Senators take on Goss

by Chris Griffith
Published 18 September 1994 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Three Senators from three non-Labor parties have warned Premier Wayne Goss they could use their numbers and force a federal inquiry into Queensland's unresolved whistleblower cases unless Mr Goss initiated an inquiry himself.

In what looms as a major clash between the Senate and Mr Goss, Greens' Senator Christabel Chamarette, Democrat Leader Senator Cheryl Kernot, and Liberal Senator Warwick Parer yesterday said a Senate inquiry could review cases of alleged corruption and misconduct which already had been reported to it in submissions by Queensland whistleblowers.

They said the Queensland cases could be examined in detail by a special Senate committee, or could even be the subject of a quasi- judicial Senate-sponsored review headed by an eminent person.

Senator Kernot said an appropriate head could be a former Federal Court judge.

If constituted, a Senate inquiry would challenge the facts and findings of the Criminal Justice Commission's investigations into the unresolved cases.

The three stressed any plan for a Senate inquiry would be considered only if Mr Goss continued to reject a Senate committee recommendation that he hold an independent state-based investigation into the cases.

In separate statements, the three urged Mr Goss to change his mind and initiate that investigation.

The Secretary of the Whistleblowers' Action group, Mr Eric Thorne, yesterday welcomed the development, saying Queensland whistleblowers "nowadays have little faith in the integrity and political independence of the state investigative processes".

In its report, the Senate Select Committee on Whistleblowing said "it remains concerned at the number of apparently unresolved whistleblower cases in Queensland" and recommended "the Queensland Government establish an independent investigation into these unresolved cases within its jurisdiction".

The recommendation - passed unanimously by the five-strong committee of two Liberal, two Labor, and one Green senator - was swiftly rejected by Mr Goss who has not expanded on his one-word "No!" reply to it.

However a spokesman for Mr Goss said the State Government was committed to introducing comprehensive whistleblowers' legislation into State Parliament this year.

Senator Kernot said the Democrats, Greens and Liberals "for once had the numbers" to force a federal investigation if all else failed, particularly as the lives of several Queensland whistleblowers had been destroyed.

"Sometimes you've got to say, when there is no redress, you have to take extraordinary steps," she said.

"What's happened to Kevin Lindeberg and others shouldn't have happened and I hate seeing people's lives destroyed."

Senator Chamarette said all members of the now-defunct Senate Select committee on Whistleblowing had been "genuinely shocked" at evidence presented by Queenslanders at Brisbane public hearings in March.

She said an inquiry could review in detail cases looked at by the committee, for example those advocated by Terry Lambert, Peter Jesser, Gordon Harris, Tom Hardin, Des O'Neill, Kevin Lindeberg, Robert Osmak, Greg McMahon, and Bill Zingleman.

She said the Senate would have to look carefully at the political and legal outcome any proposed inquiry could have, and its constitutional limitations.

"There has been little capacity for these whistleblower cases to be satisfactorily resolved in Queensland, unlike in other states," Senator Chamarette said.

"There is a sense from the Committee that the Criminal Justice Commission hasn't provided any genuine remedy for these people."

Senator Parer said Mr Goss was "ducking and weaving" the whistleblower issue.

"If he doesn't do it, the Senate should have another look at it," he said.

Dr Bill de Maria, a researcher studying whistleblowing at the University of Queensland, said the level of trust held by Queensland whistleblowers in local investigative agencies was "abysmally low".

"If there is to be a proper investigation, it should be held outside Queensland," he said.

"I welcome what the Senators are suggesting."

by Chris Griffith