children I did the right thing?
As long as I answer yes to all 3 every day, I'll keep going. Sp to another long-standing scandal, the Heiner document destruction by the Goss Cabinet.
Commissioner Carmody's report is a great read. I've been reflecting on my own role in repeating things about the Heiner scandal on the radio - things I now see were false. So I've jotted down a few thoughts about the traps :in scandal-wrangling
- Don't take someone else's word for anything unless that someone is an eye witness or has some other direct first person evidence. Find the source documents if you're going to have considered view.
- For as long as possible, don't take a side. Keep an open mind. Don't be a barracker. If you're on a side, you'll build blind spots so you'll only see the things that support your story.
- Don't take comfort in the calibre and quality of people who hold the same opinion as you - they can be just as wrong as you are too. And know the difference between fact and opinion.
- Read, research, do your homework, then do it all again - you'll see something different the second time.
- Diffferentiate yourself from the rumour mongers. There are plenty - the AWU scandal suffers in the credibility stakes because of the false stories told under the "banner" of the yarn. In the case of Heiner, when you understand the truth about what Heiner's terms of reference were, what he actually did, what was in the statements etc he had - you'd want to pop into a little hole in the ground if you were like me and were thundering on the radio about the destruction of evidence of the rape of a little girl. I believed I was speaking the truth, but I was wrong.
- Make it clear and correct/retract at the earliest chance when you're wrong.
- If you're going to advance an opinion, make sure that you know and can accurately quote the source of the facts that underpin it. There's one howler of a false premise in the Heiner matter which has brought many commentators, me included, unstuck - that is that the Heiner material contained allegations or evidence about sexual abuse of children. It held not a skerrick.
- Check your motivation and try to understand the motives of others who are vigourously participating in the "story of the scandal". At some point the pure motive "get the money back for the union members" or to "get justice for the small children" will start to morph into "prove that I am right". Being right is a very dangerous and costly goal.
- Have a way out. Think of a way to back down gracefully if you're wrong - but never, never compromise your own morality and your ethics as a way out of conflict.
- Never, ever lie. Resist the temptation to "add a little bit" to get the attention of a regulator/decision maker. Never lie. Never.
- Avoid, where possible, interactions or fights with sociopaths. Where you have to take a sociopath on, there will be no negotiated, compromise outcome that agrees on the middle ground. It's you or them, you have to take them out or rest assured the sociopath will be working on sayonara you.
- Have a sport or something to help you go less mad.
Here's my quick review of Commissioner Carmody's report on Heiner. There are two reports, the Heiner bit and the main body report on the main enquiry - available on the commission's website.
Commissioner Carmody's report on the destruction of the Heiner enquiry material
The Queensland Child Protection Commission of Enquiry was headed by The Hon Tim Carmody, QC who was called to the Queensland Bar in 1982 and was appointed Senior Counsel in 1999. He was appointed a Queen's Counsel in June 2013. Commissioner Carmody was the Queensland Crime Commissioner from 1998 to 2002. He served as a judge of the Family Court of Australia from 2003 to 2008, before returning to private practice at the Queensland Bar.
In relation to the Heiner matter, Commissioner Carmody was asked to do this:
And he's done us a great service in settling Heiner. It's not just the accurate record, it's Carmody's method, his distillation of evidence to findings of fact and his logic that provide a "how to" manual for other complex, old and opaque enquiries the community will need to deal with shortly.
The Heiner matter had all the ingredients for self-propogating conspiracy theory - in particular the centrality of the destruction of documents. If the documents aren't there to read any more, it's hard to prove or disprove what was in them. Carmody's method was exhaustive in this regard - I'll show you how he did it later in this column.
Many people, Kevin Lindeberg in particular, have tirelesly driven a push for further and better enquiries into the Heiner affair. Carmody dealt head-on and in a respectful way with each of the claims and submissions made by Mr Lindebergh and others. I hope Kevin can find peace and satisfaction after all these years.
Commissioner Carmody has referred the persons who made the Cabinet decision to destroy the documents to the DPP for a final decision on prosecution. I understand the current Attorney General in Queensland is making his own reference to the DPP on Mr Carmody's report and recommendations.
Here is the very early statement in Carmody's report that colours all else in the Heiner story. Get this right in your mind and the rest will flow. Carmody makes this Issue 1, and he delivers it with a forceful assertion with unusual emphasis and number of adjectives . It's important to understand this point - I know many of you will say it's nonsense, Carmody's wrong. Well, the simple question is this - was there any allegation or evidence of child sexual abuse in Heiner's material? The answer, the finding of fact is no. Carmody expands on how he arrives at that finding later and so will I.
Here's the lesson for all of us. The contention that the Heiner material did include sexual abuse evidence was so strong and certain that lots of people just repeated it. I did. I was wrong.
Carmody points out these letters from Kevin Lindebergh in his various calls for enquiries and the dismissal of governments. It's easy to see the story develop and get "stronger" over time. I'll bet Kevin truly believes in what he's written, we're all capable of that.
Kevin Lindebergh wrote to the Queensland Governor in February, 2003, calling for the Governor to dismiss the Executive Government unless it agreed to appoint a "Special Prosecutor" to investigate what he called the Heiner Affair. Mt Lindbergh asserted that prior to the destruction of the documents by the Goss Government, it had in its possession and control known evidence of the abuse of children going to the offence of criminal paedophilia.
In a previous letter to the Governor in May 2002, Mr Lindeberg claimed the destruction of the material was a cover-up in the offence of rape and paedophilia against a 14 year old aboriginal girl at the centre.
In 1999 Mr Lindeberg had written that "the knowledge of suspected child abuse was at the centre of the Heiner enquiry and the abuse was reasonably believed to have been carried out by Crown employees.'
But in September, 1994 Mr Lindeberg wrote that the destruction of the documents "occurred in order to obstruct Mr Coyne's (the former centre manager) known course of justice in court proceedings" (that action had to do with grievances over his treatment and the statements made by his employees to Heiner.
There are parallels with some of the AWU scandal assertions, particularly about the Boulder widows and orphans fund, the death benefit money and its treatment. Sounds compelling - didn't quite happen.
So, with the documents destroyed, how can Commissioner Carmody be so sure about what was in them? He notes that Mr Heiner and two others have passed away and he notes that the evidentiary base will be thus incomplete. I don't think Mr Carmody needs to apologise too much. Listen to what he did.
About 100 people worked at the John Oxley Centre between 13 November, 1989 and January, 1990.
Mr Carmody found them. Of the 100, 72 people gave evidence to the Carmody Commission to say that they were not interviewed and did not speak to or give any statements to Noel Heiner in his investigation.
27 people said that they were intervied or gave a statement to Heiner. Each of them was brought before the Carmody Commission to give evidence under oath. The summaries of what each person said are in the final report. No one recalled reporting sexual abuse claims.
Much is made of the claim that the Goss Cabinet has admitted knowing that sexual abuse allegations were destroyed in the Heiner material. Carmody ran that to ground too.
It is relevant to consider what Ms Warner , the Minister who brought the matter of the Heiner investigation to the attention of the new Cabinet, knew about the nature of the material she recommended should be destroyed. Ms Warner did not look at the material at any stage. She understood that Mr Heiner had gathered what she called testimony from staff. She understod from speaking with Ms Matchett that it involved "low level comments" made about staffing matters. It was only at the time of the Forde enquiry in 1999 that she first became aware of media reports asserting a connection between Mr Heiner's investigation and child sexual abuse.Another member of Cabinet, Mr Pat Comben, said in 1999 that ‘In broad terms we [Cabinet] were all made aware that there was material about child abuse’.
That was not Ms Warner’s understanding and she stated that she contacted Mr Comben about what he had said and asked him what heknew that she did not. She said that Mr Comben replied ‘Nothing’.
Mr Comben testified that Ms Warner contacted him after he made the statement, which had been broadcast on television, and asked him what it was he had been referring to and what it was that he knew. He said that he told Mr Warner that he knew nothing. MrComben testified that he did not know why he asserted that ‘we’ know something. He said only he knew things and he erred inasserting that Cabinet had knowledge of what he knew. He had never looked in the box which contained the material Mr Heiner had gathered. He had never even seen the box. He said that he had no specific knowledge about any matters involving child abuse. Over some period of time he had receivedn complaints at his electoral office about things that had allegedly occurred at the Sir Leslie Wilson Youth Centre, he had received complaints from homeless youths who were detained at the John Oxley Youth Centre and had received ‘low grade scuttlebutt’ from some staff about children being inappropriately treated or inappropriately punished. He said that it was information of this nature which he had in mind when he referred to ‘child abuse’ in the statement broadcast in 1999.
In October 1999 Mr Lindeberg had asserted that ‘knowledge of suspected child abuse’ was at the ‘centre of the Heiner Inquiry’ that ‘supporting evidence of child abuse’ was ‘known to be contained in the Heiner documents’ and that such abuse was reasonably suspected of having been inflicted by ‘Crown employees’..
Finally Carmody and his team found the only known surviving people who had read the Heiner material.
The only people still alive who claim to have examined the material Mr Heiner had gathered are Ms Lesley McGregor and Ms Kate McGuckin. Ms McGregor was the State Archivist. Ms McGuckin was an officer who was employed at the State Archives. On 23 February 1990 they examined the material Mr Heiner had gathered. It consisted of various cassette tapes, computer discs and a number of typed transcripts. Both said that, insofar as they could determine, the transcripts concerned complaints about the actions of management by the staff at the centre. Ms McGuckin thought that if therehad been anything in there about child abuse or similar then it would ‘have stood out,I’m sure’
And that's no real surprise, because that was Heiner's terms of reference (also reproduced in Carmody's report). Heiner was enquiring into complaints about management style.
The outlandish claims and reactions to decisions in the course of the Heiner history have their roots in false assumptions and repetition. Blind repetition. A mix of truth, half truth, wishful thinking and dogged repetition until the "mantras" became unshakable fact, articles of faith to the people - me included - who repeat them.
When I was on the radio on 4BC I saw the public interest in the Heiner matter, it would light the switchboard up. I saw who else was "on board" with the story. People I admired and whose judgement I normally trusted. I got on board too. I would preface statements about the destruction of the Heiner report documents with the false premise that those douments and files contained statements and evidence about the sexual mistreatment of children. Wrong.
It's most unsettling that a new Goss government destroyed the arguably flawed Heiner documents and files. That the cabinet did it is not in dispute. But Kevin Rudd's role in that was minimal and he's not named in The Honourable Tim Carmody QC's report.Read Commissioner Carmody's report. The treatment of that little girl was just awful. But none of that was written down by the late Noel Heiner. And you can't destroy what doesn't exist.