The twins of trouble

by Chris Griffith
Published 6 August 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


To some, they are the twins of trouble -- two Queensland whistleblowers whom the Goss government would love to dispatch south of Coolangatta, never to be heard from again.

Battle-scarred from inquiry after inquiry, Kevin Lindeberg and Des O'Neill have focussed southern eyes on the internal machinations of recent Queensland politics with great effect, and at great personal cost.

Both have inspired all-party Senate committees to investigate Queensland affairs and to criticise the Goss government, and its apparatchiks

In a more recent escapade, the duo were even denied membership of a Brisbane credit union. The accounts of Lindeberg and his wife Irene were closed and all monies compulsorily withdrawn. This seemingly bazarre event is now being investigated by the Senate Privileges Committee. A report is expected within eight weeks.

So how did this happen?

Kevin Lindeberg, 49, is a former union advocate who was sacked in 1990. The reasons cited for his sacking included his handling of a case involving social worker Peter Coyne, whom the newly elected Goss government had removed as head of the John Oxley Youth Centre.

In the eyes of his union, Lindeberg's supposedly bad relationship with a government minister on this issue was a valid reason for getting rid of him. A letter explaining his dismissal said Family Services Minister Anne Warner regarded Lindeberg's handling of the Coyne matter as "inappropriate and over- confrontationist".

At the time, Lindeberg was helping Coyne acquire documents required for contemplated legal action compiled during an inquiry into the John Oxley Youth Centre in late 1989. The inquiry was conducted by former Stipendiary Magistrate Noel Heiner.

Yet Coyne was to receive nothing. In March 1990, State Cabinet agreed to order the documents destroyed, after seeking advice from the state archivist. Ironically, Coyne had been assured that his request for access was being considered at the very time the destruction occurred.

So began what is called 'the Great Shredding Affair', an event which has consumed hours of debate in the Queensland Parliament and which is now being investigated by the Senate Select Committee into Unresolved Whistleblower Cases.

Lindeberg says State Cabinet's decision amounts to the offences of attempting to pervert the course of justice, and of destroying documents.

The idea that the Queensland Cabinet committed such offences may seem ridiculous, but it is being taken very seriously by the Senate committee, especially since leading Brisbane barrister Ian Callinan QC appeared before it in February this year.

And it is understood some interesting documents have flowed between Mr Callinan and the committee since that time.

Queensland's justice system would certainly be in turmoil should the Senate committee's report, expected on August 31st, conclude that Cabinet's decision was unlawful.

Meanwhile, the other half of this extraordinary whistleblower duo, 47-year-old Des O'Neill, has been waging war on alleged cronyism in Queensland's public service.

O'Neill, who is a treasury official with the Office of State Revenue and a union representative, last year had his work phone audited by departmental officers. They discovered he had twice phoned Opposition Leader Rob Borbidge's office the day a leaked departmental memo found its way onto the pages of The Courier-Mail.

Although internal charges on this matter were dropped, O'Neill received an official reprimand for making "baseless allegations of impropriety" about public service selection panels, and for bringing the public sector "generally into disrepute".

O'Neill, who stood as an independent on an anti-cronyism platform at the 1992 state election, says the Public Sector Management Commission (PSMC) promised a politically impartial public service, but instead delivered a more politicised bureaucracy than evident under the previous National Party government.

To illustrate his point, O'Neill in submissions to three Senate committees detailed the case of two former union officials of the Queensland Professional Officers' Association, Don Martindale and Roslyn Kinder.

Mr Martindale and Ms Kinder were long-term colleagues. In the late 1970s they were industrial officers in their union. For most of the 1980s, Mr Martindale was the union's general secretary, and Ms Kinder the assistant general secretary, and they ran a joint ticket at a credit union election.

Mr O'Neill said he was horrified when in 1991 Mr Martindale, who was then the Trades and Labor Council assistant general secretary, had been chosen to sit on the selection panel charged with appointing the PSMC's Director of Human Resource Management, a position Ms Kinder had applied for.

Mr O'Neill said he immediately spoke to Barry Dittmer, the PSMC's deputy chair, and urged him to approach PSMC chairman Peter Coaldrake to have Mr Martindale agree to step down because of his close association with Ms Kinder.

Mr Martindale did step down, however later that year an extraordinary reversal of roles took place.

Ms Kinder, who succeeded in getting the PSMC post, was on a three-member selection panel which interviewed candidates for the Director of Industrial Relations in the Health Department. One of the applicants happened to be Mr Martindale, who was awarded the job.

The panel's chair, Ms Ann Kern, has since justified Ms Kinder's involvement as being that of a technical expert, and not as a PSMC representative.

She said Ms Kinder was on the panel because of her acknowledged experience in industrial relations, human resource management, finance, administration, and organisational services. She said Ms Kinder's experience was invaluable because she (Ms Kern) had recently arrived in Queensland from interstate.

Mr O'Neill's major achievement, however, was to pursue problems in the Queensland Professional Officers' Association superannuation fund involving Mr Martindale, Ms Kinder, and two employees of the Queensland Professional Credit Union -- general manager Gordon Rutherford, and then accountant Kerry Daly.

An investigation and report by the Senate Select Committee on Superannuation found the scheme's trust deed had been amended retrospectively to authorise a total $121,000 superannuation payout to the four in 1987.

All four argued the payout was totally proper as the money had been rolled over into compliant personal superannuation funds. However fund manager National Mutual told the Senate hearing the four had given "leaving the service" as the reason for withdrawing their funds -- although none had left their jobs at the time. The four denied they had given this reason.

National Mutual also claimed Ms Kinder had authorised the benefit request forms for the payouts.

When asked to produce the four forms which could decide the issue, National Mutual simply said they had gone missing.

This prompted the Senate committee to recommend that Attorney-General Dean Wells investigate the circumstances surrounding the mysterious loss of these forms. Mr Wells ordered a police investigation which was begun in September 1993 by the state's Fraud and Corporate Crime Squad. Police say the investigation is still under way.

However Ms Kinder said police notified her "a few months ago" that the investigation had ended.

When asked if she voted to award Mr Martindale the Health Department's top industrial relations job, Ms Kinder said there was no formal vote as such, but Mr Martindale was easily the best candidate and his selection was "a lay down misere".

"You have the story from Ann Kern."

Ms Kinder said she was "puzzled" as to what motivated O'Neill to pursue her.

"I had never met the man, he was not part of the union I belonged to. The first I ever laid eyes on him was at the Senate inquiry."

Meanwhile, the Queensland government has expressed total confidence in Ms Kinder. In May last year, the state's Executive Council appointed Kinder as a government representative on the board of Q-Super, which manages around $3 billion of public service superannuation contributions.

As for Lindeberg and O'Neill -- they suffered another indignity after they decided to raise the Senate superannuation inquiry at a shareholders' meeting of the Queensland Professional Credit Union in 1993. Among questions they circulated for the meeting was whether the credit union had paid for barristers to represent credit union officials at the Senate hearing over their private superannuation matters.

For his trouble, O'Neill was denied credit union membership, and Lindeberg and his wife were instructed to withdraw their funds or face "automatic closure" of their accounts.

The Senate committee reacted by publishing another report saying the denial of membership suggested Lindeberg and O'Neill may have been penalised for giving evidence before the Senate committee, a potential contempt of the Senate. The committee unanimously referred the issue to the Senate Privileges Committee.

As battle weary as they are, Lindeberg, O'Neill, and all whom they have accused will have a busy Spring as these issues come home to roost once more -- in the form of two Senate committee reports, and a resolved police investigation.