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Sir Terence O'Rort
11 July, 2005  
Good ship Eldon hits a silly little reef

A Supreme Court application to stop the Eldon commission on the ground of apprehended bias is just a case of ingratitude towards someone who has discounted his daily fee so significantly in order to stamp out further murders at Queensland Health

imageWe are in serious danger of oversensitive people hijacking all the marvellous work achieved by Lord Eldon’s commission of inquiry into the mass murders at Bundaberg Hospital.

What should have been a relaxing cruise along the Burnett River reliving the swell times that His Lordship encountered as a Sea Cadet at TS Bundaberg could be ruined by silly misunderstandings.

Readers will recall Dr Darren Keating, who was so impressed with Dr Patel’s surgical skills that he offered him another four-year contract as Director of Surgery.

Now Keating is in the Supreme Court seeking to have His Lordship disqualified from further proceeding with the inquiry on the ground of apprehended bias.

Worse still, Keating’s application also accuses commissioners Sir Llew Edwards and Nurse Vider of the same sort of apprehended behaviour.

Keating has hired Hearts & Flowers to act and according to the affidavit of partner David Watt, the court should see a film of the commission in session so as to demonstrate, “in a way the transcript does not always do, the differential treatment of witnesses before the inquiry”.

It was one of Lord Eldon’s first rulings as commissioner-in-charge to permit the videotaping of the proceedings.

According to Watt, the trouble started on day four when Keating was first in the witness box. Lord Eldon is alleged to have carried out the entire cross-examination himself in what Watt describes as, “a sarcastic and cynical tone, and was aggressive”.

Obviously Partner Watt has never been in the Sea Cadets, where so much good work goes into preparing lads for a pro-active role in life.

As for Keating, he couldn’t have been paying attention when Eldon explained his cross-examination technique – for instance by asking what had been done to achieve anything to save the lives of the patients who are being killed by Dr Patel?

Watt also refers in his affidavit to the “differential” treatment of witnesses. If only Dr Keating had given evidence that found favour with the commission then His Lordship might have left the bench and shaken his hand – as he did with Toni “Houseboat” Hoffman, after her first bout in the box.

Alternatively, Lord Eldon might have offered Keating a job with the commission – as was the experience of Dr Lennox who turned in an especially pleasing performance. See previous report

Keating also complains about the commission’s delivery of an Interim Report, which recommended murder charges against Dr Patel.

The gripe is that Eldon didn’t give notice of his intention to deliver that report or give Keating an opportunity to make submissions.

The final grumble is that Eldon made the report, “following the evidence in chief only of the witnesses relied upon by the Commissioner, being Ms Hoffman and Dr Miach”.

One needs to keep things in perspective. The people of Queensland are fortunate to have someone who is prepared to discount his daily rate to $5,000 in order to take on the unenviable task of sorting out the rotten mess that is Queensland Health.

There are also considerable cost savings to be had by deducing that the unhygienic Indian should be charged with murder without having to sit through weeks and weeks of evidence by other witnesses.

I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that it is ingratitude on a grand scale to suggest that a few witty remarks about killing patients and the odd handshake or job offer to witnesses could possibly justify the hoo-ha about apprehended bias.

Fortunately, the commission has continued to sit, notwithstanding the filing of the application. Regrettably though, we’re seeing a lot less handshaking from the bench.

A directions hearing is underway today, Monday (July 11), before Justice Martin Moynihan.

Sir Terence O’Rort reporting from Brisbane