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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Gadfly 165

By Robert Macklin

The ABC’s blockbuster three-part series, ‘Exposed’ which unravelled the horrors of the murderous 1979 Luna Park fire, was the national broadcaster at its finest. And the concluding episode that revealed the corrupt links between NSW gangsters and Labor luminaries of the day was simply devastating

Indeed, it added immeasurably to the cynicism that all Australians are increasingly feeling about the propriety, decency and even law-abiding nature of our political leadership. The pity of it is that it was only aired on the ABC while most Australians were occupied elsewhere.

So, for those who missed it a quick recap: On the evening of 9 June, six children and one adult – the father of two young victims – were burned to death when a fire engulfed the Ghost Train ride. The next morning, the NSW Police moved quickly to clear the site thus destroying evidence of arson. Witnesses who told them of suspicious actions by ‘bikies’, the smell of kerosine and other elements, were bullied into changing their stories.

A police inspector known as a ‘fixer’ for gangsters was placed in charge of the investigation. He declared the cause ‘an electrical fault’ while other witnesses were not called to give evidence at the inquest. The families of the four lost teenage boys – all schoolfriends – were virtually ignored. They have endured the pain of unexplained loss for 42 years.

In its wake, one man, the artist Martin Sharp was so outraged by the cover-up that he virtually gave his life to a search for the truth. In doing so he compiled a vast archive of recordings, documents and film footage. They became the foundation for the ABC journalists, Caro Meldrum-Hanna and Patrick Begley for an investigation that took the viewer step-by-step up the chain of blame to the gangster, the late Abe ‘Mr Sin’ Saffron. And in the final episode they drew on secretly recorded phone calls and documents to implicate the late Premier Neville Wran, High Court Judge Lionel Murphy, gangster Jack Rooklyn and their infamous ‘little mate’, solicitor Morgan Ryan.

The narrative is brilliantly engaging and the ABC clearly pulled out all the stops with editing, file footage, special effects and an extensive and expert production team. The result was world class investigative journalism.

Some of the participants, notably former NSW Liberal Attorney-General John Dowd, called for a Royal Commission or at least a new inquest to publicly sheet home the blame wherever it falls. However, given the relatively ponderous operation of such a body – and the age of most of the witnesses – there’s surely enough in the series itself to open a police ‘cold case’ probe immediately. If, as seems likely, some of the ‘bikies’ who lit the fire are still alive, they at least could be brought to justice.

It also underlines the vital requirement right now for a Federal ICAC with tougher powers than the feather tap for politicians recommended by former Attorney-General Christian Porter before being demoted this week to Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.

And while I have your attention: When the Minister in that portfolio, Karen Andrews was this week elevated to Home Affairs (vacated by Peter Dutton) I asked on Facebook: ‘Will her first act in her new ministry be to send the Tamil family back to Biloela?

That, I figured, would surely signal a new, kindly – even womanly - approach from the reconstructed and renewed Morrison government.

No sign yet.

Robert Macklin has carved out a unique place among Australia’s literary biographers and historians. His Dark Paradise swept aside the curtain of euphemism to expose the horror of colonial sadism on the penal colony of Norfolk Island. His monumental history of Australia’s Special Forces – Warrior Elite – is required reading in the fields of Military Security and Intelligence. His best-selling biography, SAS Sniper revealed as never before the battles against Islamist fanatics. And these are just a few of the highlights among his 28 respected and popular works of fiction and non-fiction.

He has won numerous literary prizes including the 2009 Blake Dawson award for business literature with Peter Thompson for their classic THE BIG FELLA – the Rise and Rise of BHP Billiton. His Kevin Rudd: The Biography was shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year; and he has won three Critics Circle Awards for his military biographies and histories. He has completed a lecture tour of three Chinese universities based on his works and is presently writing a history of Australia/China relations over the last 200 years.

Queensland born, he has been a journalist at the highest level, a confidant and biographer of two Australian prime ministers; a documentary filmmaker in 32 countries of Asia and the Pacific; and is also political columnist and commentator in the nation’s capital. He presently divides his writing time on fiction, non-fiction and screenplays between Canberra and Tuross Head on the NSW South Coast.


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