Senator and CJC clash

by Chris Griffith
Published 3 September 1995 in The Sunday Mail

 

my face

 

The head of the CJC's Misconduct Division, Mark Le Grand, and Queensland Senator John Woodley are embroiled in a bitter feud over the Senator's right to comment publicly on the CJC's handling of politically sensitive investigations.

In fact, the relationship between the two has reached rock bottom to the point where both men are lodging complaints against each other to federal parliamentary bodies.

As a result, Senator Woodley's actions will be reviewed by his Senate colleagues following a written complaint by Mr Le Grand last week, and Senator Woodley said he was now considering referring Mr Le Grand's "misleading and offensive" reference to the president of the Senate Privileges Committee.

The saga of the clash began last week after the Senate Select Committee into Unresolved Whistleblower Cases, of which Senator Woodley is a member, released a submission by Queensland barristers Ian Callinan QC and Roland Peterson.

The submission dealt with the Queensland Cabinet's decision in 1990 to shred documents sought for legal action by a former public servant Peter Coyne after he was removed as head of the John Oxley Youth Centre.

It said that by clearing the government of any wrong-doing, the CJC had "not given serious attention to the implications of destroying documents knowingly in order to avoid or render more difficult litigation. They have ignored these serious matters."

This was particularly so, according to the submission, as CJC Complaints Officer Michael Barnes had concluded that Cabinet had destroyed the documents knowing full well Coyne wished to access them.

After the submission was released, Senator Woodley commented publicly that it was a serious political issue if the Senate concluded that the documents' destruction meant Queensland's criminal code may have been breached.

The comment brought an immediate angry response from Mr Le Grand who on Thursday faxed the Committee citing Senator Woodley for contempt by foreshadowing a possible committee finding that the Criminal Code had been breached, and for pre- empting the committee's determinations.

Senator Woodley yesterday said he was considering referring Mr Le Grand's letter directly to the president of the Senate Privileges Committee.

"The CJC is trying to silence me when I have every democratic right to comment on a document in the public arena. I was just making a comment about the importance of the document, I was not pre-empting what the committee itself might say."

Mr Le Grand yesterday said he would not elaborate on his letter of complaint, nor discuss Senator Woodley's counter accusation.

"I have checked with the committee and understand that it has not yet considered the letter. As a result, it has not been authorised for publication. I am unable to comment further without breaching parliamentary privilege."

Beneath the feuding is the sobering issue of whether Australia' law enforcement agencies are captives of their political masters, in particular whether they are sometimes overly cautious when probing cases implicating the governments who fund them.

It is an issue which has seen the CJC as both the accuser and the accused.

Recently, former CJC chairman Rob O'Regan QC said the Australian Federal Police and the National Crime Authority had shown "extraordinary unwillingness" to take part in Operation Wallah an investigation into prostitution, international money laundering and defence contract irregularities with which former Senator Graham Richardson and other national ALP figures had been linked but cleared by federal police.

"The only reason that occurred to me was a political reason it was too hot to handle," Mr O'Regan said.

Yet Queensland whistleblowers have made the identical claim against the CJC that it has found sensitive cases implicating the Goss government too politically hot to handle, a situation which has led to the committee's examination of Queensland whistleblower cases.

Committee chairman Senator Shayne Murphy said the committee was now considering a draft of its report which was due to be released on or before September 27.

Senator Murphy said the draft was confidential, although it is understood the draft may not be as sympathetic to some whistleblowers as they had hoped.

He said he was yet to speak with Senator Woodley about Mr Le Grand's complaint.

"I can't comment on the letter. The committee will deal with that," he said.