CIGARETTE smoking was given as a "reward for acceptable behaviour" at a Brisbane youth detention centre allegedly rife with mismanagement and staff bullying in the late 1980s.
The Child Protection Inquiry in Brisbane on Monday began hearing evidence about how 32 out of 55 staff resigned while former manager Peter Coyne ran the John Oxley Youth Centre.
Commissioner Tim Carmody has been tasked with reviewing the adequacy and appropriateness of any response the then government took to allegations, including any criminal conduct allegations associated with government responses, into historic child sexual abuse in youth detention centres.
Counsel assisting Michael Copley tendered huge numbers of documents - including letters, memorandums, meeting minutes and handwritten notes - surrounding issues at the facility.
But he said much evidence that could have been useful had been destroyed after the "Heiner Affair".
Mr Copley said this detention centre was more expensive than others around at the time because it was a comprehensive intervention program to "overcome delinquent behaviour at an early stage".
The inquiry heard "normalisation was the goal" but this became difficult because of internal staff tension in the late 1980s when they had to use handcuffs to curb behaviour.
"The goal was to have the children live and move and operate in an environment that was as close as possible to what they would experience if they lived not in a detention centre but in the community," he said.
"The staff had been confused about the limitations and standards.
"There had been inconsistent applications.
"Staff commented the level of damage in the centre had been very high.
"Each of the three wings operated independently, setting its own rules and expectations.
"This made it more difficult to enforce and monitor behaviour because the youth considered there to be inconsistencies as they moved through the centre, in terms of what was acceptable and what was unacceptable behaviour."
Staff complained and four unions became involved.
Issues raised included staff training, alarm systems, lighting, plumbing, mobile phones, gates and the effectiveness and efficiency of the detention centre.
Former Magistrate Noel Heiner was appointed to oversee an inquiry into these issues and sexual abuse allegations but he got "cold feet" when he realised State Cabinet had not authorised the inquiry he had already devoted some weeks too.
He began to question the "validity of the inquiry" and feared he was open to civil action if he made any findings or recommendations.
"He seemed to believe that unless Cabinet had authorised what he was doing then somehow there was doubt about the legality of it," Mr Copley said.
After receiving legal advice, the new Goss Government, which had won power from the Nationals in late 1989, shredded or destroyed all the evidence Mr Heiner had collected.
There is speculation former premier Wayne Goss and his then chief-of-staff Kevin Rudd could be asked to give evidence during the inquiry.
The inquiry will go until December 14 but could be continued in 2013.
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