Kevin Rudd must have been grateful for Peter Beattie’s remarks on Insiders yesterday (though Glenn Milne probably wasn’t).
Beattie has been working to lower the temperature of the local government front of The War on the States, declining to sack or fine Councils which went ahead with polls, and releasing his own government polling showing 73% of Queenslanders support the amalgamations. He also executed a characteristic “listening to the people” backflip, warming to the idea of plebiscites. Beattie’s bet is that the heat will go out of the issue, while John Howard moves on to executing his next rabbit-hat pulling stunt. Howard will no doubt be busy denying that he has any opinion on strip clubs.
But there’s some more Queensland murk being stirred up that might be designed to further muddy the waters for Rudd.
Perhaps not wanting to be overshadowed by his News Ltd colleague Glenn Milne, Piers Akerman has been dredging up a really old story – the Goss Cabinet’s order to shred documents compiled by retired Magistrate Noel Heiner in 1990.
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Heiner had conducted an inquiry into allegations of child abuse, neglect and r-pe at the John Oxley Youth Detention Centre. The inquiry predated the election of the Goss government in 1989.
To put it mildly, it’s a confusing issue. It probably would need the Royal Commission Akerman calls for to make any sense out of it. Without wishing to be too unkind, some of the whistleblowers at the time may have become a tad obsessed about what to everyone else is ancient history. Googling the Heiner inquiry reveals websites that reek just a little of conspiracy theories – including some that lash the media for not highlighting One Nation’s bold role in exposing the truth.
It’s worth observing that the then Criminal Justice Commission investigated the shredding and absolved Ministers of any impropriety. Goss argued that the solicitor-general advised him that the inquiry had not been constituted properly by the previous National Party government, and that the shredding of the records was necessary to protect witnesses from liability for defamation. That was accepted by the CJC.
It may well be that there are still genuine issues and unresolved matters of justice to be dealt with. But it can’t be coincidence that interest rises in this ancient affair regularly before federal elections. Bronwyn Bishop, for instance, discovered a passionate concern about the Labor Party’s alleged iniquities in the Heiner shredding in August 2004. Akerman doesn’t note that the matter was also the subject of a report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which Bishop chaired.
The cynical might conclude that Akerman may realise that his article could spark headlines linking Rudd’s name to child abuse and r-pe allegations. Surely the crusading journo knows that there have also been no fewer than three Senate reports into the Heiner affair.
Of course, there’s no evidence that Rudd had any involvement in the issue. But as I wrote in Crikey back on 12 January about Rudd’s desire to present himself as the prime mover behind the Goss government:
The politics of Rudd’s record in Queensland will continue to play out in the lead up to the election. It might well be a net plus, but there’s also some danger for the Labor leader in highlighting his previous experience. One thing is certain — there’s a lot more on that record than there was in the case of a certain former Mayor of Liverpool.