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NSW political parties never stand up to police? Wrong. Plain wrong.

January 28, 2011

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.

  1. Steven Heath permalink
    January 28, 2011 3:39 pm

    True Mr Carr and it has proven to be effective. The Sun Herald uses “never’ liberally each week, along with “Exclusive” as though a journalist having an interview or conversation (one on one) should be deemed an exclusive, even though other journals are sure to be talking to the same person or organisation that day. Back to my point though, do you think a slightly more current example might be appropriate? The Labor Government is almost 15 years old after all and as you pointed out the Police RC motion was in May 1994, closer to 17 years ago.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      January 28, 2011 3:53 pm

      The reforms seemed to have stuck, certainly if you compare the position in NSW police with the unreformed Victorian force. All you can say with confidence is that the NSW force went from being corruption-prone to corruption-resistant as a result of integrity-testing and supervision by the Police Integrity Commission. A battle worth having but, as The SMH was decent enough to concede, a very real one with a government taking on the boys in blue.

  2. Glen Mahoulis permalink
    January 28, 2011 3:47 pm

    Please continue Bob. Let’s hear more. I would particularly interested to hear you respond to Mitchell’s claim that ‘Bob Carr had one simple electoral rule: don’t let the Liberals outflank us on law and order’, and in particular with reference to criminal justice policy, and the so-called ‘law and order auctions’ that many say you dominated throughout your premiership.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      January 28, 2011 4:17 pm

      I make no apologies for giving police the power to stop and search to remove knives. It has been used by a ( reformed ) police force responsibly and effectively with lives probably saved as a result. But on the other hand in the 2003 election I took on and defeated a Liberal policy of mandatory sentences. It would have been a disaster for the judicial system in the State. We would have had it under the Liberals ; but we were re-elected and it died. Because our policies brought crime down in all categories
      there is now no temptation for Barry O’Farrell to revive such Brogden juvenilia.

  3. Glen Mahoulis permalink
    January 28, 2011 5:31 pm

    Seeing as we are being given a history lesson ….

    You introduced standard non-parole periods, which, along with range of amendments to the Bail Act, have seen NSW’s gaol population rise by 20% in the last 16 years. NSW now imprisons at twice the rate of Victoria, devoting over a billion a year to its Corrective Services budget, almost all of which goes to prisons, and very little to sentences in the community.

    Bob, you promised the electorate you would be ‘tough on crime’, and you kept that promise. It was the foundation stone for your electoral success, and indeed, your career.

    What was the cost? A huge and growing prison population in NSW, with now close to 1 in 4 prisoners at any one time not even convicted of an offence. A new gaol of about 600 capacity being built every few years. Ever increasing numbers of mentally ill and homeless in gaol. An explosion in the numbers of indigenous people locked up.

    This is what Bob meant when he promised to be ‘tough on the causes of crime’: he would put the ’causes’ in warehouses with walls and barbed wire around them.

    I hope you’ll make no apologies for any of this.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      February 25, 2011 1:45 pm

      I have taken time to collect statistics in response to your remarks. They were well-informed and warranted some research. You have conflated standard non-parole periods with amendments to the Bail Act. The two have nothing to do with each other. Your statistic of “1 in 4 prisoners at any one time not even convicted of an offence” cannot logically include people serving non-parole periods. They’ve been tried, convicted and sentenced.

      Even if we were to look only at your comments with regard to bail (i.e. those “not even convicted of an offence”) you’ve left out some very important facts.

      The amendments to the Bail Act in the Bail Amendment (Repeat Offenders) Act 2002 removed the presumption in favour of bail only for repeat offenders and bail absconders. Today 19 out of every 20 people charged with lower level offences in the Local Court are granted bail. Since the amendments, the rate of absconding on bail has fallen by 18.4 per cent in the Local Court and by 46.4 per cent in the District and Supreme Courts.

      In the Second Reading speech for the bill the then Attorney-General, Bob Debus, mentioned the murder of Patricia von Koeverden as accelerating the need for the reform. She was murdered by her husband, who was out on bail despite a long criminal history including at least six incidents involving violence and a siege.

      Even though Victoria imprisons the smallest proportion of its population, the length of the sentences Victorian courts hand down are the second longest in Australia after South Australia.

  4. Thaddeus Du Fresne permalink
    January 28, 2011 9:57 pm

    Bob your the Mikhail Suslov of the NSW Labor Party.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      January 29, 2011 8:58 am

      Thaddeus, old pal, correct me if you can. Fahey and his Coalition opposed the motion for a Royal Commission ; the ALP backed it. We inherited, therefore, a working Royal Commission when we came to government in 1995 and supported it throughout – even, as I explained, when it involved standing up to the police ( something The Sun Herald said state politicians never do ). We introduced corruption-resistant mechanisms into a force that had once been corruption-prone. Historical record, beyond dispute, no argument entered into.

      By the way, what’s happened to old Suslov ? Give me a bit of research on him and I’ll whack it onto my much-loved communist nostalgia and cold war romanticism pages.

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