A new low for Fielding First, Labor and Greens


AUSTRALIANS of all persuasions are united in the view that, politically, things could not be worse — until they read the next set of headlines and find that things have indeed worsened.

As revolting as things may be, a dramatic and disgusting new low in  standards of integrity was reached last week in the Senate by the  repulsive Greens and the nauseating Family First Senator Steve Fielding  when they voted against holding an inquiry into the cover-up of the rape  of an Aboriginal teenager.

As examples of the Greens’ sickening hypocrisy go, it was par for the course. Early on Thursday morning, Senator Rachel Siewert, the Greens Whip, had been making a passionate speech in defence of orangutans threatened, she claimed, by development of palm oil plantations in Malaysia.

Two-and-a-half hours later, her leader, Bob Brown, was sordidly trying to justify his party’s vote to kill the hopes of a distressed woman  still trying to have her plight examined in a public forum.

It was always expected that the Labor Party would vote against independent Nick Xenophon’s motion to have the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquire into what is known as the Heiner Affair, the shredding of documents by the then-Queensland Government in 1990 relating to the alleged rape of a resident at Queensland’s John Oxley Youth Detention Centre in 1988.

Too many Labor figures, former prime minister Kevin Rudd and current Governor-General Quentin Bryce, as well as current and former Queensland Labor premiers, Queensland judges and senior public servants, have been allegedly implicated in the scandal for Labor to countenance any genuine inquiry.

But Xenophon had been having talks with Fielding, who’d claimed or feigned some interest in child abuse, and was given cause to believe that the Family First senator might support his motion.

As Xenophon noted in his plea for support: “The victim at the centre of this horrific matter still has not had her say. There have been recent developments in relation to this which I believe ought to be the subject of an appropriate Senate inquiry.”

The Senate split 32-32 on Xenophon’s motion, a tied vote being counted as negative.

 Fielding’s single vote would have permitted the inquiry to proceed. The Family First senator’s attempts to justify his spinelessness led to his immediate dismissal as patron of White Balloon Day, a national child abuse initiative run by the Bravehearts organisation.

Hetty Johnston, founder and executive director of Bravehearts, had said she believed it was incumbent on every member of parliament to support Xenophon’s motion — leaving aside the matters around the shredding of the documents.

She believed it raised serious issues around the rape and abuse of girls and boys at the John Oxley detention centre, that the same issues that legitimately prompted the original establishment of the Heiner inquiry remain unresolved, and that every member of parliament, especially those who espouse a particular interest in child protection, owed answers to the children who were so dreadfully treated. She had no choice but to dump Fielding after his vote.

“It’s a betrayal,” she said. Fielding also betrayed his own party last week, voting down Tony Abbott’s carbon dioxide tax plebiscite, a move Family First chairman Bob Day described as “extremely disappointing”.

“Family First supports the plebiscite,” Day said. “It supports asking people for their views. Our views are very well known and we have been strong and unequivocal . . . he has contradicted party policy.”

Fielding ignominiously leaves the Senate at the end of the month—and there is speculation that he may be feted by Labor with a government position in return for his support in blocking the inquiry. Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce said Fielding had acted reprehensibly.

“The Greens are untrustworthy, but Fielding has a job . . . or thinks he has a job,” the blunt-talking Queenslander said. “The victim really wants to be able to speak publicly but she has been paid $120,000 by the Queensland government to shut up. For me it is quite simple: It is Australia’s version of Watergate.

“This is a blunt and blatant form of cover-up in a deal with the Greens and now, apparently, Steve Fielding. What did the Labor Party say to him?

“Hetty Johnson rang me almost in tears after she had sacked him as chief of White Balloon Day. How could anyone vote against an inquiry into the rape of an Aboriginal girl?”

Joyce accused the Greens and Fielding of being party with Labor to an "organised cover-up”.

“If they think there is nothing there, let the inquiry proceed,” he said. “In life, some things worry you, this worries me to the core of my being. A girl has been raped and there has never been an open and public inquiry. Labor has never disclosed why it doesn’t want an inquiry.”

The Senate, he said, may be peculiar, there may be people with pretty extreme views, but no one ever thought they’d be complicit in outrageously dishonorable activities.

The action this week was dishonorable, he said.

Even the Clerk of the Senate, Dr Rosemary Laing, said in a written advice on a submission received on this matter that “there is no doubt the subject matter is very serious”. Which surely begs another important question. If the Clerk of the Senate, having read a submission, regards the matter as “very serious”, has the Senate acted improperly in attempting to have it swept under the carpet?

Further, the submission which she comments upon publicly has not been released, which must be a parliamentary first. Joyce’s description of this as Australia’s Watergate is most appropriate: It was not the crime that sank US President Richard Nixon, it was the cover-up.

This crime has a victim, a girl, then 14, raped in 1988. The perpetrators haven’t been charged. She received hush money from the Queensland government last year, effectively gagging her from speaking out. She needs to have her voice heard. This is not about an old crime. It is about an ongoing and disgusting cover-up by shameless politicians and their hypocritical supporters in a ghastly denial of justice.

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