Tuesday, 22 June 2021
Luna Park: Ghost Train Fire
Imagine it's a Saturday afternoon and you and your family are thinking of the best way to spend some fun time with each other, to enjoy each other's company. So in this moment you decide to go to an amusement park on the harbour of Sydney. You may, at one point, hear your children urging you to allow them to go on one of the rides, and as a parent you offer them the tickets and see them go and enter the ride that is there. Moments later, you see smoke billowing from that same ride. Moments after that, you realise that people have died. How could you live with yourself? This is what happened in Sydney not that many years ago.
We often hear from those who pretend to care about the less fortunate, who argue that transparent government is the only decent form of government, that if a government will not release information it must be hiding something, and that what it is hiding is in all likelihood a conspiracy. I've therefore found the complete lack of curiosity, bordering on antipathy, from these aforementioned individuals somewhat interesting, if not shocking, when it comes to the Luna Park disaster that was the ghost train fire. Could this stay in curiosity and proactive antipathy be driven by clinical bias? Perhaps this bias directly led to the enabling of the corruption practised by Eddie Obeid for 16 years under the likes of Bob Carr and Kristina Keneally. The only time these purveyors of sanctimony decided they were interested was once there was a change of government.
Opposition members interjecting—
I will take the interjections. Daryl Maguire never did anything that led to the deaths of innocent children. He never did anything that caused families to be torn asunder. How dare they compare the corruption of the Wran government to that of Daryl Maguire! How will we ever know what happened under Bob Carr and those who came after him? How are we meant to reconcile the comments of the then commissioner David Ipp, when he said, 'Oh, there was just too much to investigate, so we couldn't be bothered with the proper administration of justice.' The Luna Park strategy, which those opposite sneer at, matters, because, until the historical record is set right, there is nothing to stop it from happening again.
Indeed, because the New South Wales ICAC has consistently refused—allow me to underline that word: refused—to investigate the corruption of the Wran and Carr years, while pathetically and threateningly, like those opposite wish, dedicating millions of dollars to the examination of the sex life of current politicians, the mistakes of the past, the deaths of the past, will be inflicted on the future. Perhaps the corruption of the Carr years was enabled by the uninvestigated, unpunished corruption of the Wran years. Where are those people who so often say that corruption is bred in darkness? When it comes to New South Wales, they stay silent. This is not good enough.
It is time that we held these people to account on behalf of those who died on that tragic day. An investigation of this catastrophe is long overdue. It is long overdue because there are too many questions that are unanswered. It is long overdue because people and children died. Those opposite can laugh, but it is long overdue because too many people who we know were embedded in Sydney crime circles profited from the fire. It is long overdue because it involved the High Court justices, Supreme Court justices, senior police and a lot of people around the then Premier of New South Wales, Neville Wran. We owe it to those who lost their lives in the ghost train fire at Sydney's Luna Park. So today I rise to lend my support to those who have called for the New South Wales government to establish a commission of inquiry into the ghost train fire at Sydney's Luna Park in June 1979, which killed seven people. I rise to support shining a light on these events so that they can never again on be inflicted on anyone in Australia.
We have an obligation to support the families who were denied an honest police investigation and a robust coronial inquiry. The coroner's report, the final official word on the fire, concluded that the fire was an accident caused by a cigarette butt. Based on the revelations in the ABC's recent series on the fire, that finding is a travesty, and we owe it to the victims of the fire—most of them young men—and their families to ascertain what happened that night. No-one now disputes that this finding was a travesty. In criticising the coronial inquiry, I should make it clear: I'm not suggesting there was any wrongdoing on the part of the coroner. But the coroner relied on the police investigation—
Opposition members interjecting—
And, once again, those opposite laugh and scoff. There is no cover-up that they will not support. That investigation was overseen by some of the most corrupt officers to have graced the New South Wales Police Force in the 1970s and early eighties.
I understand that, in response to a request from one of the parents, the New South Wales coroner has asked the New South Wales police to advise whether there is new evidence to reopen that earlier finding. Given the thoroughness of the ABC investigation, it is difficult to understand how they could advise that the matter should not be reconsidered—although that will require the police to first conduct an investigation. Without reflecting in any way on the integrity or capability of the New South Wales police service today, they are simply not suited to such a task. This is one of the reasons the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption was established in 1988, because, again and again, throughout the 1980s, when complex corruption allegations were referred to the police, they were unable to progress the matter—and this was so even when honest women and men were in charge.
In principle, the coroner can conduct an investigation into the likely causes of the fire. However, she is not well equipped to investigate the police officers in charge of the investigation—in particular, Doug Knight, and how he came to be appointed to conduct such a sensitive investigation; why a potential crime scene was cleared without a serious forensic examination; how he was allowed to get away with declaring the fire an accident within hours of the event; why a bulletin alerting police to possible suspects was withdrawn; or how some police stepped into the investigation to stand over eyewitnesses to get them to change their evidence. I don't know that the coroner is suited to an investigation into the conduct of the coronial inquiry itself which resulted in key witnesses not being called to give evidence about what had happened, and I'm certain that the coroner is not the appropriate authority to investigate the reasons why someone might have wanted to light that fire; how a tender conducted under the auspices of the Premier's department came to be abandoned and another initiated, which was won by a company whose principals had no experience in the management of amusement parks but did have close links to Abe Saffron.
A formally constituted commission of inquiry might also be able to locate relevant departmental files that should have been stored in the State Archives but can't be located. It will take an investigative body something like ICAC to get to the bottom of this—but, clearly, not ICAC itself. The ghost train fire and the subsequent tender for the Luna Park site were on a list of matters handed to ICAC Commissioner Ian Temby by the new government in 1989. None of the matters on that list were ever investigated. And, of course, since ICAC was set up so it would be independent, there was nothing that any government could do about it. It is, simply put, a travesty of justice that Mr Temby, who came to Sydney from Perth, via Canberra, decided to investigate other matters. But this is one of those cases where the decision should have given cause to the usual suspects, if they were sincere, to kick up a stink. Instead, they backed Labor to bury the potential corruption. How convenient! And how tragic for them.
These families have been waiting more than four decades for an explanation of what happened. For Sydneysiders, this story is burned into our shared consciousness. For those of us who grew up in that city, Luna Park will forever be a sacred place and cannot be developed because of what happened that night in June 1979 and then the response of our public institutions in the days, weeks and months that followed. (Time expired)