Reform police chief sidelined

by Chris Griffith
Published 10 May 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


Richard Chesterman QC's order to dismiss Police Commissioner Noel Newnham proves anything, it is that the `level playing field' concept is a myth when applied to justice as well as economics.

Free from any penalty is a prime minister who forgot to fill in his tax return, a federal communications minister who forgot to declare his interest in a Sydney radio station, and 30 or so Queensland politicians who refused to refund misused travel entitlements.

Mr Chesterman found Mr Newnham guilty of official misconduct for failing to refund the Queensland Police Service $2102 paid in airfares for Mr Newnham to attend the Interpol General Assembly in Ottawa, Canada in 1990.

In his judgment, Mr Chesterman said Mr Newnham was an unconvincing witness; he said Mr Newnham's explanation was inconsistent with that he gave Judge Lowenthal at the previous inquiry into allegations by former police minister Terry Mackenroth.

However Mr Chesterman did not believe Mr Newnham had set out to keep the money.

"I do not conclude that Mr Newnham intended never to pay the amount but it is my judgment that he decided not to pay unless and until he was presented with something in the nature of an invoice from Q.P.S," the judgment said.

This has left many wondering whether Mr Newnham deserved the harsh penalty of dismissal; indeed no motive or advantage was established for his decision to hold onto the money.

Among those supporting Mr Newnham are assistant commissioner Kevin O'Reilly and the state's most senior female police officer, Superintendent Jill Bolen.

Both spoke at last week's Brisbane-central rally in support of Mr Newnham and were criticised by the Premier, Mr Goss, for doing so.

Mr Newnham now has 28 days to lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court on the grounds of an error in law, a denial of natural justice, and severity of the penalty.

Meanwhile Mr Goss is this weekend considering extending the appeal grounds to include matters of fact and other grounds available to those convicted of criminal offences.

It is obvious Mr Goss, who said he wanted the Newnham decision like "a hole in the head", must be worried the government eventually could play a role in sacking Mr Newnham should the appeal fail.

The CJC Act says the tribunal's decision is final, however a later Act of Parliament, the 1990 Police Service Administration Act, gives the Police Minister, the CJC chairman, or if they disagree the parliament a role in dismissing a police commissioner.

Hopefully, Mr Newnham's appeal will succeed and he will be reinstated. His record, after all, was 35 years of distinguished and untarnished service in the Victorian and Queensland police services.

The government's dilemma, should the appeal fail, is the public will remember any government-executed dismissal of Mr Newnham with any move by Mr Goss to restore former Police Minister Terry Mackenroth to the ministry.

The public will also wonder how the Labor Party's caucus can continues to justify its recent election of Mr Mackenroth as caucus chairman.

Meanwhile, the Queensland Police Service is in limbo awaiting the outcome of the appeal and the subsequent deliberations. It is hoped this matter will be resolved soon for the sake of the Police Service's own internal stability.