Too much Cooke spoils the broth

by Chris Griffith
Published 9 August 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


It is like a fly in the soup of reform.

Marshall Cooke QC's suggestion that the CJC investigate official misconduct in unions definitely does not mix with the Goss Government's brew for Queensland institutional reform.

Nor, predictably, is it welcomed by some unions, for example, the Queensland Professional Officers' Association (QPOA).

In a letter leaked last week, the QPOA warned former Industrial Relations Minister Nev Warburton against extending the CJC's jurisdiction beyond public institutions.

"Such a course simply flies in the face of common sense, fairness, justice and practicality," the letter said.

Yet given this role the CJC could investigate some intriguing and disturbing cases - for example, events that led to the dismissal of QPOA senior organiser Kevin Lindeberg, events connected to the demise of former John Oxley Youth Centre acting manager Peter Coyne.

Fortunately the Coyne case falls within the CJC's ambit as Coyne was a public servant, not a union official.

However the QPOA's letter said it was not keen for the CJC to investigate Lindeberg's dismissal because the matter had already been to arbitration.

"Finally, the Association wishes to protest in the strongest terms with respect to the Commissioner's recommendation that any aspect of the employment of Kevin Lindeberg be referred to the Criminal Justice Commission," it said.

However, Marshall Cooke QC recommended all inquiry subject matter (including the Lindeberg case) "be referred to the Criminal Justice Commission for any further action it may deem appropriate" - a recommendation also ignored.

So what is the guts of the Lindeberg and Coyne cases, why are they so intriguing, and what investigations have occurred, if any?

It all began in September 1989. In its dying months the former Cooper Government's Department of Family Services began an investigation into the John Oxley Youth Centre following complaints against Coyne and acting deputy-manager Anne Dutney.

To provide independence, the department appointed Mr Noel Heiner, a retired Stipendiary Magistrate, to investigate the complaints, conduct hearings, and to report to the department.

However, the inquiry's constitution meant there was no legal protection for Heiner or his informants against defamation, nor was Coyne given access to the complaints against him.

Enter Kevin Lindeberg - assigned by the QPOA to represent Coyne. Lindeberg promptly, but unsuccessfully sought access to the complaints gathered by the Heiner Inquiry.

In January 1990, the Crown Solicitor confirmed to the new Goss Government that Heiner and the inquiry's complainants were not immune to legal action, nor indemnified against the cost of legal claims against them.

A letter from CJC chairman Sir Max Bingham to the Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee (PCJC) (dated 29 April 1992) says the department's acting director-general, Ms Ruth Matchett, ended the investigation and took possession of all documents. This occurred around mid January 1990.

However, in early February, Coyne was transferred from the John Oxley Youth Centre to the department's head office for six months to perform "official duties".

Coyne immediately began legal proceedings to gain access to the documents, and Lindeberg says he met with Ms Matchett also to seek access.

On March 1, the QPOA lodged breaches of the Public Service Management and Employment Regulations with the department.

Meanwhile, the State Archivist's opinion was sought. She informed the Secretary of Cabinet that the documents were no longer needed and that "the documents could be lawfully destroyed".

They were destroyed, according to Lindeberg, in April 1990, and Mr Heiner was given indemnity from prosecution.

On May 30th, Lindeberg was sacked from his position as senior organiser.

A letter from union general secretary Don Martindale to Lindeberg, dated 12 July 1990, cited a complaint from Minister Warner over Lindeberg's "inappropriate and over-confrontationalist" handling of the Coyne case as one of seven reasons for his dismissal.

The CJC's initial investigation into these events found it could not investigate Lindeberg's dismissal.

In the April 92 letter Sir Max wrote: "The Commission remains of the view that the matter of Mr Lindeberg's allegedly improper dismissal from his employment is a matter outside its jurisdiction".

However Sir Max said the CJC had investigated whether the Heiner documents had been lawfully destroyed, a factor being whether they were needed for litigation.

Sir Max wrote: "The matter was apparently settled, with Mr Coyne being paid an amount in damages. The documentation thereupon was not further required for the purposes of the litigation."

It concluded "the documentation was not unlawfully dealt with".

According to Lindeberg, Coyne never received damages, nor did he have any agreement with the department for payment at the time of the shredding around April 90.

In fact Mr Coyne went on to complete two six-month head-office secondments with the department before accepting a redundancy package in February 91.

In a letter from the QPOA to the department, dated 12 February 1991, general secretary Jeni Eastwood acknowledged on behalf of Coyne a payment of $27,190 "in addition to the normal retrenchment entitlements".

This "settlement" appears to have been some 10 months after the Heiner documents were destroyed.

It remains unresolved whether the Heiner documents should have been destroyed given Coyne had repeatedly sought access to them.

There is the claim of Coyne's entitlement to view them under the Public Service Management and Employment regulations, and their preservation because of the breaches of regulations lodged with the department by the QPOA and the Queensland Teachers' Union.

The CJC is now assessing again the Coyne case in light of new information. Meanwhile Lindeberg says he is left with nowhere to go.