Here we Joh again: Queensland Police stall investigation into anti-corruption boss

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Dictatorial Queensland Premier Campbell Newman in front of a portrait of corrupt former Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen

Queensland Police seems to be stalling an investigation into claims the Premier Campbell Newman's hand-picked acting CCC chair, Ken Levy, deliberately misled Parliament. Alex McKean considers why.

ONE OF THE REASONS the Newman Government gave for the radical surgery it performed on the corruption watchdog was that the old CMC was inefficient and took far too long to investigate complaints.

These same criticisms have not been levelled at Queensland Police, despite the length of time it is taking that organisation to complete a number of high profile investigations.

Perhaps most puzzling is the status of the investigation into Dr Ken Levy, the acting chair of the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).

In November 2013, Dr Levy was referred to a Select Committee on Ethics for investigation of allegations he deliberately misled Parliament when giving evidence to the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee (PCMC).

The Select Committee initially published that it would hold public hearings into the matter in January 2014. Their statement of this intended course of action was, later, withdrawn without offering an explanation. Communications with the Select Committee seeking to make submissions drew the belated explanation that submissions from interested parties would not be sought because persons with no direct involvement in the matter would not be able to add value to the deliberations.

The matter then appeared to stagnate until May 2014, when an Opposition MP requested the Police Commissioner to investigate whether Dr Levy had deliberately misled Parliament. It has been parked with the Queensland Police since that time, with no determination having been made and no credible explanation for the delay.

What makes the situation all the more concerning is that the seemingly interminable delays in the investigations only strengthen the perception that Dr Levy is somehow a protected species and the Government is exerting pressure to ensure he continues to head the CCC as long as possible.

These concerns are heightened by the seeming simplicity of the issues at play in the investigation and the manner in which the evidence has been so conveniently documented.

These concerns in turn raise serious issues about the ability of a person under investigation for allegations of this kind to give the independent and active leadership that a body like the CCC needs to do its job effectively and well.

It is difficult to see how public confidence in the CCC can be enhanced by the current situation. Although the Premier has expressed an intention to backflip on the Government’s recent legislation which removed the legislative requirement for bipartisan appointments to the CCC Chair’s position, by keeping Dr Levy acting in the key anti-corruption position, he manages to maintain the worst of possible scenarios.  

Dr Levy is not a bipartisan choice. By making an acting appointment, the Government was able to avoid the requirement for bipartisan endorsement contained in the legislation as it then stood.

So, Dr Levy does not have the confidence that comes from knowing I am in this job for the next five years. He does not have the confidence of knowing that both sides of the Parliamentary aisle thought I was good enough to make these tough decisions. And he has the confidence-sapping situation of an apparently stalled police investigation hanging over him.

The offence of ‘false evidence before Parliament’ is a very simple one.

Section 57(1) of the Criminal Code provides:

‘A person who, during an examination before the Legislative Assembly or a committee, knowingly gives a false answer to a lawful and relevant question put to the person during the examination commits a crime.’

The investigation is considerably simplified by the fact that the proceedings before the PCMC were all recorded and transcribed. Dr Levy’s evidence to the PCMC and his letter supposedly correcting the record, are available in black and white.

The issue then is whether Dr Levy, knowingly, gave a false answer to a lawful and relevant question put to him during the examination?

Dr Levy was appointed Acting Chair of the CMC on 16 May 2013. As mentioned above, this was not a bipartisan appointment. On 31 October 2013, an article carrying Dr Levy’s byline appeared in the Courier Mail.

In this article, Dr Levy said of the Government’s controversial anti-association laws:

‘The Attorney-General and the Premier – with support of the Queensland Government – are taking the strong action that is required.’

That was Halloween. The next day, 1 November 2013 (All Hallows Day) Dr Levy gave evidence before the PCMC.

In response to a question from the Opposition Leader, Dr Levy denied that he had discussions with “anyone from government” about the hearing or the article he had written.

Dr Levy said of the article:

“It is my composition.”

With that passage of time, one might think that a witness’s recollection would be fresh.

On the very next day, 2 November 2013, Dr Levy contacted the chair of the PCMC and sought to correct the record, saying there had been some contact between Mr Lee Anderson, head of the Premier’s media unit, and the CMC media unit.

One might think that the fact Dr Levy found it necessary to clarify this point indicated he, at least, thought that contact from Mr Anderson would fulfill the criterion of ‘discussions’ with ‘anyone from government’ prior to publication of his article.

Dr Levy confirmed this information in a detailed letter to the chair of the PCMC on 4 November 2013. Neither the letter nor the telephone call referred to any other contact between Dr Levy and Mr Anderson.

In the letter, Dr Levy said that on being asked the question by the Opposition Leader on 1 November 2013, he had not recalled the:

‘… brief matter which was raised with me one late afternoon by the Commissions media unit staff.’

Dr Levy gave evidence before the PCMC again on 13 November 2013. He was reminded by the chair that, as he was a witness before the PCMC, he was subject to the Standing Orders and the Criminal Code in relation to the information he provided the Committee.

Dr Levy categorically denied that the Premier or anyone from his office asked him to write an article.

He said:

“If one asks: ‘Did the Premier or anybody from his office ask me to write an article?’ The answer is, no.”

Regarding the choice of the rabidly pro-Government commentator, Des Houghton as his contact at the Courier Mail, Dr Levy initially said he had chosen Houghton based on a “Google search” showing Houghton had written previous articles on the topic.

Minutes later, Dr Levy revealed he had sought a recommendation from Mr Anderson about whom he should speak to at the paper.

Dr Levy admitted he had initiated that, previously concealed, conversation between himself and Mr Anderson, which he said took place over the telephone.

Despite this revelation, Dr Levy continued to deny that he and Mr Anderson had ever discussed the content of the article, saying:

“Well that conversation was about who would be reliable. There was nothing about the article. He did not see the article.”

Dr Levy clearly stated this conversation was the only other contact he had with Mr Anderson and it was only for the limited purpose of seeking a recommendation about to which journalist he should speak.

Looking at the contradictory evidence of Dr Levy to this point, it appears the initial evidence that he had no discussions with anyone from government was misleading, in that he subsequently admitted direct contact between himself and Mr Anderson.

The earlier letter supposedly correcting the record could also be seen as misleading, given subsequent disclosures.

The evidence given by Dr Levy to that point appeared very shaky when Mr Anderson fronted the PCMC on 18 November 2013 to give evidence about his interactions with Dr Levy.

Mr Anderson’s evidence to the PCMC was that Premier Campbell Newman and Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie wanted the CMC to be out in the media commenting on bikies being a serious menace to society. He confirmed the contact between him and the CMC media unit.

Mr Anderson said he spoke to Dr Levy at least twice and recommended Dr Levy speak to Des Houghton. He further contradicted Dr Levy’s evidence, saying he told Dr Levy what things he should and should not discuss and “envisaged a feature story” on Des Houghton’s page.

The most amazing revelation from Mr Anderson was his evidence that, after the two telephone calls and before Dr Levy spoke to Des Houghton, there was, indeed, a face-to-face meeting between Dr Levy and Mr Anderson on level 15 of the Executive Building, where the Premier’s office is located.

In respect of what happened at that meeting, Mr Anderson again contradicts Dr Levy, saying he “prepped” Dr Levy in terms of questions and “where not to go”.

It can be said with confidence, if Mr Anderson’s evidence is correct, then Dr Levy has misled Parliament by failing to disclose the sit-down meeting in the Premier’s office, only a week or so prior to 1 November 2013.

The transcripts of all of the PCMC hearings (linked to this article), on 1, 13 and 18 November 2013, run to 52 pages. It is inconceivable that the Police Commissioner has not quickly apprehended the matters raised by the contradictions clearly set out in those records.

The Police Commissioner has not been able to satisfactorily explain the delay, saying the investigation is progressing ‘as quickly as possible’ and describing the investigation as ‘complex’.

There has been criticism of the Police Commissioner, recently, for reviving the pre-Fitzgerald era practice of police releasing crime statistics apparently favourable to the Government in the lead-up to the Stafford by-election.

This follows on from controversial former AFP Commissioner, and now part-time Commissioner of the CCC, Mick Keelty’s review of the QPS. Mr Keelty, in his report, Sustaining the Unsustainable, criticised the ‘separateness’ of the QPS, stating the need for

‘… a strong alignment to government objectives.’

Mr Keelty also recommended that the practice of Police Ministers issuing directions to Police Commissioners, not favoured since Fitzgerald, be revived, recommending that ‘common sense prevails’ and a ‘broad direction’ be drafted which would allow that the

‘… strategic direction of the Queensland Police Service could then align itself to the Government’s priorities.’

The Newman Government has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect Dr Levy from proper scrutiny, including sacking the PCMC, setting up a Clayton’s Parliamentary inquiry, censoring submissions challenging Dr Levy’s legislative extension of tenure and now possibly pressuring the Police Commissioner to go slow in his investigation into Dr Levy.

Some might say it was a good situation for Mr Newman’s Government — that the Police Service, aligned to the Government’s priorities, investigating the semi-permanent chair of the anti-corruption watch dog for keeping secrets about being schooled by the Government’s chief spin doctor from a Parliamentary Committee to whom he was obliged to tell the truth.

Then, again, some people might think that the object of government is to serve the public. These people’s view of these events might be completely different.

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