In a radio interview with ABC Radio aired on Wednesday, May 21, former Labor frontbencher Lorraine Bird claimed that in 1997 she warned Peter Beattie, then Opposition Leader, that someone within the ALP caucus was a child abuser who would be charged with paedophilia.
Mrs Bird then said that after she gave that information, Peter Beattie put his head back, scoffed and roared with laughter and said “Righty-oh, okay”.
In a previous radio interview, Mrs Bird claimed she told her Labor leader that there was more than one alleged paedophile close to him and his office.
Predictably, Premier Beattie denied these claims, insinuating his former Labor colleague was a liar.
However, Mrs Bird still publicly stands by her recollection of events and, unlike the Premier, does so without anything to gain, except, perhaps, the wrath of her Labor comrades.
When allegations in regard to former Labor MP, Bill D’Arcy, were made public by the media in 1998, the Premier pushed him to resign, but not before $600,000 in public funds was doled out to the child sex offender.
The money was given to Mr D’Arcy after the Premier and Labor Speaker Ray Hollis signed off on a payout deal for him. Mr D’Arcy was then charged with child sex abuse, later to be convicted and jailed for 14 years.
Between the time Mrs Bird voiced her concerns and when Mr D’Arcy was charged, the Premier relied on Mr D’Arcy’s vote on 143 occasions in order to prop up his minority Government.
(It is not the first time Peter Beattie or the ALP has had to face this issue. He earlier served as Labor campaign director to then Opposition Leader and eventually convicted child rapist Keith Wright.)
Yet this is the same Premier who repeatedly called for former Governor General Peter Hollingworth’s resignation due to the fact that Dr. Hollingworth had failed to act on claims of paedophile activity within his diocese while he was Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane.
It is a journalistic disgrace that Mrs Bird’s revelation became a negative for the Queensland Opposition. The Premier was able to divert attention away from the claims by concocting a story of a grand plot by people in high places who were out to get him as part of some pay back for his continued attack on the Governor General.
Such a conspiracy theory would make for great entertainment at a One Nation meeting. It is amusing given the real origin of the so-called “smear campaign”.
It was former One Nation MP and now Proserpine tyre shop owner, Harry Black, who issued a media release late in May with details of an ABC radio interview with Mrs Bird, where certain allegations were made about what the Premier knew in regards to paedophile activity within his parliamentary ranks and when he knew it.
Mr Black’s only link to the story was that he was the one who defeated Mrs Bird in the seat of Whitsunday in 1998 and that he was fed up with the Premier’s hypocritical calls for the Governor General’s resignation.
The former parliamentarian had apparently tried to get media attention on Mrs Bird’s comments once before but without any success and, until the Opposition raised it in State Parliament, it appeared his attempt this time round would be in vain as well.
However, the conspiracy theory somehow washed with the gushing George Street press gallery who seem to take every line the Premier recites as gospel.
So, when Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg fronted a media conference instead of being asked questions about whether an inquiry should be held or whether the Premier should stand aside, the Coalition leader was asked about which federal colleagues he spoke to.
The battery of questions eventually caused the Opposition Leader to up and leave, ending what had degenerated into a complete farce.
The Courier Mail relegated the story on the affair to the bottom of page two and while The Australian ran it on its front page, both stories focused heavily on the Premier’s rants of a federal “conspiracy”.
The ABC’s PM program, which would have had easy access to the Lorraine Bird interview, presented a story without any mention of the former Labor MP or her revelation that the Premier knew of paedophile allegations in the Labor caucus in 1997. Their story focused almost entirely on the conspiracy claims.
Some pundits say the 15-member state Opposition is ineffective, but if this issue can be used as a litmus test of journalism’s contribution to democracy in Queensland, then it is completely useless.
In fact, it’s less of a government watchdog and more of a lapdog.
The journalists at Mr Springborg’s press conference had obviously swallowed Peter Beattie’s bait, hook, line and sinker and missed the whole point of the story altogether.
Claims of a federal smear campaign and media conference walkouts aside, there remains the claim by someone of the Premier’s own political colours that, like former Governor General Peter Hollingworth, Mr Beattie was aware of an alleged paedophile under his jurisdiction and did nothing about it for more than a year.
The question that should have been asked by the media was not “Who did you talk to, Mr Springborg?” but, “What did you know, Premier, and when did you know it?”
It should have been asked why the Premier failed to act on Mrs Bird’s very serious allegations. It should have been asked if there was still a possible child sex offender in his Government?
And above all it should have been asked if he would apply his own standards and resign just as he demanded of the Governor General? Editorials should have called for Premier Peter Beattie to immediately step aside pending an investigation into Mrs Bird’s allegations.
But we are talking about Queensland and things are done a little bit differently here.
Just ask Sir Joh. He used to enjoy feeding the chooks. But now all they do is crow to Beattie’s tune.
- George R. Christensen is State President of the Queensland Young Nationals