Goss floats NSW police model

by Chris Griffith
Published 27 September 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


Paul Braddy, the new Queensland Police Minister, must be wondering if a fate awaits him similar to his newly departed NSW counterpart, Bill Pickering and his cabinet colleague Terry Mackenroth.

Wednesday, the day it was known Mr Braddy would be Police Minister, was the day the politically rehabilitated Mr Mackenroth reassured the media his stouch with Police Commissioner Newnham was behind him.

The day before, NSW Premier John Fahey's sword had fallen on Mr Pickering after his long-term feud with NSW Police Commissioner, Bill Lauer.

Premier Wayne Goss's response was to float Mr Fahey's idea of a Police Ministry, a buffer between a Police Minister and his commissioner, as a possibility for Queensland.

Fortunately for Mr Goss and Mr Braddy, a state bureaucracy is about to launch a review which, coincidentally, will address legal aspects of the Mackenroth-Newnham affair and other potential problems in Police Service administration.

The review of the 1990 Police Service Administration Act, a process scheduled in the Act itself, will begin this week. It is the third in a trilogy of current Police Service reviews.

The first, the CJC's examination of police powers, should be completed before year's end, while the second, the CJC's evaluation of Fitzgerald report reforms in the Police Service, is expected to report to State Parliament by March.

The review of the Act is being supervised by a steering committee containing PSMC chairman Dr Peter Coaldrake, CJC chairman Sir Max Bingham, Police Commissioner Noel Newnham, and, prior to Mr Braddy's appointment, Warburton ministerial adviser Tim Moroney.

This committee has overseen the development of an issues paper by the Police Service's Policy, Research, and Evaluation Branch.

The Branch is expected to advertise the review in newspapers, release the issues paper this week, and solicit submissions with all the razzmatazz of an EARC review.

It is, however, unknown whether the Branch, like EARC, will make these submissions public and maintain a public correspondence register in the spirit of EARC's trail-blazing commitment to public accountability.

Under the Act, Mr Braddy must table the review's report in State Parliament within 14 sitting days of the end of Police Commissioner's Newnham term.

The review is relevant to the Newnham-Mackenroth affair because the initial degeneration of Mackenroth's and Newnham's relations can be largely blamed on the Act which allows a Minister some role in operational matters traditionally a Commissioner's domain.

The Act empowers the Minister to direct the Police Commissioner concerning "the number and deployment of officers and staff members and the number and location of police establishments and police stations".

Such an ambiguous power can allow a Minister to go too far, and generally creates confusion about where the Minister's power ends and the Commissioner's role begins, a perfect scenario for misunderstandings, friction, and fallouts.

In the book Keeping Them Honest, Mr Newnham expressed his displeasure over Mr Mackenroth's instruction in October and December 1990, that he must approve any alteration of the hours during which police stations were open.

Official correspondence between Mr Mackenroth and Mr Newnham, tabled in State Parliament in March this year, set out other examples where responsibilities were misunderstood.

Heading the list was Mr Mackenroth's request for Mr Newnham to carrel the NSW Police Force to locate `run-away' MP Phil Heath six days after Mr Heath had been reported by police as safe and well in Port MacQuarie.

Mr Mackenroth made this request after the Opposition had asked the CJC to investigate Mr Mackenroth's use of the Joh-Jet for his `mercy-dash' to visit Mr Heath in Port MacQuarie.

Of course, Mr Mackenroth is not the only Police Minister to delve into operational matters; he is one of a long list of Queensland Police Ministers who had trouble with this separation of powers. Mr Mackenroth's predecessor, Vince Lester, gained notoriety for treating police cars as his personal taxi fleet. On one occasion he requested a police car take him to the nearest chemist store to fill a prescription.

In NSW, the problem was the other way round with Police apparently unsure of their power to conduct forensic testing and to spend $2000 without ministerial approval.

Mr Fahey's idea of a Police Ministry or the Police Board concept could iron out the relationship between the Minister and Police here in Queensland. Certainly the government's right to govern versus the potential for political interference in the Police Service is the central issue.

The review will also examine the internal discipline and appeals process, the appointment process for the commissioner and executive officers, and commissioner contract appointments.

Police Union general secretary Bob Brummell said the Union would canvass the authoritarian nature of internal disciplinary procedures, which he said were entirely punitive and did not address structural problems that lay at the cause.

He said two CJC commissioners, Dr Janet Irwin and Dr John Kelly, charged with reviewing decisions such as transfers, promotions, and disciplinary breaches, should decide a review outcome rather than only make a recommendation back to the Police Commissioner.

The Union is also against the exclusion of police cadets from industrial awards and agreements. He said the Union regretted the exclusion of a police officer from the selection panel for the next Police Commissioner.

Of course, there are concerns about police administration that fall outside a review of the Police Service Administration Act. There is, for example, the conflict a Police Commissioner may experience because of dual responsibilities under this Act and the Criminal Justice Act.

The Police Service Administration Act requires the Police Commissioner implement the Minister's "policy and priorities", yet the Criminal Justice Act requires compliance with policy directives "based on the Commission's research". What if these conflict?

There is also foreshadowed changes to reconstitute the CJC's Misconduct tribunals under separate legislation. These tribunals were identified by all as a problem from the start.

Mr Braddy may have his work cut out, but hopefully, as they say at the accident scene, help is on the way.