Back on the 10th of June, just over four months ago, Queensland’s Parole Board confirmed an application had been lodged by Robert Paul Long for his release from prison.
Long was the murderer who set fire to the Palace Backpackers Hostel in Childers on June 23, 2000.
I unpacked this major chapter in Australian history in my chart-topping podcast CHILDERS – The Full Story – which is available wherever you listen to your podcasts.
15 people died that night. Long was charged and convicted on two counts of murder and arson and sentenced to life in prison. Under a quirk in Queensland’s legal system, that was the maximum penalty that could be applied at the time – despite the fact that 13 others lost their life in that fire.
His sentence came with a 20-year non-parole period. 20 years that has now expired – hence his application for release.
There are no guarantees that he is granted his bid for freedom.
The way it works is he lodges an application and the Queensland Parole Board has 120 days to meet and make a decision. As mentioned, that application was submitted a fortnight before the anniversary of the fire.
According to the Queensland Law Handbook:
“The board must either grant or refuse a parole application within 120 days of receiving it. However, the board may decide to defer a decision until they obtain further information (e.g. a psychiatric evaluation). If the board defers the decision, the timeframe for making a decision becomes 150 days. However, if the board fails to make a decision within 120 days (or 150 days if deferred), it can continue to consider the application.”
Either way – whether he is kept in jail – or is released – there is significant public interest in this case.
Just over a week after that application was lodged, former Isis Shire Mayor Bill Trevor and Palace survivor Richard Tempest hand delivered a bundle of victim impact statements to the President of the Queensland Parole Board Michael Byrne QC.
I’ve read some of them. They are heartbreaking.
At the same time, an online petition was set up by survivor Rob Jansen calling for Long to be kept behind bars for life. It currently has more than 20,000 electronic signatures from around the world. YOU CAN SIGN IT HERE
Two weeks ago I called the Queensland Parole Board seeking answers on how this is progressing. I am sure other media have been asking questions too.
I know for certain that it is at the forefront of thinking for many of the survivors of the fire.
There was even a direct approach made to a Queensland politician to see what information could be found. It has so far, come up empty.
I didn’t get far. I got as far as reception who put me on hold for an age. Eventually I was told there was no information to release and no progress had been made. It was confirmed that there are no guarantees the findings will be made public at all.
Sorry – but that’s not good enough.
Last week I appeared live on national television to discuss the podcast and called for the Queensland Parole Board to provide an update and make the public aware of what was happening with Long’s appeal.
The time is now. Or perhaps it has already expired. If Long’s application was indeed lodged on June 10, it is now 136 days later. Four and a half months.
In that time, my podcast has generated more than 400,000 downloads and every day I receive emails or messages from people across the globe asking how it could be that this man is even being considered for release.
As I expose in the podcast, what happened in Childers was not his first indictment.
So the question is – is it being considered at all?
Has a decision already been made? Or has it been deferred? Is the 150 day period being applied?
There is considerable public interest in this case. Anxiety levels are rising among the survivors and people so heavily impacted by Long before he was locked up.
On its website, the Queensland Parole Board even champions its stance on keeping the public abreast on cases of “considerable public interest.”
So what’s happening?
The last I checked, the Queensland Parole Board was a taxpayer funded department. 120 days have now well and truly passed. 150 days are nearing.
How about an update? The victims deserve it for their own peace of mind.
If 150 days is indeed the line in the sand, the next 14 days shape as a pivotal moment in this 20-year nightmare for all involved in the Childers Palace Backpackers Hostel story.