The Heiner Affair (or: Real Conspiracies Are Messy)

In another time (2002) and another place (Queensland), I studied journalism and media studies at the University of Queensland. I loved it and was not entirely incompetent, but the University of Technology’s phallic architecture and bunker-style interior design seduced me into transferring to a creative writing/cultural studies degree in Sydney. My writing style became a bit mongrel as a result – a mix of journalistic, fiction, academic, and, now, copy writing techniques, with no real mastery of any particular area.

On the plus side, I am adorable and considerably less inbred than all of you pedigree bastards.
(source: http://www.dailypuppy.com/puppies/taylor-the-mixed-breed_2011-12-09)

While I was only at UQ for a year, my lecturers and tutors left a deep impression, none more so than Dr Bruce Grundy, the school’s Journalist in Residence. Grundy was earnest, wry and subversive; he removed the topics of Sport and Religion (which he considered irrelevant) from our ‘Institutions in Australian Society’ course so that he could arrange a lecture on Indigenous Australian history instead. He also taught us about the Fitzgerald Enquiry and was determined that if we learnt nothing else in our first year we would at least go away with the knowledge of how foul and corrupt Queensland’s history was; how foul and corrupt Queensland remained.

What I remember most about Grundy was his work with a woman who had, as a teenager, been abused at the notorious John Oxley Youth Centre. During an excursion to Mount Barney National Park, the girl had somehow ended up being left unsupervised with a group of older male inmates, two of whom raped her before they were discovered by a staff member. The staff member suspected some “sexual contact” had occurred between the children, but was unable to get an answer from any of them. The excursion continued, but the boys ran away into the bush just before it was time to return to the centre. The same chaperone who had found the children the first time voiced his concerns about the possible assault to the other members of staff, and the girl was taken back to the centre while some of the officers stayed behind to look for the boys. The boys later made a call from a phone box to say that the girl had “egged them on” (further confirming the likelihood that an assault had taken place), but the girl was not spoken to until the following day. At that time she stated that the boys had pressured her into having sex and confirmed that she would like to press charges; however, she changed her mind a few days later after she was bullied and threatened by other children.

The incident was soon mostly forgotten, but in 1989 retired magistrate Noel Heiner was enlisted to investigate complaints from John Oxley staff, ostensibly regarding wages and conditions. The Goss Labor Government then came into power, at which point it was found that the Heiner inquiry had not been properly constituted. Because of this, in January 1990 the decision was made to shred all of the material that had been collected. However, Kevin Lindeberg, a former union official, claimed that the Heiner documents included reports of physical and sexual abuse of children at the centre. Lindeberg said that he sought access to the documents in January and February of 1990, and that the Queensland Government had been advised not to destroy the files until the matter had been resolved. The shit really hit in the fan in 1999, when former Member for Windsor Pat Comben stated on Channel Nine’s Sunday program that at the time of the shredding,  ” [W]e were all made aware that there was material about child abuse. Individual members of cabinet were increasingly concerned about whether or not the right decision had been taken.”

Grundy believed that the Heiner documents contained evidence not only of the rape I have just discussed, but of a systemic cover-up of abuse of children by both staff and older inmates. He worked tirelessly to investigate, petition and write news stories to help bring her experience to light, and the case became a part of the curriculum for his subjects. Many students became involved in the cause.

So, why am I writing about this now? Well, a couple of weeks ago I decided to do a post on conspiracies that had actually happened, and I wanted to include some Queensland madness. I couldn’t remember having seen or heard anything about Grundy’s cause in the last few years, so I trawled Google News to get caught up and… I was dismayed. In the years since I’d left UQ, the Heiner Affair had been embraced by every right-wing lunatic that had an axe to grind against the Rudd-Gillard Labor Government. Almost all of the stories I found were incredibly biased opinion pieces, and the most recent ones featured a lot of back-pedalling and retractions.

Who’s right and who’s wrong? Honestly, I have no frigging idea. The absence of an Upper House grants Queensland its famous power to “get things done” (or undone – see the Newman Goverment’s watering down of same-sex civil unions less than three months after their election), which is fantastic for gerrymandering and corruption. However, the lack of interest from mainstream and/or reputable press is baffling, and the poor standard of much of the “reporting” that does exist does not give credence to the cause. From what I’ve read, no-one has denied that the handling of the girl’s assault (and, I’m sure, other cases at John Oxley) was grossly inadequate, but with the Heiner documents long gone it seems impossible to prove what their contents were or the Goss Government’s true motive for destroying them.

Having known and very much respected Bruce Grundy, I cannot doubt his integrity – and he certainly has done some amazing work over the years. But is he wrong on this one? All I can say conclusively is that real conspiracies are messier, more destructive, and infinitely harder to get to the bottom of than fanciful bullshit about Reptilians and pyramid eyes.

Phew! That was a long (and heavy) read for Batshit. If you managed to stick it out, treat yourself to Evil Eddie’s brilliant ode to my (vexing) home state!