Truly, Madly, Deeply


Piers Akerman

Philip Adams recently mused that if Piers Akerman were an aircraft, he would unavoidably list to starboard on account of his massively overdeveloped right wing. And while a similarly facile analogy could easily be drawn for Adams himself (albeit of a conversely ‘port-sided’ nature), Akerman’s recent output has done nothing to convince readers that he could fly in a straight line if he tried.

A sample of his columns from the last few weeks of September alone gives a fairly clear indication (if one was still needed) of the barrow being pushed by ‘one of the nation’s most respected journalists’ in the interminable lead-up to the Federal election campaign. ‘Rudd at war with his own shadow,’ ‘Rudd haunted by an affair of the heartless,’ ‘Rudd’s queen of mean,’ ‘Rudd perverted justice, MP claims.’ Indeed, the casual observer would perhaps be inclined to agree with the view of this poster to Akerman’s own Daily Telegraph blog, who was moved to express facetious concern for the veteran newspaperman’s mental health:

Piers, your obsession with Kevin Rudd is out of control, you really should see a counsellor about your problem. You have written so many negative articles about Rudd that it is past a joke and becoming embarrassing not only for you but also for the credibility of the paper.

Akerman’s amusingly pompous retort was that he was ‘happy to stand embarrassed in the pursuit of justice.’ The ‘justice’ he claims to be in fearless pursuit of here relates to the ‘Heiner affair,’ and more specifically, his almost single-handed crusade over the last month and a half to tie Kevin Rudd to what The Australian recently dubbed the ‘grassy knoll‘ of Australian politics.

In 1990 (yes, that’s 17 years ago folks), the newly elected Queensland Labor Government of Wayne Goss authorised the destruction of certain documents that had been gathered for an inquiry into alleged child abuse and sexual assault at Brisbane’s John Oxley Youth Detention Centre. The key political driver for the inquiry had been the alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old Aboriginal girl by a group of juvenile detainees. The inquiry was established by the previous National Party administration of Russell Cooper, and the Goss Government claimed to have received legal advice that the appointment of magistrate Noel Heiner as its head had not been made under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, and therefore left the Government exposed to defamation claims.

Thus, the shredding of certain documents was ordered, so beginning what a recent editorial in The Australian described as ‘a saga that has swallowed the lives of obsessive barrackers, wasted taxpayers’ money and exhausted the patience of Queenslanders subjected to a range of politically-motivated investigations and bizarre theories.’

And all of this relates to the current Clayton’s Federal election campaign how, exactly?

Well, Wayne Goss’s chief of staff at the time was none other than Kevin Michael Rudd.

‘The ALP is attempting to silence debate of Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd’s alleged attempts to pervert and obstruct the course of justice when he was a Queensland public servant,’ bleated Akerman’s column on 29 September.

The catalyst for this latest round of ‘pin the shredder on the decomposing donkey’ (in support of which, our Piers has penned eight separate, largely identical columns over the last month and a half), was the presentation of a joint letter to former Queensland Premier Beattie in mid-August. The letter, signed by a cast of ‘legal luminaries,’ including the former High Court Chief Justice Harry Gibbs, called for a full inquiry into the document shredding. This came on the heels of a 3000-page audit prepared by Sydney barrister David Rofe QC, which various State and Federal Liberal and National Party members have, in recent weeks, attempted unsuccessfully to have tabled in their respective parliaments.

‘In Tasmania,’ Akerman wrote, ‘Michael Hodgman, QC, one of the most experienced legal minds in politics, rose against the wishes of the Lennon ALP Government to declare that he was not pushing a political agenda but œpursuing truth and justice. ’

It would presumably not be such a rare occurrence for Michael Hodgman to be rising against the wishes of the Lennon ALP Government, being the Tasmanian Shadow Attorney-General and all.

Akerman’s latest article also neglects to mention that since 1993, six Federal Parliamentary Committees have investigated the claims of the Heiner affair’s perennial complainant, sacked former prison union officer Michael Lindeberg, with only one finding in his favour. That committee was chaired by Bronwyn Bishop. And as opposing Left-wing demagogue Alan Ramsey noted in his recent Sydney Morning Herald piece, all four of its Labor members resigned after Bishop refused to allow them to see her two-volume report before its release, two months prior to the last Federal election.

Funnily enough, when this previously deceased ‘scandal’ was dredged up during the ill-fated Latham campaign, no mention was made of the supposedly dastardly deeds of Kevin Rudd. In Ramsey’s words, Rudd at this stage was simply ‘just another anonymous political bureaucrat,’ and what has since passed into legal lore as the ‘Lindeberg grievance’ was being resuscitated at that time as ‘an orchestrated œchild abuse scandal  in a key election State.’ And in recent weeks, with yet another election looming, and traditional pre-emptive claims of ‘dirt units’ and ‘smear tactics’ flying around, the old Party piece has miraculously reared its head once again.

And according to Akerman, NSW Shadow AG Greg Smith is now also entitled to raise the matter in State Parliament, due to the fact that ‘his State electorate of Epping has become a proxy battleground, hosting both Prime Minister John Howard and Mr Rudd on numerous occasions in the quest for Bennelong.’

Akerman then quotes this risible rhetorical flourish from Smith: ‘If the Government of this State does not think the integrity of the so-called future Prime Minister is an important issue, then one wonders what the Government of this State is in office for.’

Well, to govern NSW presumably. And what with making the trains run off the tracks, converting emergency room toilets into obstetrics wards and installing a poker machine in every home, the Iemma Government would appear to have quite enough on its plate without becoming involved in antediluvian conspiracy theories from the X-Files of the Queensland Right.

Undeterred, Akerman claims that the ALP, assisted by ‘elements in the media’ (including his paper’s own News Ltd stablemate The Australian, an organ not previously recognised as a standard bearer of the Left), is now involved in a massive cover-up designed to prevent Rudd from being charged with perverting the course of justice. So massive, apparently, that former Queensland Criminal Justice Commission member, Mark le Grand, revealed in a letter to a Senate Investigating Committee three years ago that complainant Lindeberg, the pathologically obsessed whistleblower at the centre of the case:

Suggests his allegations equate, inter alia, with: the signing of the Magna Carta, the American Declaration of Independence, the signing of the Australian Constitution, [Britain’s] Lord Jeffrey Archer case, Watergate, the 1987 Fitzgerald Inquiry [into police corruption in Queensland]and the Abu Ghraib prison torture. Men and women of fairness, reason and judgement would be put on notice by such statements.

Most tellingly for Akerman though, is that despite his frenzied efforts to breathe life into this venerable stalking horse of a story, The Telegraph has so far failed to offer up a single editorial in support. And the fact that each of his recent columns on the subject have contained large chunks of identical background information about the case illustrates just how far away from the mainstream this beltway brouhaha still remains for most readers.

With this one, Akerman isn’t simply flogging a dead horse. He’s stuck about three feet from the barrier at Flemington hacking away furiously at the ossified carcass of Archer, as both horse and rider sink further and further into the mud.

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Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.