CMC Inquiry hears how "huge mistakes" were made

Recordkeeping practices at Queensland's Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) remain in the spotlight at the ongoing Parliamentary inquiry into the release of sensitive documents from the Fitzgerald Inquiry, the landmark 1980s investigation into into state police corruption.

A public inquiry is underway into how 4000 documents were destroyed in 2007 and how another 741 documents were made publicly available. These include operational records which deal with records of interview, describe surveillance and named informants. 

The Inquiry is scheduled to report to Parliament by report by 5 April 2013. It has subpoenaed email and TRIM records from the CMC.

Outgoing CMC chairman Ross Martin QC, told the inquiry, "This seemed to be a sneeze; it turns out it was influenza."

Questioned by Acting Parliamentary Commissioner Peter Davis, CMC Director of Information Peter Duell admitted that he did not inspect any of the 19,000 records held in the State Archive when he made a decision in February 2012 to alter the Records Access Plan (RAP) from 65 year restricted access to 20 years.

He explained that the decision to reduce the RAP period  was made in response to the CMC having to deal with many requests for  information within the Fitzgerald Inquiry archive that was publicly available elsewhere.

"With a number of requests coming through I asked the acting records manager to review the restricted access period and make recommendations to make what was publicly available information, available to the public," he said.

There were two sets of documents from the Fitzgerald Inquiry that had been transferred from the CMC to Queensland State Archives. These were given differing levels of classification: one set was to be restricted for 65 years, the other for 100 years. 

In reclassifying the 65 year content to 20 years, effectively making it immediately publicly available, Mr Duell operated under the mistaken impression that all of this material had already been tendered at the Fitzgerald inquiry in public hearings.

The CMC were warned on May 24, 2012, by former head of the Fitzgerald inquiry's surveillance unit Barry Krosch, that he had noticed surveillance logs had been wrongly released.

AAP reports that email chains read out at the hearing reveal confusion among officers at the CMC about what went wrong.

Official solicitor to the CMC Sidonie Wood emailed acting senior compliance officer Zora Valeska on May 29, 2012.

Ms Wood wrote that Mr Duell, had lifted a 65-year ban on those documents and imposed a 25-year ban, meaning they went into the public domain.

"Peter Duell's email is peculiar, releasing the bulk of the Fitzgerald material without authorisation seems ...." Ms Wood wrote.

"The change of the year from 65 to 25, where did he get those instructions from?

"Would have he needed dissemination authority for that?"

Ms Valeska replied: "You would have thought so."

Responding to a suggestion from Acting Parliamentary Commissioner Peter Davis that this "was a massive breakdown of the system.?", Mr Duell conceded: "It was a huge mistake."

He also agreed that a review of the metadata associated with the records on the archive would have revealed their sensitive nature, however this was not undertaken.

Queensland State Archives sent Mr Duell a series of spreadsheets in February 2012 containing all of the metadata relating to the Fitzgerald Inquiry archives that had just been reclassified from 65 years to 20 years. The file size of the spreadsheets was so large they were split across five emails.

The following exchange took place with Commissioner Peter Davis

Mr Davis: Okay. The first question is: did you read it when it was e-mailed to you?

Mr Duell: No.

Mr Davis: Why not? This is a list, Mr Duell. This is a list and description of the documents which at that time you had just effectively released to the public. Did it not occur to you that you should read the metadata that had been sent to you?

Mr Duell: No.

Mr Davis: What did you do with the email? Did you just file it away or ignore it? What did you do?

Mr Duell: I recorded it in our records management system.

Mr Davis: So you electronically filed it away; is that right?

Mr Duell: Correct.


Mr Davis: Even the metadata contains information that is very contentious and sensitive.

Mr Duell: Yes, sensitive.

Mr Davis: The colloquial term `red hot’ would not be too far from the truth, would it?

Mr Duell: I think you can derive information from what is in there that is extremely sensitive and—

Mr Davis: And you know now—well, I will go back one. Police and other investigators sometimes find the truth and sometimes they find information that they later determine is not the truth.

Mr Duell: Yes.

Mr Davis: And the allegations themselves can be horrendously damaging; you agree with that, don’t you?

Mr Duell: Yes, definitely.

Mr Davis: You had this metadata, didn’t you, and you didn’t look at it?

Mr Duell: No, that is correct, I did not.

Mr Davis: Isn’t it the case, Mr Duell, that one does not have to look at this metadata for too long to realise that a lot of what is in it is, indeed, red hot.

Mr Duell: Yes, correct. That is exactly how I felt when I became aware of it.

Mr Davis: But you didn’t read the metadata in full or even a substantial part of it before you changed the RAP from 65 to 20?

Mr Duell: That’s correct.

Mr Davis: And even when the mistake had been made and the RAP had been reduced from 65 to 20 and you were sent the metadata, you didn’t read it then?

Mr Duell: No.

Mr Davis: And if you had read it then, you could’ve corrected the error then, couldn’t you?

Mr Duell: Yes, I think so.

Mr Davis: If you had read that metadata when it was sent to you, is it fair to say that you would have realised that a mistake had been made?

Mr Duell: If I found things like that, definitely.

Mr Davis: Well, you would have found it if you had read it, wouldn’t you?

Mr Duell: Yes.

Mr Davis: So if you had read it, presumably you would have realised that a mistake had been made?

Mr Duell: : Sure.

Mr Davis: And you would have then rectified it?

Mr Duell: Correct.

Mr Davis: A major mistake not to read it after the archivist went to all the trouble of sending it to you, isn’t it?

Mr Duell: Yes, a major mistake.

Despite repeated warnings to the CMC throughout 2012, sensitive Fitzgerald Inquiry records were still publicly available in March 2013 when the Australian newspaper raised the alarm.