Here we Joh Again! The Queensland Police and the LNP

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The unhealthy relationship between the Queensland Police, the LNP and Rupert Murdoch’s Courier-Mail should make all Queenslanders very uneasy, writes barrister Alex McKean.

The unhealthy relationship between the LNP government and the Queensland Police Service (QPS) has been brought into sharp focus since the announcement of the State election, to be held on 31 January 2015. This relationship, and the circumstances in which it is occurring, should make all Queenslanders feel very uneasy.

The propaganda arm of the LNP, the Courier Mail, weighed in as soon as the election date was announced, with an editorial seeking to smear the ALP as being soft on crime. The article said the ALP would wind back the anti-bikie legislation, which the anonymous author claimed had been successful.

Those claims were based upon the comments of Superintendent Jim Keogh, who was quoted at length throughout the article voicing his support for the LNP’s tough stance on bikies and sounding a warning note that "more needs to be done" in the future to protect Queenslanders from bikies.

Similar tactics were employed in the lead-up to the Stafford by-election, when QPS Commissioner Ian Stewart took the extraordinary step of providing an early release of crime statistics a few days prior to the poll.

The Fitzgerald Report identified that the practice of police releasing (commonly false) crime data close to elections was an issue of concern and part of the politicisation of the police force in Queensland.

Commissioner Stewart brushed aside criticism of his flouting of post-Fitzgerald protocols by asserting his independence and stating that the QPS ‘

"... work for the government of the day, as does every other government department."

That the Police Commissioner takes the view that QPS should exercise no greater degree of independence from the government of the day than any other government department is a matter of grave concern. Such a stance ignores the lengthy history of the QPS being used as a political tool in this State and the crucial role of an independent police service in the operation of the separation of powers doctrine that is so important to a healthily functioning democracy.

It is also of concern that Commissioner Stewart’s words echo similar comments made by the Premier’s chief media adviser, Mr Lee Anderson.

On 18 November 2013, Mr Anderson gave evidence to the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee about his interactions with Dr Ken Levy, then acting chair of the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

Mr Anderson’s evidence concerned his level of input into an opinion piece Dr Levy published in the Courier Mail, which was intended to be and was supportive of the tough anti-bikie laws introduced by the LNP government.

Mr Anderson admitted he had, on the urging of the Premier and Attorney-General, approached Dr Levy to ask him to do an interview with Des Houghton from the Courier Mail. Mr Anderson also said he had "prepped" Dr Levy for the interview, in terms of topics and issues which Dr Levy should not discuss. One of the areas Mr Anderson advised Dr Levy to avoid was alleged links between police officers and outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Mr Anderson denied he had done anything wrong by offering this level of assistance to Dr Levy, saying he would provide the same advice to "any of the portfolios". Anderson went on to describe the CMC as a "partner" of the government, expressing the view this was not mutually exclusive of the independence of the CMC from government.

The issues Mr Anderson wanted Dr Levy to steer clear of involved a CMC investigation into a number of Gold Coast police officers with alleged links to bikie gangs. Des Houghton reported, on 30 October 2013, that a senior Gold Coast police officer had admitted himself to a mental hospital to avoid answering questions about those links at a CMC hearing.

The ABC has subsequently revealed that detectives from Taskforce Maxima, the ‘anti-bikie’ unit, had found emails linking notorious former Gold Coast police officer, Mick Featherstone, to bikies and serving police officers in alleged money laundering activities, in early 2013.

The same report showed the QPS fraud squad had totally failed to investigate a complaint about the alleged kidnapping of an NAB bank executive by Mr Featherstone and Clive Palmer’s media adviser, Mr Andrew Crook, despite the NAB providing police with a 109 page statement from the kidnapped employee.

An earlier ABC report detailed allegations about a series of scams run from the Gold Coast by Mr Featherstone, which had fleeced millions from a number of Queenslanders. It was alleged that a statement by a private investigator engaged by scam victims had been provided to the QPS fraud squad in 2012. Again, no steps were taken to investigate Mr Featherstone, himself a former member of the QPS fraud squad.

That report revealed that the Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, had failed to act on information about Mr Featherstone’s scams. This information was passed along by another MP to Mr Bleijie, from a constituent who had been a scam victim. Despite being the Minister responsible for the Office of Fair Trading, which includes a major investigations unit dedicated to investigating large-scale scams, Mr Bleijie flick-passed the inquiry to the QPS.

Mr Newman and Mr Bleijie performed a legislative emasculation of the CMC in March 2014, renaming it the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC). Dr Levy was granted a legislative extension of his tenure as acting chair.

Despite his earlier willingness to publicly back the government’s anti-bikie laws in print, Dr Levy was unable to confirm or deny whether the CCC was investigating the repeated failures of the QPS fraud squad to protect Queenslanders and investigate Mr Featherstone.

Of course, Dr Levy remains under investigation by the Police Commissioner over possible charges that he misled Parliament in his obscurantist failure to give frank responses to the PCMC. This investigation has now been inexplicably stalled for over 8 months.

Mr Anderson appears to have achieved his ambition of ensuring that only stories presenting the Newman regime in a positive light make their way onto the pages of the Courier Mail. A recent story about the unraveling NAB kidnapping case named Mr Featherstone, but made no reference to information previously published about his links to bikies and serving police, nor his involvement in a variety of scams.

Courier Mail readers remained ignorant of all of this information, with the headline directing the focus to links with Clive Palmer.

The Fitzgerald Report dealt with the relationship between the media and the government in Queensland, at page 141, stating,

‘... unfortunately, parts of the media in this State have contributed to a climate in which misconduct has flourished. Fitting in with the system and associating with and developing a mutual interdependence with those in power have had obvious benefits.'

The Inquiry which led to the Fitzgerald Report began as an investigation into criminal enterprises the existence of which the police and the government of the day denied, but which a few observant journalists were able to easily detect.

What may initially have been viewed as laziness or incompetence by police, in failing to find and shut down organized crime, was soon revealed as widespread systemic corruption with big money being paid for the protection of criminal activities. Links to politicians from the then ruling National Party were later established, with four Ministers and the Police Commissioner ending up in jail, and former premier, Bjelke-Petersen, himself, escaping only by virtue of a stacked jury.

Mr Newman and Mr Bleijie seem to pin many of their re-election hopes on the results of their crackdown on bikies, with the Courier Mail seemingly willing to uncritically boost the position of the LNP/QPS axis.

Meanwhile, it appears that old-fashioned police corruption has been allowed to flourish on the Gold Coast, and in goodness knows how many other places.

Future generations of Queenslanders may well ask why the State’s daily newspaper went to such lengths to avoid alerting the public to the rottenness that was gnawing at the heart of the State’s public life.

Read more of IA's Here we Joh again! series.

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