Lyle Shelton managing director of the n Christian Lobby examines the scene where a van with gas bottle exploded outside their office in Canberra on Thursday 22 December 2016. Photo: Andrew Meares An “uncomfortable” Andrew Colvin, ‘s top cop, has rejected claims by the n Christian Lobby that a mentally ill man’s suicide attempt outside its headquarters was “obviously” motivated by ideology.
The n Federal Police commissioner faced questions over the case of Jaden Duong, a 36-year-old man who tried to kill himself by driving a van full of gas cylinders into the ACL’s Canberra building last year.
Mr Duong, who reportedly engaged in gay activism in the US, had a history of mental illness and suicidal ideation, and succeeded in taking his own life last month.
He was facing charges of arson and property damage, but police did not allege his actions were ideologically or religiously motivated – a position which shocked ACL director Lyle Shelton, who has publicly criticised the AFP’s investigation.
In particular, he drew attention to Mr Duong’s statement following his suicide attempt that he disliked the ACL because “religions are failed”.
Mr Shelton’s case was taken up at a testy Senate estimates inquiry on Tuesday by Liberal senators Ian Macdonald and Eric Abetz, who suggested there was a “disconnect” between Mr Duong’s statement and what the AFP ultimately concluded.
Senator Abetz took aim at the “bizarre” and “very quick” judgment reached by police, and at one point implied the AFP may have released a statement before interviewing Mr Duong.
“I’m not sure what you’re inferring,” Mr Colvin replied. He also strongly rejected the assertions made by the ACL.
“I don’t share their view of all of the facts, and in their defense, they’re not aware of the entirety of the investigation or all the details,” he said.
“I understand the Christian Lobby’s concerns, but I reject their statements that he was motivated by religion. Yes, he said certain things, but they needed to be taken in the context of everything he had done before, and everything else that our investigation had unconvered.”
The ACT’s chief police officer, assistant commissioner Justine Saunders, backed that account, while noting the matter was before a coronial inquiry and urging the Senate to respect the privacy of the deceased man’s family.
She told the inquiry it was not Mr Duong’s first suicide attempt, and that he had first driven to other locations but settled on the ACL car park partly because it was devoid of other people.
“He did indicate that he did dislike the ACL, but that was not was not his motivation for taking he action that he did,” Ms Saunders said.
“Establishing the fact that a person may have certain views is not the same as establishing that any given actions they undertake are necessarily motivated by those same views.”
To the shock of other senators, Senator Abetz requested the AFP provide statistics about how many ns attempted suicide by explosion – evidence Mr Colvin said he could not provide.
The AFP chief also declared himself “uncomfortable that we are talking in such detail about what is a matter before the coroner”. He recognised his obligation to be accountable to the Senate committee, “but I think we need to keep in context the totality of the investigation”.
Senator Macdonald, the committee chair, later complained some MPs had talked about suicide “ad infinitum” during the same-sex marriage debate, and asked Mr Colvin “whether that was encouraging people to do it”. Mr Colvin said he was not an expert in that area.
Labor senator Louise Pratt, the committee’s deputy chair and a member of the Parliament’s LGBTI group, said it was “quite disturbing” that Liberal senators were “seeking to make political capital out of the tragic death of a deeply unwell man”.
“It says a lot about their priorities that they believe this is the best use of Senate estimates – to be asking politically-motivated questions on behalf of the ACL,” she said.
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