New laws passed in Queensland Parliament on Wednesday may help solve one of the country’s most infamous crimes.
Fifteen people were murdered in the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub fire bombing in Fortitude Valley around 2am on March 8, 1973.
Two career criminals were convicted of putting two 23-litre drums of diesel fuel in the downstairs nightclub foyer before lighting it.
In 2017, Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath announced a second inquest into the massacre would be held following the convictions of Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois for the murders of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters 43 years ago.
O’Dempsey’s trial heard he may have been motivated to kill Mrs McCulkin over fears she would implicate him in the firebombing.
Ms D’Ath said in 2017 that the 78-year-old’s jailing may encourage some witnesses to come forward.
No date has been set yet for the new inquest yet but it will be heard under a tougher, retrospective Coroners Act, which was passed in Queensland Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.
Under the new laws, coroners will get more powers to compel witnesses to give potentially self-incriminating evidence at an inquest.
The laws were sparked by recommendations from a coronial inquest in 2018.
Coroner David O’Connell believed the law change “may well assist to resolve some of the most lingering mysterious cases which still exist in Queensland”.
“The Whiskey Au Go Go investigation comes to mind,” he said.
“I wonder aloud whether anything meaningful will be achieved unless persons are compelled to give evidence.
“By now most next of kin are well past the position of prosecution as their goal, they merely wish to ascertain the truth, as does the public.”
Acting Attorney-General Stirling Hinchliffe said coroners were handed powers to require self-incriminating evidence from witnesses in 2003, but this only applied to deaths occurring after that date.
“For deaths prior to 2003, witnesses could refuse to give self-incriminating evidence, which made it harder for coroners to find out what actually happened,” he said.
“This led to the creation of a ‘hard core’ of remaining cases that have not received the benefit of the modern coronial regime and remain unresolved to this day.
“By allowing coroners to compel witnesses to give self-incriminating evidence for deaths occurring prior to 2003, we hope to see some of these cases resolved.”
Mr Hinchliffe said the coroner may not require a person to give self-incriminating evidence unless satisfied it was in the public interest.
“Further, evidence given is not admissible against a person in any criminal proceeding, with the exception of perjury,” he said.
“These are important and necessary changes to Queensland’s coronial system and we’re confident they will serve the interests of justice.”