CJC chair, Rob O'Regan QC

by Chris Griffith
Published 11 July 1993 in The Sun-Herald


my face


Q: Does the CJC's lower public profile these days in any way indicate reform is faltering?

A: I don't share your pessimism. The fact the Commission is not in the public eye as much as in former times doesn't mean it's doing its job less well. It's necessary the Commission does some things quietly, without the glare of publicity. I don't shirk publicity when it's necessary to explain what the Commission is doing and to correct misunderstandings.

Q: Doesn't the Commission's lack of a high profile provide its enemies with a chance to quietly, systematically, and slowly undermine it?

A: Quite so, I think that is a danger. I think the present public profile of the Commission is sufficient. I have a different style from my predecessor. I don't know if that is working or not, but I'm reassured by many people - and I'm not interested in the rich, famous or powerful, but by ordinary people who say that I'm not doing a bad job.

Q: Mr Goss has indicated that the CJC's annual funding, around $20 million, will be sustained despite talk of general cutbacks. Are you satisfied with the CJC's current level of funding?

A: I'm reassured by what the Premier is reported to have said. In the light of that I really don't think it's useful to debate the details of our budgetary allocation, but if it's something like the figure he mentioned, I won't be unhappy. I appreciate these are very difficult budgetary times for the State Government.

Q: Would there be a need, however, to give certain projects a lower priority to accommodate budgetary constraints - for example, the review of the criminal justice system?

A: There's always a problem deciding how our budget is best applied to the discharge of our functions. One of the problems of the criminal justice act is that we're required to do a host of things, and it would seem we're required to do many of them concurrently. It's just not possible to do many things at once and to do them all as well as you'd wish to.

Q: Are there any particular items that may have to take a lower priority for the time being?

A: I can't identify any at the moment, but I'll give you an example from the past. I think corruption prevention didn't have the priority it may have deserved because of the enormous backlog of complaints and others in the public sector. They had to be processed. Originally it wasn't possible to exercise a discretion to investigate or not to investigate. You had to do the lot.

Q: Can you justify the Commission's current spending?

A: The expenditure is very closely monitored. We have a very competent accountant. I think as a citizen you will be gratified to know we finished the financial year the other day with a surplus of $2.35 - which is exquisite financial management.

Q: I know the corruption prevention role is now a fully-fledged Division of the CJC. Are there plans to expand that role?

A: No, it's sufficiently resourced at the moment for the foreseeable future?

Q: The Premier did say we risk spending more on accountability than on obtaining the outputs to achieve better government. Do you think there is overkill in Queensland in the quest for accountable government?

A: No I don't think so. I don't know what's meant by the expressions "outputs". It's not one that I use.

Q: Eighteen months ago the CJC asked the State Government to make important changes to the Commission's legislation. The government hasn't responded despite the requests having been documented in reports as far back as December 1991, and August 1992. Are you satisfied with this slow response?

A: It's taken a long time and I think there are some sections of the Act that cry out for amendment. It's a pity these amendments haven't eventuated by now, but I'm hopeful about it because the people with whom we're dealing in the Attorney-General's department about it are certainly keen to see sensible amendments put forward.

Q: What about the much-ventilated recommendation that misconduct tribunals be reestablished separately from the Commission?

A: That's very much a decision of government policy, I think it's manifest those tribunals be established independently of the Commission.

Q: You've recently appointed a successor to Assistant Commissioner Carl Mengler as director of operations and of the Witness Protection Division. But there's concern that only members of the Queensland Police Service were eligible. Could people outside the Police Service apply for the job? Was it advertised nationally?

A: I don't know how widely it was advertised but I was a member of the selection committee. There were a number of assistant commissioner positions which were vacant and it happened that Carl decided to retire at a time appointments had only just been made to a number of vacancies. John McDonnell was eminently qualified for the job and had considerable experience working here. He was appointed after consultation with the Commissioner of Police and with John himself.

Q: But was it possible for people outside the Queensland Police Service to apply for this job directly - for example people from other law enforcement agencies?

A: It is important to remember that this position is part of the police establishment. Carl and the police officers here remain members of the Police Service. It happens that they're seconded to the Commission.

Q: The replacement of CJC full and part-time commissioners has been a headache for the Commission and the Government. There are currently two permanent vacancies as Professor John Western is appointed only until September. When will these appointments be made?

A: The appointment of one I understand is imminent. The appointment of the other I expect would not be until much later in the year. My view is that both appointments should have been made now, but that's not a course of action that commended itself to the Attorney.

Q: Are you satisfied that all the friction and problems in appointing CJC full and part-time commissioners will not occur again?

A: I think the appointments are sensitive. I expect the participants in the process have learnt from bitter experience.

Q: Do you see any shift in emphasis as what the Commission will be doing while you are chairman?

A: I think the emphasis on organised crime is significant and important. I think it's a pity the joint task was not established in an earlier time. I understand Mr Newnham was opposed to that notion. Commissioner O'Sullivan wasn't, and as soon as he came into office something was done about it.

Q: Is there a potential conflict of roles when one CJC division is both operating a task force in conjunction with police while carrying out investigations of alleged misconduct into the force it is working with?

A: The task force doesn't have dual roles. The Commission does. I don't see that as a difficulty as the functions are quite discrete. One doesn't have to be schizophrenic to make a rational distinction between the two.

Q: Wouldn't that create any conflict in the management of the Official Misconduct Division?

A: The suggestion that the Misconduct Division might go soft on certain people because they're involved in the organised crime initiative - I don't think there's any substance in that suggestion.

Q: To what extent has the CJC returned the job of investigating police misconduct to the Police and to what extent may that occur further in the future?

A: Minor disciplinary matters have gone back to the Police Service. There has been an initiative in recent times of informal resolution of complaints. I welcome both of those things. I seems to me that minor complaints should be dealt with in the Service itself provided there's a mechanism to check that the system is working. We're seeking an amendment to the Act so that we can keep an eye on the penalties which are imposed in respect of minor disciplinary charges.

Q: So you're not able to do that job at the moment.

A: We do it informally. We have a good relationship with the Commissioner and his senior officers. They don't regard our interest as intrusive or officious but it's important that our role be asserted, and I assure you it will be.

Q: Do you see a permanent on-going role for the CJC investigating alleged misconduct not just in the Police Service but also in other jurisdictions - the public sector.

A: Too right!

Q: Should the CJC investigate complaints in the corrective services area as recommended by your commission and by the Parliamentary Committee?

A: Any change is really a matter of government policy. The Government's presently considering the matter. I have no strong view about it, but if we did have jurisdiction in this area, the volume of our work would be greatly increased and we would need further resourcing.

Q: Are you concerned about the Premier pre-empting CJC research reports, such as prostitution or cannabis?

A: The CJC recommends. It doesn't decide. It's for governments to decide whether our reports be implemented or not. I would expect they would be given close consideration because they represent significant research?

Q: But isn't there a need for the government to keep an open mind on the CJC's research, and for the public not to regard it as irrelevant?

A: I imagine the government might have some difficulty with the public if it contemptuously rejected a host of CJC reports, but I acknowledge the constitutional position is that the government decides what should be initiated by way of legislation.

Q: The Fitzgerald report recommended the annual publication of a register of correspondence between the Police Commissioner and the Police minister as a way of exposing improper requests made to the Police Service. There's always been confusion as to what should go on the register. What are you doing to clarify this?

A: There were difficulties in the way this was framed in the Act. It wasn't able to achieve the purpose for which it was designed which was to identify material which related to possible political influence by the minister. I understand the section didn't really do that.

Q: The first register in 1990 was bulky and contained examples of possible inappropriate influence by the then-Police Minister. The second register in 1991 was small by comparison.

A: I think that's because there's relatively few documents which meet the criteria as prescribed in the section as it presently stands. As I've said, the section is defective. (I was later told new guidelines have been issued for this year's register and there will eventually be a change to legislation.)

Q: Do you have total confidence in the ability and impartiality of the CJC Parliamentary Committee which scrutinises your commission?

A: It's not an ideal world, but I have confidence in the members of the committee, yes. I think there's no long tradition of parliamentary committees in Queensland. It's inevitable that the committee in some ways is not quite sure where it stands in the constitutional scheme of things. That's not surprising because it is a novel arrangement really. I'm confident the committee is doing its best in a difficult situation.

Q: What's happened to the parliamentary committee's review of the CJC's media policy?

A: I don't envisage any radical changes to the present situation, Indeed the committee hasn't been back to us at all. I don't think it's a current issue at all, but you ask them.

Q: Your predecessor, Sir Max Bingham, and you have been critical of local media coverage of the CJC. Have you been happier lately with the way the CJC has been reported?

A: I'm a happy stoic!

Q: In late 1994 or early 1995 the parliamentary committee will examine whether the CJC should remain a permanent commission. Do you see a time when the Commission will be redundant, or do you see some of its functions as permanent?

A: I think there will always be a need for an independent agency empowered to investigate alleged corruption and misconduct in the public sector.

Q: So that's the role you see as permanent?

A: That's not to say I see the others as temporary. I think the organised crime initiative is going to be around for a considerable time. I think it's important there be effective units to educate the public on corruption prevention to create a more ethical attitude to the exercise of power in public life.

Q: How do you feel about being in the job for six months, now that you know what's like?

A: I don't know what's it like. Every day is a surprise. I envisaged it would be something like this. It's perhaps more intense than I expected. It involves much less legal work than I thought might be involved. It's more management and crisis management. I miss the opportunity to plan things for the future instead of reacting to immediate events.

Q: Is your management style to delegate where possible?

A: I'm all in favour of the delegation of authority. I think I've accomplished quite a bit of that here in my time making people in the Commission accountable for what they did instead of having an elaborate sort of public service-type hierarchy where everything has to be approved at the top. The fact remains I still have to make a lot of decisions.