Anatomy of a political smear

June 1 2003
The Sun-Herald Australia

Accusations have surfaced again of a pedophile scandal involving a senior figure in the political establishment. State political editor Alex Mitchell investigates.

Psst! Want to hear about the senior politicians, judges, QCs, solicitors, captains of industry, police top brass and church leaders who belong to a secret society that engages in wild sexual orgies with teenage boys?

So would I. But the story has been around for as long as I've been in Sydney journalism - and older hands can trace it back to the 1950s - and no proof has ever been forthcoming.

Yet it remains one of our most enduring urban myths. It's so hoary it now gets around on crutches but it still manages to excite interest whenever it's retold over dinner or a few drinks.

The so-called "Brotherhood" is so powerful and so secretive that it defies all attempts to expose its activities.

The Sydney group has overseas chapters in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and San Francisco which are all equally well connected and protected.

The crusading politician says: "If I try to do anything to stop their activities, they'll finish my career." The idealistic cop says: "They're too big for me; I've got a wife and children to look after." And the investigative journalist says: "They are too powerful to expose, and who would risk printing the story anyway?"

The story lingers because this raunchy city, unlike Melbourne and Adelaide, has a compulsion to embellish and embroider its own notoriety.

While many people deplore the recurrent smear of leading figures in the community, at the back of other people's minds is the stray thought that perhaps, just perhaps, there is some truth in it after all.

Meet Charlie Lynn, maverick right-wing Liberal in the NSW Legislative Council, the most exclusive club in NSW. A former professional soldier and Vietnam War veteran, Lynn became a crusader for the rights of young people after his daughter Sharon was attacked and raped at Bathurst on the night of October 10, 1986.

More than 21 months after the crime was committed, the attacker was convicted and sentenced to three years' jail, with a non-parole period of 18 months. The shamefully light sentence devastated the Lynn family and turned the ex-army officer into a community activist, founder of Victims Against Crime and Corruption and, subsequently, a Liberal politician.

On August 21, 1988, under the headline "The agony no family should suffer", The Sun-Herald told Sharon Lynn's harrowing story and revealed that her father had taken marathon-long runs during the trial to unleash his anger.

These memories were revived on Tuesday night and lay heavily on Lynn when he spoke on the second reading of the Carr Government's legislation to lower the age of consent for males from 18 to 16.

He wanted to know why the Government's original bill contained a clause that offered retrospective immunity to men who'd had consensual sex with under-age males. The clause had been withdrawn by Attorney-General Bob Debus following a withering attack in the lower house by one of his own backbenchers, Paul Gibson, MP for Blacktown, and shadow attorney-general Andrew Tink.

"The legislation is a total sham," Gibson angrily told MPs. "I have no doubt that pedophiles will rejoice today because if the bill is passed tomorrow they will not be charged for any wrongdoing.

"I cannot understand why we are providing an amnesty for pedophiles.

"We are telling them that they will not be charged and they will get off scot-free.

"It is the worst legislation I have seen in this house."

Even though the Government had withdrawn the controversial clause 49, Lynn demanded to know how it got there in the first place and who put it there.

When Family and Community Services Minister Carmel Tebbutt declined to give him an answer, Lynn went to his room on Parliament's level 11, collected a handful of documents and returned to the chamber in a mood of cold rage.

On the third reading, he rose and made a one-minute speech which he has described as "the most difficult thing I've done since coming into politics".

Without naming names, he alleged that a senior member of the Carr cabinet had had illegal sex with a 15-year-old boy and had robbed him.

In a trembling voice, he went on: "Will the Government now answer my questions, or will the Government force me to reveal the full contents of these documents?"

Since Lynn's bombshell, Premier Bob Carr has called for a full investigation by the Police Integrity Commission, Opposition Leader John Brogden has hung his maverick colleague out to dry and the corridors of Parliament have been swirling with rumours over the identity of the minister named in the police report.

As the PIC inquiry swings into action, one figure who will enjoy an increasing share of the spotlight is Michael Woodhouse, the former Yorkshire Ripper investigator who was hand-picked by former police commissioner Peter Ryan to head Strike Force Cori formedin the wake of Labor MP Franca Arena's 1997 claims of a cover-up of pedophiles in high places.

Woodhouse, who subsequently headed operations at the Independent Commission Against Corruption and is now executive director of probity and performance at the Department of Corrective Services, submitted a report to Ryan which has never seen the light of day.

His name is on the official police report that Lynn produced in Parliament last week. This states that the information provided by the male prostitute about a senior cabinet minister was "corroborated".

Forensic attention is now focused on the word "corroborated".

Lynn takes the worst possible view and suggests that the accusation had substance but nothing was done about it. In his mind, there are grounds for believing there was a cover-up.

But while the public may yearn to know whether the allegations about a senior cabinet minister are true, Lynn says he is not interested in "outing" anybody.

"I wanted to stop the Government in its tracks over the age of consent legislation and using the correspondence I had in my possession was the only way I could see to do it," he said.

Since his explosive allegations in Parliament, Lynn has been subjected to the ritual garbaging which also dogged former Heffron MP Deirdre Grusovin, former Labor MLC Franca Arena and Senator Bill Heffernan when they delivered unsupportable accusations against eminent people using parliamentary privilege as protection.

In the powerful corridors of Macquarie Street, Phillip Street, Martin Place and city boardrooms last week, Lynn was being described as "crazy", "a nutter" and worse.

In The Sun-Herald interview in 1988 he lamented the failures of the criminal justice system in language similar to that used in recent years by Carr.

"It's a wimpish system," he said.

"We've gone too far, the pendulum has swung the other way. We've got to be strong and powerful."

He then gave an unusually belligerent view of what would happen if either of his other younger daughters was raped.

"I wouldn't go through this again," he said. "I would 'settle out of court' and that wouldn't be very good for the offender.

"It probably wouldn't be very good for me, either, but I would do it - there's no doubt."

So buckle your seatbelts and watch the unfolding show as Major Rambo takes on the political establishment.

This time the "Brotherhood" - if it exists - has an opponent trained by the military