Child protection inquiry hits early snag

Less than an hour into the first directions hearing for the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry, the proceedings hit a roadblock.
Nanjing Night Net

Following opening submissions from Queensland Child Protection Commissioner Tim Carmody, SC, counsel assisting the inquiry, David Rofe, QC, previewed his intention to appeal for Mr Carmody to recuse himself from the proceedings.

Mr Rofe was appearing on behalf of Kevin Lindeberg.

Mr Lindeberg was a union official representing staff at the former John Oxley Youth Detention Centre in 1990 and has long pressed for an inquiry into the shredding of documents related to child abuse, including the rape of a 14-year-old girl, after the Goss government aborted an inquiry into the centre.

Mr Carmody was the head for the now defunct Queensland Crime Commission when it was criticised by a submission to a 2004 standing committee looking into legal and constitutional affairs for “extraordinary inaction” to investigate rape complaints “despite having a standing statutory reference” to investigate and “for not holding a public inquiry into the shredding issue”.

The Heiner affair, as the “shredding issue” has become known, after Noel Heiner, who was the former magistrate appointed to head up the ultimately aborted inquiry in 1989, has been an issue which has dogged Queensland politics for more than two decades.

The Heiner affair has the potential to be raised again in this latest Commission of Inquiry into Queensland Child Protection, as it falls into the scope of the inquiry’s “terms of reference 3e”, which, as counsel assisting the inquiry, Michael Copley, SC, explained, obliges the commission to “review the adequacy and appropriateness of any response of and action taken by government to allegations including any allegations of criminal conduct associated with government responses into historic child sexual abuse in youth detention centres”.

“Prima facie, this term of reference potentially calls for a forensic examination of how all past state governments have acted in responding to historic child sex allegations in youth detention centres and investigating any alleged criminal conduct associated with such responses,” Mr Copley said in his opening statement.

“Historic child sex abuse is also a term of uncertain meaning and scope, however the term of reference does seem to be wide enough to include a reconsideration of obstruction of justice claims arising from the suspected shredding of evidence given to an inquiry set up in 1990 to investigate allegations of a pack-rape at the John Oxley Youth Detention Centre at Wacol.”

At the directions hearing this morning, Mr Carmody, prefacing his comments that, as the matter occurred more than a decade ago, his memory was “vague”, said he recalled a meeting where he was handed a “dossier supporting a call for a public hearing into the original complain and the possible shredding of documents” that he agreed to look at.

“I believe I discussed with the assistant crime commissioner in line with standard procedure about having him assess the supporting material,” he said.

“The reality is my tenure as crime commissioner was going to end, I think, within a fortnight of that meeting, and the Queensland Crime Commission functions and activities were going to be transferred to the newly created Crime and Misconduct Commission.”

Mr Carmody said he would then hear arguments or submissions from “any” parties about the scope of the term of reference 3e and his role inquiring into it.

That’s when Mr Rofe spoke, addressing the hearing with his intention to apply for Mr Carmody to “recuse himself” from the commission.

Mr Rofe said he would outline his reasons in a submission to be lodged with the commission by the end of the week.

Mr Carmody said, given Mr Rofe’s intention, he would not feel comfortable taking any further steps in the inquiry until the matter had been heard and determined.

The inquiry was adjourned until early next week when Mr Rofe’s submission will be heard.

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