Queensland’s opposition has accused the Labor government of a cover-up after it withheld a full report into the death of Sunshine Coast toddler Mason Jet Lee for at least another year.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Monday announced the report into Mason’s June 2016 death would only be released publicly after charges against his mother and her former partner had been dealt with.
It came as Queensland Family and Child Commissioner Cheryl Vardon handed down her report into the “post-death” reaction to the 22-month-old’s death, which recommended an overhaul of the way such cases are reviewed by government departments.
In an unprecedented move, the government sought the advice of Director of Public Prosecutions Michael Byrne QC who advised cabinet not to release the more comprehensive Child Death Case Review Panel’s report.
Mr Byrne told cabinet if the contents of the report were made public, it could prejudice the manslaughter and child cruelty trials of Mason’s mother Anne Maree Lee, stepfather William O’Sullivan and teenager Ryan Robert Hodson.
Ms Palaszczuk defended cabinet’s decision and promised to release the panel’s report once the court cases were finalised.
“I will make no comment that will jeopardise justice for Mason. The community wants justice, I want justice,” the premier said.
But the Liberal National Party took aim, with child safety spokesperson Ros Bates alleging a cover-up which “stinks to high heaven”.
“The premier announced last year that she would release all of the findings into Mason Jet Lee’s death. What we see now is a report that tells you nothing,” Ms Bates said.
“The Palaszczuk Labor government has had 10 months to come up with solutions about what happened to Mason Lee and yet today, we are seeing a cover-up.”
Ms Bates pledged to release the report in full if the LNP were elected to government before the court matters are finalised.
The election is scheduled before May next year, which is likely to occur before all three of the accused go to trial.
Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls also criticised the timing of the decision, saying the government cynically wedged it between Cyclone Debbie and Easter.
Mason was found dead in his Caboolture home in June 2016, suffering from horrific injuries, and it was determined he died from a ruptured bowel.
Three Child Safety staff were stood down in November last year over the case, and another nine are facing disciplinary action following a departmental review.
While not making specific comment about any pre-death findings, Ms Vardon said she was “concerned and upset” by what had happened to Mason.
‘In the lead-up to his death he had many eyes on him, but no one truly saw him, or did enough to protect him,” she said.
The government announced it would implement several of Ms Vardon’s recommendations, including $40.8 million over four years to provide more frontline staff to work with families, as well as better co-ordination of health and child protection systems.