Building anti-corruption force needs rethink

EVER watched a married couple long out of love struggling through a dinner at a romantic restaurant?

EVER watched a married couple long out of love struggling through a dinner at a romantic restaurant?

They stare at the menu, gaze out the window and no longer even try to hold a meaningful conversation. With their children off their hands, now only the pauses are pregnant.

If they talk at all it will be a few short sentences on safe subjects such as the food in front of them or the view outside anything to avoid the cold war that envelopes them.

It is hard to imagine they once shared a dream for the future and a passion for each other. Even though they cohabit, they go out of their way to avoid each other.

Sadly, in Victoria, our two premier anti-corruption bodies know the feeling. The Office of Police Integrity and the Ombudsman still share the same city building complex in Collins Street but they no longer share even a longing glance, let alone hold hands on investigations. In fact they hate each other's guts.

And like an only child in an ugly divorce, the police ethical standards department is caught in the middle, having to deal with both without favouring either.

One of the main reasons for the squabble is their separate investigations into the poisonous relationship between former chief commissioner Simon Overland and his deputy, Sir Ken Jones.

From the outside it looks as if the OPI has sided with Overland while the Ombudsman is more sympathetic to Jones.

The OPI has finished its report but for legal reasons that we cannot reveal (unless we want to share a cell with a former Turkish wrestler turned drug dealer), it cannot publish all its findings on Sir Ken.

It has been directed to hand those findings to the Ombudsman a decision that resulted in a certain amount of OPI teeth grinding.

The OPI's report, dropped in Parliament in October, showed the then director Michael Strong was filthy when he wrote about the Ombudsman "obliquely" questioning his (Strong's) authority to conduct part of the investigation.

Earlier that month the Ombudsman, George Brouwer, had come out swinging, criticising elements of the OPI investigation. Strong responded in a statement that his probe was clean as a whistleblower.

Brouwer fired back that he was investigating the "motives" of Overland, who with others had complained about Jones to the OPI. Although the OPI was thought to have completed its report on Jones, it is now apparent it is still going, with some investigators wondering aloud whether Brouwer should be called to a compulsory secret hearing.

At least he would know how to get there: before he became the Big O he was the original OPI director. And as both bodies share the same building, no one would have to fork out a cab chit or lunch money.

To call this a dog's breakfast is an insult to the table manners of our canine friends.

So the state government has decided to bring in a New Improved Jumbo 20 per cent Whiter Anti-corruption Unit called (God only knows why) the Independent Broad-based

Anti-Corruption Commission.

Now the daddy of all these types of bodies is the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption, formed in 1974 when local police were rotten as a week-old sweet and sour chop.

Within a few years it exposed force-wide systematic corruption run by station sergeants who distributed payments up and down the ranks. It was like a giant Tupperware party without the biscuits.

In 1977, with the ICAC breathing down their necks, 403 police resigned and 69 were sacked. The old guard were not happy and more than 100 stormed the ICAC sixth-floor offices for an old-fashioned punch-on.

Since its inception, the ICAC has pursued three distinct aims: identify and prosecute bent officials, develop corruption prevention programs and teach the public that graft is bad for business.

More than a quarter of a century ago, wearing duty-free drip-dry pants and a fetching body-shirt, we headed to Hong Kong to investigate this new breed of investigators. In an attempt to get the real story, your correspondent adjourned to the ICAC bar with some of the key investigators.

As this was more than 10 years before Hong Kong was handed back to China, most of the senior officers were still English trained.They stood tall and drank half pints of beer, talking out of the side of their mouths.

Back in Melbourne it is easy (and unfair) to say the OPI has been a massive waste of space. It has completed a series of measured and sensible reports on police use of force, shootings, conflict of interest and the discipline system. It has some dogged investigators and impressive surveillance and covert sections. But it has failed to bring in the big scalps, despite having the power to tap phones and require witnesses to answer questions in secret hearings.

Governments can throw money at these mobs, give them great offices, G-man powers and cute stubby holders, but this does not address the chronic problem how to attract a pool of elite investigators.

Any football coach knows you can have the best game plan, cutting-edge facilities and an elite support staff but if your players are a pack of gumbies you are heading down the toilet.

Imagine for a moment you are an elite homicide detective sergeant, aged about 40. Why would you give up your career to join a group of toe-cutters? Sure, they would pay you a little more but your career path immediately narrows to the width of a goat track.

If you stay in the force you can aspire to highly paid management roles, decide to become a country copper, become an in-house teacher or continue investigating murders.

So what often happens with anti-corruption bodies is they are forced to recruit police who have been overlooked for promotion, those who are looking for a quiet couple of years before retirement and investigators from smaller law enforcement bodies.

And while fisheries and wildlife officers may be experts at nabbing abalone poachers, are they really qualified to catch detectives who are a little bit fishy?

Bad coppers are usually ruthless, greedy, cunning and difficult to catch. They know how the courts work and how investigations are carried out.

If we want to make inroads there needs to be national resolve rather than the present political patchwork response. The best investigators from all Australian police forces should be encouraged to accept two-year secondments to interstate anti-corruption bodies. This would avoid conflict of interest claims as they would not be working on suspects from their own force.

As a reward they would receive accelerated promotion when they returned home. Finally, such a stint would be seen as a mandatory qualification for senior office.

The upside of the Baillieu model is it will not just go after coppers but will look at Victoria's 250,000 public-sector workers and corporate partners.

Maybe they will find out why people such as Tony Mokbel always seem to get planning permission for "investment" properties with apparent ease. If Tony had greased any more wheels you would have been able to see the oil slick from the moon.

The challenge for the government is to find someone to run the place, which has already proved difficult.

The job has, it would appear, been offered to every old judge who still has their own teeth from Judge Judy to Judge Dredd. Even Perry Mason's stunt double has knocked it back because he couldn't take the pay cut.

Our bribery laws must also be toughened. As it stands now, a serious drug dealer would be nuts not to offer his pursuers serious cash to make serious evidence disappear.

Big dealers make more in a month than a detective makes in a decade, so for them it is no skin off their coke-rotted noses to make the big offer. And if the detective knocks it back and charges you with attempted bribery you will more than likely get a concurrent sentence meaning it is a free hit.

Police who cop the money are rightly jailed for years, while those who make the offers are rarely touched and often persuaded to give evidence in exchange for a sentence discount.

When this new body hits town it will inherit the OPI work, but it will also have to work out a target list for the long term. That will come from intelligence, tips and multicoloured flow charts.

What the boss should do is ask Victoria's top 20 detectives to each write the names of six police they think are crooked because insiders are always best placed to identify the traitors.

But knowing who they are is one thing catching them quite another.


Simon Overland, Sir Ken Jones, Michael Strong, George Brouwer

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