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Sir Terence O'Rort
2 September, 2005  
Dr Death inquiry dies

Queensland’s version of the Oprah Winfrey show has been closed down by order of the Supreme Court. Lord Eldon has gone into exile and the Bjelke-Beattie government is looking more clod-like than usual

imageThe orders made by Justice Martin Moynihan this morning (Friday, Sept 2) have resulted in the premature closure of Lord Eldon’s inquiry into the deaths and mismanagement at Bundaberg hospital.

Lord Eldon, who has been trading under the name of Tony Morris QC, had assured all comers that the court challenge to his inquiry by two hospital officials, Dr Darren Keating and Peter Leck, didn’t have a “snowball’s chance”.

Justice Moynihan’s orders were greeted with a red face and scrabbled together responses by premier Bjelke-Beattie.

In view of his findings yesterday (Thursday, see below), that Eldon had exhibited “ostensible” bias in his conduct of the investigation and that commissioners Sir Low Edwards and Matron Vider had just sat by and watched, the judge ordered that all the commissioners be disqualified from further proceeding with the inquiry, that further proceedings of the commission be restrained and that all books, papers, documents, evidence, lunch wrappings etc be deposited in the custody of the Department of Justice.

Leck was awarded costs at the usual scale and a decision on Dr Keating’s application for indemnity costs has been reserved.

What a complete snarfu. Nearly million was spent on the inquiry and the government is unable to proceed apace with fresh commissioners because the evidence is “contaminated”.

Funnily enough, it was Eldon’s decision to allow proceedings to be video taped that was his undoing. Marty Moynihan viewed the DVD version of those tapes which revealed, “a tone and colour not apparent from the printed word”.

The Australian opined this morning that Eldon was the wrong man for the job from the start. The report said:

“Before the inquiry even began, Morris had a view as to how it would proceed. He held secret meetings with key stakeholders to determine a way forward and made no secret of his desire to have the media and his inquiry feed off each other, providing background briefings to journalists …”

In his fabulous solve-everying way, Bjelke-Beattie has come up with a six point action plan in response to Moynihan’s findings and orders:

  • The Crime and Misconduct Commission will look at any official transgressions.
  • There’ll be a “new streamlined” compensation process for patients of Dr Death.
  • The review of Queensland Health systems by Peter Forster will press ahead.
  • Inspector Plod will continue his inquiries.
  • The coroner will continue his inquiries.
  • A “special legal unit of Crown law officers” will be established in the Department of Justice to review all the evidence and refer allegations of criminality to Insp. Plod and other allegations to the appropriate authorities.

    Bjelke-Beattie added with a helpful flourish, “I make it very clear to everybody that we have to accept the umpire’s decision”.

    As all these other splendid mechanisms were in place why did B-B need Lord Eldon at $5,000 a day in the first place?

    THURDAY (Sept 1) Justice Martin Moynihan today put a large torpedo into the Eldon inquiry by finding that had established ostensible bias on the part of His Lordship’s conduct of the Bundaberg Hospital bungles. Moynihan found:

    “The circumstances established by the accumulated weight of evidence would give rise in the mind of a fair-minded and informed member of the community, to a reasonable apprehension of a lack of impartiality on the commissioner’s part.”

    Although the form of orders has not yet been settled it seems as though the other commissioners, Nurse Vider and Sir Low Edwards, may also be scuttled since Moynihan said:

    “They sat with him during the hearings giving rise to these applications and did not disassociate themselves from his conduct.”

    Although I’ve been a fastidious observer of the Eldon circus (see previous reports passim) Marty Moynihan has unearthed a few fresh gems that had escaped me, to wit:

  • “It doesn’t worry you that patients might be dying or 15-year-old boys might be losing their legs?”
  • “Do you write gushy letters saying how good someone is whilst they’re under investigation?”
  • “Is there some reason why public hospitals need to have more pen pushers than doctors?”

    Moynihan found that Eldon was highhanded in his treatment of hospital executives Keating and Leck. He’d made statements concerning them that were: “aggressive … sarcastic and belittling … unfair and hostile … [as well as] unfair and accusatory.”

    The court also objected to Eldon’s attitude to public servants, finding that the transcript revealed a “pervasive disdain for or contempt towards ‘bureaucrats’ and doctors who administer but do not treat patients”.

    There was even objection to Eldon’s celebrated handshake of witness Toni “Houseboat” Hoffman.

    Other problems were identified by the judge, such as the commissioner’s private meetings in “public places” and the terrible confusion about the airborne conversation between Salary-Anne Atkinson and a former Director General of Health.

    Eldon was enormously proud of the commission’s work pointing to all the bells and whistles, that it was so open and accessible with every bit of evidence on the web, etc.

    Peter Applegarth SC, for the former director general of Queensland Health Dr Steve Buckland, was in full support:

    “I will agree with you, there has never been a commission of inquiry like this one.”

    Sir Terence O’Rort signing off for now...