Top cop should be up for grabs

by Chris Griffith
Published 3 March 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


A former CJC part-time commissioner yesterday said the Borbidge government should throw open the state's top police job when Police Commissioner Jim O'Sullivan's contract expired in October.

Former CJC commissioner Dr Janet Irwin said the government should readvertise the job despite the political turmoil it experienced last week over its memorandum of understanding with the Queensland Police Union.

Dr Irwin said she was "deeply concerned" about the memorandum's intention to compromise the CJC's pivotal role in investigating police misconduct.

The memorandum also indicated the government had agreed not to appoint a police commissioner "that the union has genuine reasons for opposing".

In response to mounting speculation over Mr O'Sullivan's future, on Thursday Mr Borbidge threw the government's support behind Mr O'Sullivan's re-selection.

But Dr Irwin, a former CJC commissioner for Police Service Reviews, said it was wrong if political pressure was to force the government to reappoint Mr O'Sullivan without him being independently re-selected.

"The community deserves a police commissioner who is accountable and selected by proper and independent processes," she said.

"I think it would be reasonable for the position to be advertised nationally and internationally."

Her call was joined by two prominent Queensland academics and an Aboriginal community spokesman who also said the commissioner's job should be advertised widely -- despite the Police Union's long-held belief that the next commissioner should come from within ranks.

In his 1989 anti-corruption report, commissioner Tony Fitzgerald QC said the job of police commissioner should no longer be regarded as a job for life.

"Under current legislation, the Police Commissioner is appointed, conditional on good behaviour, effectively until attaining the age of 65 years," he wrote.

"This has proven unsatisfactory, and, in any case, it is inconsistent with the approach taken to other statutory officers within the Queensland Government and Public Service.

"The position of Police Commissioner does require secure tenure, so that it is insulated against potential political interference.

"On balance, it would be preferable if the Commissioner were contracted for a term of three to five years."

Dr Irwin said the government could draft legislation to ensure the job was always advertised and formal re-selection occurred whenever the commissioner's contract expired. The move would also prevent a commissioner compliant with the government of the day being reappointed automatically.

"If parliamentarians are selected every three years, why not police commissioners?"

In 1992, Mr O'Sullivan was given a four-year contract following his selection by a panel chaired by former Fitzgerald Implementation Unit head, Peter Forster. It also comprised PSMC chairman Dr Peter Coaldrake, former EARC chairman and later NCA head Tom Sherman, and then Police Minister Paul Braddy.

By law, Mr O'Sullivan's appointment was agreed to by then CJC chairman Sir Max Bingham.

Bond University criminologist Prof Paul Wilson said he wouldn't deny the coalition the right to readvertise the position and make a selection afresh "if they felt it necessary to do so".

But he said it would be "a smart move" for the new government to achieve bipartisan support, for example, by placing a Labor parliamentarian on the selection panel.

Prof Wilson said it was "unfortunate" CJC chairman Frank Clair had ardently backed Mr O'Sullivan as Mr Clair could be on the selection panel later this year which considered Mr O'Sullivan for the job. He also had a right of veto on the appointment.

Last week Mr Clair said there would be danger if a different type of personality became police commissioner.

"We must be assured that Jim O'Sullivan will remain in his position for at least a few years to come," he said.

Prof Wilson said: "I think it probably was unfortunate that he came out so strongly."

Mr Clair yesterday said he did not know the process the government would follow in selecting the next police commissioner, but he would act impartially where he was involved.

"If the process is followed which results in there being a range of applicants, including Mr O'Sullivan or otherwise, then I will carry out my functions in a proper way."

Griffith University associate professor of history and politics, Ross Fitzgerald, said the merit principle and not political manoeuvres should decide whether Mr O'Sullivan was reappointed.

"Certainly it is the government's right to appoint a new police commissioner and morale in the QPS is low from the police I have spoken to."

The chairman of the South-East Queensland ATSIC regional council, Santa Unmeopa, said Aboriginal people had problems with Mr O'Sullivan over the Yock and Pinkenbar cases.

"If the job is advertised we may get someone on there who doesn't come from the same culture," he said.

"If he [Mr O'Sullivan] gets back in, he'd get back in on his own merits."