Robert John Fardon has been living in accommodation on the prison grounds at Wacol, Queensland, but will soon be released. (Pic: Annette Dew)
Robert John Fardon has been living in accommodation on the prison grounds at Wacol, Queensland, but will soon be released. (Pic: Annette Dew)

For sex fiends like this guesswork isn’t good enough

MORE than 15 years ago, two vastly different people touched base with me.

One was a retired prison warder and the other was a convicted paedophile.

Each had a barrow to push but the commonality was the belief that there was probably no cure for paedophilia and, if there was, prisons weren't doing a very good job of finding it.

The warder lamented that convicted paedophiles spent their days lounging in the sun and flicking through children's fashion magazines and the paedophile cried poor fellow me over his helplessness in the face of his obsession.

The reason for such a weird discussion was a court appearance by the now late and unlamented child rapist Dennis Raymond Ferguson for a breach of his release conditions after serving a 14-year sentence.

A column I wrote was noted by then Police Minister Tony McGrady and eventually led to the Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2003 which allows the Supreme Court to order the continuing detention or supervision of some paedophiles after they finish their original sentences.

Dennis Raymond Ferguson, convicted paedophile, died in 2012. (Pic: News Corp)
Dennis Raymond Ferguson, convicted paedophile, died in 2012. (Pic: News Corp)

It was flattering to be credited in parliament with such wisdom but I was ambivalent about a law that allowed people to be banged up in prison or under supervision for crimes they might commit rather the crimes they had committed.

What was envisaged by the Attorney-General Rod Welford as affecting a "limited number" of sexual offenders has now enmeshed somewhere between 100 and 132 men, depending on which figure you accept.

Welford conceded that the act was "treading in new territory in relation to law making in this country''.

However, subsequent events have shown it trod fairly firm ground.

Ferguson might have been the spur but the first to be detained under the act was Robert John Fardon, the same odious paedophile whose history has been recalled this week after he was released to live in the community without supervision.

The validity of the act was affirmed in 2004 when the High Court of Australia threw out his appeal against detention after finishing a long stretch.

Rapist Robert John Fardon is soon to be released from prison. (Pic: Supplied)
Rapist Robert John Fardon is soon to be released from prison. (Pic: Supplied)

A move in 2013 by former Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie to give the government (effectively himself) the power to overrule court decisions to release dangerous offenders was declared invalid by the Court of Appeal.

"Repugnant" is how the court described the ill-fated lows.

Former Court of Appeal judge Richard Chesterman noted: "It's odd Parliament should confer the power of arbitrary detention on a minister of the Crown.

"The course of parliamentary democracy has been a struggle to prevent abuse of power by executive government and to exercise sovereignty on behalf of the people.''

As much I might shake my head over some court decisions, I would prefer the fallibility of the courts to the arbitrary whim of a politician any day.

This suggests any populist attempts to "tough up" the act would be a legal (and possibly constitutional) bridge too far.

So we live with what we have and this week Supreme Court judge David Jackson drew the short straw and had to make ruling on Fardon that was never going to satisfy everyone. Or anyone.

He denied an application by Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath to renew a supervision order that has kept Fardon under tight rein for five years.

The halfway house at Wacol Correctional Facility where serial sex offender Robert John Fardon has recently been residing. (Pic: News Corp)
The halfway house at Wacol Correctional Facility where serial sex offender Robert John Fardon has recently been residing. (Pic: News Corp)

Short of another appeal, that means that he will at large in the community next month.

Many - victims included - are understandably appalled by the decision and fear that Fardon, with a horrifying record of sexual crimes stretching back to 1967, will reoffend.

(Others might wonder why a 69-year-old man who has spent huge chunks of his life in prison or under supervision and is poor health would even want to venture into the wider world.)

Jackson's decision was largely based on a psychiatrist's report that Fardon was at the "low risk" of offending and that the risk became very low after the age of 65.

Of course, "low" and "zero" are not quite the same.

The same psychiatrist six years ago assessed Fardon's risk of offending as "moderate to high".

With all due respect to the psychiatrist and his craft, the layman would have some reasonable confusion over the wonderful curative powers of time.

It is worth recalling that as Fardon's 2003 case was wending its way up to the High Court, Appeals Court judge Margaret McMurdo noted in a dissenting opinion: "The Act requires the Supreme Court of Queensland to predict dangerousness by way of, at best, an informed guess, something which is notoriously unreliable and which must be based largely on opinions of psychiatrists.''

We (or the judges who act on our behalf) are still guessing.

Suffice to say, rarely can so much moral, political, legal, judicial, penal and psychiatric capital have been expended on someone as worthless as Fardon.

And that might not be the end of it.

Terry Sweetman is a columnist for The Courier-Mail.



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