Friday, January 4, 2008

Summary of the Dawn Rowan Saga:

1981: Dawn appointed manager of Christies Beach Women's Shelter, Adelaide

1983: A behind-the-scenes sabotage of Dawn and the Shelter begins

1987: Police and Corporate Affairs ordered by Dr. John Cornwall, Health and Welfare Minister to investigate (ie. find something illegal) in the shelter. These investigations cleared the shelter of any wrong-doing, and in fact praised the work of the shelter. But Corwnall five days after receiving the final reports, released under parliamentary privilege damaging 'unsubstantiated allegations' against Dawn and the shelter. Funding was ordered to be withdrawn three weeks later. The shelter had to cease operations, and all the workers lost their jobs.

1990: Dawn filed an action in the Supreme Court of SA against the SA Government, Federal Government (as the co-funding body they had to agree to the shelter's closing), Channel 10 TV and ABC TV.

2002: Justice Debelle handed down a 300-page judgment completely exonerating Dawn and her co-workers of any wrongdoing whatsoever. He severely condemned the use of unsubstantiated allegations in parliament - allegations which the two key players, Dr. John Cornwall and Mrs Judith Roberts AO knew to be false. Justice Debelle found Ms Roberts guilty of malicious defamation, and Dr. Cornwall guilty of misfeasance (abuse of public office). The judge ordered compensation for personal damages of $225,000 (compounded to $500,000 with 14 years interest added) to Dawn.

August 2003: All the other parties appealed the judgment.

November 2004: Dawn won the appeal, but the full bench of the Supreme Court of SA found the Commmonwealth and the two TV networks not liable for the damages done to Dawn as a result of the defamation. The Commonwealth immediately commenced action against Dawn to bankrupt her.

An application to be heard by the High Court of Australia was denied.

2006: Dawn took out an action alleging undisclosed bias by the Full Bench judges - Justices Bleaby, Sulan, and Besanko - as a result of discovering their connections with Ms Judith Roberts. Their judgment - handed down six weeks later - denied any bias. They ordered Dawn to pay a lump sum to the Commonwealth of $380,000 (which coincidentally was the value of her home and other assets). Note that the Commonwealth and the State of SA have consistently refused to disclose the millions of taxpayers' dollars spent destroying this innocent woman.

2007: The Commonwealth Government took action in the Australian Federal Court to enforce bankruptcy. This is now in the final stages of being enforced.

In several communications between members of Federal parliament and the ministers responsible, it has been pointed out that the Government is completely free to exercise discretion in pursuing the bankruptcy or not.

Summary: As Julian Burnside QC, a highly respected human rights lawyer put it: 'I have carefully considered your situation... You have exhausted all possibilities of legal recourse... It is now important that your story be known by the public rather than buried... Be more assertive in pushing this issue in the media. Exposure of the Commonwealth's shabby behaviour might cause a change of heart.'

Comment: shabby is a mild word for it. 'Deliberate torture' is closer to the truth. Please pray for Dawn, and continue to make representations on her behalf to any Federal Labor ministers you know.

See and for links to the legal transcripts etc.

Channel 7 This Day Tonight video:

(Rev. Dr.) Rowland Croucher

January 4th 2008.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


The Hon Robert McClelland MP
PO Box 6022 House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Attorney-General

Enforcement of Commonwealth costs orders against Dawn Rowan

I refer to the case of South Australian constituent, Dawn Rowan, whose plight was highlighted by Today Tonight on 14 May 2007 (see

I understand that Ms Rowan is currently the subject of bankruptcy proceedings arising from a debt owed to the Commonwealth. That debt arose as a result legal action taken by Ms Rowan against a number of defendants, including the Commonwealth, alleging that she was owed damages because of negligence, defamation, misfeasance and conspiracy. The allegations were made in the context of a joint Commonwealth/State report on women's shelters in South Australia, the details of which were broadcast on television in August 1987. The matter was dealt with in the first instance by a single judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia. Ms Rowan succeeded against the State of South Australia, the Commonwealth and several media outlets. However, the Commonwealth (and other defendants) successfully appealed this decision to the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia. Costs in favour of the Commonwealth and other defendants were awarded against Ms Rowan, who then applied for special leave to appeal that decision to the High Court of Australia. Leave to appeal was not granted by the High Court.

Ms Rowan has received strong support from many members of the community owing to a community perception that justice has not been done in this instance. She has endured many years of litigation at and suffered significant financial, personal and emotion toll. Although the Full Court’s judgement clearly allows the Commonwealth to recover its costs from M Rowan, as you will appreciate, the enforcement of a costs award involves a degree of discretion, taking into account any extenuating circumstances that would make such enforcement undesirable.

I also understand that the previous Government sought to justify the enforcement of the costs order on the basis of the Commonwealth’s obligation under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 to pursue payment of debts that are due to it, including debts that arise under costs orders of a court. However, I note that pursuant to section 34 of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997, the Finance Minister may, on behalf of the Commonwealth, ‘waive the Commonwealth's right to payment of an amount owing to the Commonwealth’.

The ALP has expressed concerns of its own in relation to this matter in the past. On 14 June 2007 the then Shadow Attorney-General, Senator Joe Ludwig, wrote to the then Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock MP, noting his concern at reports indicating that Ms Rowan's home is to be seized in lieu of payment of the Commonwealth's costs. Senator Ludwig sought responses from Mr Ruddock as to the status of the matter, the Government’s attitude to the enforcement of costs, and queried whether or not a cost-benefit analysis has been performed on the costs recovery.

In light of these matters, can you please advise me of the following:

1. What is the status of any proceedings taken by the Commonwealth against Ms Rowan in relation to the enforcement of costs?

2. Given the concerns expressed by the Labor Party when in Opposition, does the Rudd Labor Government intend to pursue recovery of its costs? If so, will the Government consider seizure of Ms Rowan’s home?

3. Has a cost-benefit analysis been performed on the costs recovery? If so, what are the results of that analysis?

4. Will the Department seek the consent of the Minister for Finance and Deregulation to waive the Commonwealth’s entitlement to the debt pursuant to section 34 of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997?

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,
Natasha Stott Despoja
Senator for South Australia
19 December 2007

Cc: The Hon Lindsay Tanner MP
Minister for Finance and Deregulation