NSW political parties never stand up to police? Wrong. Plain wrong.
I have a healthy interest in how the media rewrites history. It’s not malevolence or bias, I’ve concluded. It’s laziness. They forget their own words, and never check.
This thought occurred to me when last week’s Sun Herald opined that political parties in NSW have never stood up to police: ‘Politicians still dancing to the beat of the blue light disco’, (Sun Herald, 23 January 2011).
Anyone who recalls the story of the Police Royal Commission knows this is wrong. Plain wrong. History being rewritten on your watch.
In May 1994, completely disaffected with the performance of the NSW police on a number of fronts, I persuaded my caucus to back a motion for a Royal Commission being moved in the Legislative Assembly by independent John Hatton. With the support of Labor votes and Independents it carried 46 to 45. The next morning Alan Jones editorialised that the state opposition would lose the support of the 12 000 members of the Police Association. The Telegraph criticised the decision for a Royal Commission as a waste of $100 million. The police were in no doubt that the ALP had joined their critics less than a year before the State election of 1995. In my speech supporting the Hatton motion I had detailed criticism of police behavior as had my colleagues, unconstrained about criticizing police.
The next step was to implement the recommendations for the reform that came out of the Royal Commission. In July 1996 the government resolved to give the Police Commissioner power to dismiss any police officer in whom he had lost confidence. As well as giving the Commissioner this power we also denied these dismissed police the right of redress from the Industrial Commission. This was radical – for a Labor Government, especially. And I faced a caucus revolt. Random drug and alcohol testing and compulsory integrity declarations every three years or upon promotion were also part of the reforms. Fifteen hundred angry police demonstrated outside parliament chanting “send the pommy home” in reference to our choice of Police Commissioner, Peter Ryan. We prevailed. The reforms passed over rank and file police opposition.
The Sydney Morning Herald showed the grace to say that “Carr had shown a steely courage in resisting the pressure of the police association.” (‘Carr’s baton’, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 November 1996).
Newspapers are the rough cut of history, they say, but not when, with stunted memories, they seek to re-invent it.