July 07, 2005 | Graham

They must be guilty

Apprehensions of bias will create actual bias, at least in the case of two health bureaucrats who are threatening to take the Morris Royal Commission to court. Actually, one of the bureaucrats, Peter Leck appears to have stepped back, while keeping the threat alive, no doubt a face saving gesture. The other, Director of Medical Services at the Bundaberg Hospital, Darren Keating, is proceeding.
Until Keating lodges with the Supreme Court, we have no idea what his actual complaint is, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some observations.
The first observation is that Committees of Inquiry are not courts. They operate on an inquisitorial basis, which means in essence that a commissioner is required to come to some conclusions before hearing all of the evidence. If that is what is being complained of, the court should take a broad view of Commissioner Morris’s ability to express an opinion about guilt or innocence. In the end a Commission of Inquiry is a bit like a superior kind of police inquiry. It tries to get to the truth, and will make recommendations, but any recommendations it makes are not binding on anyone and can be over-turned by the government, or the courts.
The second is that this action will convince the public, and many of Dr Keating’s future employers, that he is guilty because he is acting as though he has something to hide. In other words, complaining about bias will result in a situation of actual bias.
The worst result for Keating would actually be if he was successful. That would derail the inquiry, costing the state huge amounts of money, and forcing another to be held. The patients who suffered from Dr Patel would be angry. The government would be angry. Health bureaucrats would be angry. Would any of them have a clear and unbiased view of Dr Keating?
Second worst result would be for him to lose. He wouldn’t have inconvenienced anyone, but he would still look like a goose, and again, that would shape public opinion.
I have no idea who is advising Dr Keating, but if, as is likely, it is just his legal team, he should invest in someone with some strategic and public relations experience. They would tell him that he should wait until after the inquiry before launching any action, if at all. His best chances of an unbiased rest of his life lie in people forgetting who he is as quickly as possible.

Posted by Graham at 12:27 pm | Comments Off on They must be guilty |
Filed under: Australian Politics

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