Monday, October 18, 2010

Airlie beach abuse sounds the alarm over a rotten Queensland police culture

The violence dealt out by former officer Benjamin Price points to a grand-scale breakdown within our police force: "They showed no more caution than a bunch of druggies raiding a servo with a stick"

All Queensland police would have been shamed, embarrassed, humiliated and angered by videos showing former officer Benjamin Price strong-arming tiny Renee Toms and water-torturing Timothy Steele. Along with most ofthe 172,000 people who had watched the events on YouTube (as of Friday morning) they would have thought it was one of the lowest, most cowardly and disgusting displays of sadistic power-tripping they had seen.

Well, not of all of them, because the videos seemed to suggest that it was nothing much out of the ordinary at Airlie Beach police station, where officers are seen walking around the violence like you and I might step around a floor cleaner. It was very much business as usual, with a little bit of professional courtesy thrown in as one officer was seen handing Price the fire hose. There didn’t even seem to be the slightest bit of concern - let alone criminal cunning - over the fact that unsavoury events were being captured by video cameras, which they must have known about. They showed no more caution than a bunch of druggies raiding a servo with a stick.

This is the real problem for the Queensland Police Service as it deals with the backwash of a series of appalling events. That one policeman abused his authority is sad but no great surprise. But the fact that of nine police oticers on the periphery of the events that led to Price’s jailing only one, Constable Bree Sonter, did her duty as an officer and human being is shocking.

Five have quit and three are under investigation. Only Sonter has emerged with any credit, although her future in the force might not be a happy one. Throw in Price, and a failure rate of nine out of l0 is not too flash in any circumstance.

Airlie Beach is not exactly Gotham City, so this represents a failure of discipline, purpose, professionalism, process and moral courage on a grand scale. The force is justly proud of the fact that about a quarter of all complaints against officers are now made by police themselves but that cannot alter the fact that more than 50 per cent of those assigned to Airlie Beach were derelict in their duty.

If you subscribe to the rotten apple theory of policing, this barrel was pretty putrid, leaving a smell that has got right up the noses of most Queenslanders. It's not a question of police bashing. lt’s a question of squandered resources and squandered trust.

Think about it. One rogue cops gets off on brutalising people and, because of sins of omission, we lose five other trained officers and have three more under a very dark cloud. One rogue cop goes ape and all the good deeds, good policing and good reputations of thousands of others are trashed. And probably a million bucks is blown on compo for Price’s victims.

Attorney-General Cameron Dick says he is considering an appeal against the leniency of Price’s sentence because of the community outrage over the security camera footage.

They could throw away the key for all I care, but that’s not really the point. The point is that after an individual meltdown there was a collective breakdown in professionalism and process in a force that has more brass than a South American army, more regions than we have states, more districts than a red-headed kid has freckles, more inspectors and sergeants than there are bouncers at a Valley pub and more cops per capita driving desks than any other force in Australia.

Yet, it still seems to go off course with monotonous regularity, We need to know more, including just what happened to the mid-rampage reports of serious misconduct allegedly made about Price by his station oflicer.

ln a hierarchical institution, authority goes downward and responsibility goes upward. Sometimes, responsibility seems to hit a very low ceiling.

The article above by Terry Sweetman appeared (print only) in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 17 October, 2010

We simply can't give everyone a great education

THE Prime Minister is trying to push more children into a devalued tertiary system.

FOR the past three years Julia Gillard has told us that education is her great passion. The other day, on her first overseas trip, she told us that she "came into politics predominantly to make a difference to opportunity questions, particularly make a difference in education. So, yes, if I had a choice I'd probably more be in a school watching kids learn to read in Australia than here in Brussels at international meetings."

It's arguable that someone in authority needs to check on primary schools' methods of teaching children to read, for fear that instructors still wedded to the discredited "whole word" approach are condemning thousands more youngsters to functional illiteracy.

Should busy federal ministers spend any of their time in classrooms, distracting students and teachers alike from the business at hand?

I don't think so and most teachers I know agree. Politicians' visits to schools are usually stunts for the benefit of the media, unless they're done without fanfare, like Tony Abbott's stints as a teacher's aide and a truancy officer in Aboriginal settlements on Cape York. What Gillard was saying in Brussels tells us nothing about her professed passion for education. She was just trying to reassure us with a folksy word-picture that she's still a grassroots politician and hasn't grown too big for her boots.

Her maiden speech is more enlightening. The theme is inequality in education. "High achievers are those talented young people who come in the top 7.5 per cent of results in their Year 12 marks. Last year one very good but very exclusive ladies college in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne alone had 111 high achievers in the pivotal subject of English.

"The 40 working-class secondary schools north and west of the Yarra, including the schools in my electorate, managed only 84 between them. The students from my electorate are not any less intelligent than those from Higgins and Kooyong but their educational opportunities are not the same. Certainly this massive discrepancy would be lessened if we as a nation were prepared to seriously tackle the inequality of opportunity that exists in our education system and create a high class state school system."

Admittedly the speech was made in 1998, when she was still a Fabian and Jeff Kennett was in power. Some axe-grinding would have been expected of the new member for Lalor.

But I don't think it's anachronistic to note that, for someone interested in education, she was strangely silent on how the state system might have been improved. She had nothing to say about the urgent need for some selective schools in Melbourne's western suburbs, nor about raising the standard of teachers' professional attainments. She said nothing about rewarding the best teachers and encouraging them to stay in the classroom, let alone the contentious issue of giving principals more authority to determine which teachers taught what in their schools.

When did Gillard change her tune on the educational reforms that now enjoy a fair degree of bipartisan support? My guess is that it happened in the wake of Mark Latham's policy work on education and his denunciations of the teachers unions, both of which were warmly received in middle Australia.

But it's hard to be sure because she hasn't left much of a paper trail. I can't think of any other prime minister or Labor leader who has written so little and so pointedly declined to participate in the battle of ideas. (Paul Keating may not have been especially literate but he had considered views on policy and had the sense to employ Don Watson as his speechwriter.)

Apart from the boilerplate rhetoric of opinion pieces and the occasional speech, which are obligatory for federal frontbenchers - and presumably written by staff - Gillard is a cipher. You could almost say she's risen without trace.

Although she has spoken often in recent months about "the transformative power of education" in her life and as a result her determination that "every child should have a great education", the phrases raise more questions than they answer. For example, does she see education as something of intrinsic value or as social justice on stilts, simply a means to a political end? In her own case, a combined arts-law degree meant that a working-class Welsh girl got a job practising industrial law at Slater and Gordon, then became a political staff member before finally getting preselection and clambering up the greasy pole.

For an educated person, it has been a decidedly one-dimensional transformation. She's a self-confessed bogan: a philistine who doesn't participate in any aspect of high culture and whose reading tastes are, at best, middlebrow.

In March she told The Australian Literary Review her most recently read nonfiction work was Drew Westen's The Political Brain and her favourite was Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree. I guess the bookshelves in her Altona home were almost as bare as the fruit bowl.

On the question of what every child is entitled to, common sense must tell her that no country can afford a great education - as opposed to an adequate one - for all of its children and that it would be wasted on many of them anyway.

To pretend otherwise is to pander to people's fantasies about their children's futures and to class envy about how their own lives might have been had they had more equal opportunity in their younger days.

It's all of a piece with her policy of bending the rules to push an ever-increasing percentage of people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, into tertiary education.

Most sensible people understand that until relatively recently, degrees were designed for a small percentage of the population who were particularly gifted. The currency of higher education is already debased and the strategies proposed by the Bradley report, which Gillard commissioned, will only make matters worse.

It was interesting to see John Dawkins's intervention this week. He chairs the Australian Qualifications Framework Council and as a former minister for education was credited with a fair amount of currency-debasing in his time.

On Wednesday, Dawkins accused the Group of Eight sandstone universities of trying to re-weight the value of degrees: "They want to not only corrupt the title of doctor, they also seek to corrupt the title of masters and bachelors."

On Friday the Council of Education Ministers was told Gillard's national curriculum was generally reckoned to be overcrowded, incoherently designed and lacking depth. Feedback from the NSW Board of Studies and the state's teaching associations for science, maths, English and history concentrated on its dumbing-down effect. They say the draft version sets lower standards than those in place in NSW and that it shouldn't go ahead in its present form.


More problems for justice in Victoria

Corruption, leaks, coverups and dissension among the prosecutors

SENIOR Office of Public Prosecutions staff are bracing for more strife despite the issuing of a public peace pact.

OPP sources have told the Sunday Herald Sun problems inside the organisation are far from over.

And staff warned they feared a witch-hunt had begun inside the organisation to find leakers after crisis talks between Director of Public Prosecutions Jeremy Rapke, QC, his deputy, Chief Crown Prosecutor Gavin Silbert, SC, and Solicitor for Public Prosecutions Craig Hyland.

The talks were sparked by this newspaper's exposure of deep rifts within the OPP over the appointment of Diana Karamicov and two other solicitors to the positions of associate crown prosecutors.

Last week it was revealed Mr Silbert had written to Mr Rapke warning him that his reputation with OPP solicitors, crown prosecutors, the bar and the judiciary had been damaged by his relationship with Ms Karamicov.

Mr Rapke denied last week that he had had a sexual or an improper relationship with the 31-year-old lawyer.

The State Government's failure to order an inquiry into the OPP crisis was set to revive moves within the organisation to pass a motion of "no confidence" in Mr Rapke. An earlier move by OPP solicitors in July to pass such a motion was dropped. "They are still furious - this statement will solve nothing - the solicitors have lost confidence in him," one OPP lawyer said. "If there was a properly constituted inquiry where people could give evidence under oath, he would be gone."

In Friday's statement, Mr Rapke, Mr Silbert and Mr Hyland said they were "committed to continuing to work together".

In other developments:

A LAND title transfer document showed Mr Rapke had witnessed the deed of transfer when Ms Karamicov bought her former husband out of their former matrimonial home in 2008. OPP sources confirmed it was Mr Rapke's signature;

THE OPP offices in Lonsdale St were swept for bugs, according to an OPP insider; and,

ATTORNEY-General Rob Hulls refused on Friday to say he had confidence Mr Rapke was telling the truth when he said he had not had an improper relationship with Ms Karamicov.

Mr Silbert is believed to have promised during talks he would not reveal what occurred during the negotiations over Friday's statement.

Yesterday he refused to make any comment as shadow attorney-general Robert Clark reiterated his call for an independent inquiry. "Rob Hulls shows every indication of having sought to cover up the festering problems within the OP. He has been warned about these problems for months, but has had his head in the sand," Mr Clark said.

Mr Hulls, in a statement from his adviser Meaghan Shaw, said he had full confidence in the DPP. "Victorians have a high-calibre, hard-working, innovative prosecutorial service and I am pleased that the leadership of this service is committed to continuing to work together in the best interests of all Victorians," he said.

"As the three key prosecution leaders have said, staff, who are all appropriately qualified, work very hard under increasing pressure and as a government we will continue to support their work."


Disastrous speed cameras in Victoria

PREMIER John Brumby said legal action could be taken against the company contracted to maintain faulty speed cameras. It comes as Victoria Police confirmed this morning they had switched off all point-to-point speed cameras along the Hume Highway due to a technical glitch.

“Victoria Police and the Department are examining legal action against the company. There’s a contract, the system is meant to work 100 per cent of the time,” Mr Brumby said.” “Although it’s a very small number of faults, legal action is being examined.”

Prominent barrister David Galbally QC said there should be no questions about issuing refunds to the 68,000 motorists fined by the cameras. "If 68,000 people have been fined and there is a doubt as to the accuracy of the speed cameras from point to point then refund the money. There shouldn’t even be an argument,’’ Mr Galbally told 3AW.

"It is high time government and government authorities took responsibility for their actions. They ask the community and individuals to do so, they should do so." Mr Galbally urged motorists who had been fined by the cameras to take their matters to court.

The embarrassing bungle has seen Victoria Police take unlawful action against drivers on at least nine occasions. On one occasion, a 20-year-old woman who was found to be driving at the legal 110km/h limit was clocked doing 150km/h.

Melissa, of Wallan, said she was served with an impoundment notice after being caught doing 154km-h in the 110km-h zone in her Mazda 2. "I was pretty upset. It was impossible for me to go that fast. I drive that road nearly six times a week and it’s just impossible for me to have been going that fast," she told 3AW.

The P-plater, who faced a 12-month license suspension, said she convinced a local police officer she was telling the truth, sparking the investigation that discovered the faulty cameras. "I kept saying I didn’t do it … I was quite emotional and felt a bit embarrassed at the time,’’ she said. "I’m really thankful for the police force who helped. If it wasn’t for them I’d be losing my license still and going to court to fight it. They’re the ones who initiated the investigation and they’ve done a great job.’’

Authorities have gone into overdrive since the fault was discovered on Friday to fix the cameras. Victoria Police , the Department of Justice and private contractors Redflex, who provide and maintain the cameras, are investigating the fault.

Two of the matters have now been withdrawn, and Victoria Police will be urgently contacting the remaining seven people to ensure the penalties are reversed and any fines paid are refunded. The cameras are expected to be fixed this week.

But Deputy Commissioner Ken Lay said the cameras would not be turned on until stringent tests had been conducted to ensure their accuracy. "I am incredibly disappointed that this has happened. As soon as the problem was identified we immediately suspended use of the point-to-point cameras and I will not be reinstating them until I am personally convinced that the fault has been 100 per cent eradicated and that measures have been put in place to ensure that this can never happen again," he said.

"Statistically, these faults have been extremely rare - nine out of approximately 68,000 penalties issued since January 2008. But that is nine too many. People must have confidence in the road safety camera system. We can not afford for that confidence to be eroded by errors such as these."

The problem was identified after police served a notice to surrender to a driver who had been photographed on 24th September this year. The driver protested against the notice and this prompted further investigation by the police members. The investigations showed that the clock on the one camera was out of synch with a second camera. This is the first time this fault has been detected.



Paul said...

Spedd cameras were of course introduced to Australia (and, I seem to recall, the World) by the bankrupt and incompetent Labour government headed (nominally) by the laughable Joan Kirner. States are now blind drunk on the revenue these things generate.

Paul said...

And....its always interesting that these kinds of (speed camera) "errors" always seem to be in the State's favour. Reminds of the Queensland Health pay bungling, which is virtually all related to underpayment, and BTW is still not only going on but seems to be getting worse again.