Apology owed after Operation Prospect debacle
While the NSW Ombudsman’s office is busy ordering the state’s Crime Commission (NSWCC) and the NSW Police Force to apologise for illegally bugging people 20 years ago, it should consider making an apology of its own.
In a second report into Operation Prospect tabled in Parliament, Acting Ombudsman John McMillan said: “I was interested to note the NSWCC’s action of making some apologies was the subject of a newspaper article a week or so after the apologies were made.
“The newspaper report, while not entirely accurate, could only have been sourced in one of three ways — by release of information from the Ombudsman’s office, a release from the NSWCC or independent research carried out by the media as to who among the 16 people anonymised (sic) in the Operation Prospect report was given an apology,” he said.
Professor McMillan never expanded on what is not accurate but went on to state that the third of those options was “improbable”.
While not revealing who gave the information to The Daily Telegraph, I can tell you it was not Nick Kaldas, nor the Crime Commission and in fact did involve independent research by the Telegraph about who received apologies. If such an inaccurate assumption can be put in a report tabled in Parliament how can anyone have confidence in the rest of the report issued by the Ombudsman’s office into the bugging scandal?
Why the subject is even put in the report is a mystery but continues the Ombudsman’s office’s obsession with trying to find out who leaked information that should be put in the public domain. What is the use of telling the NSWCC and the NSW Police Force to apologise to people if it is to be kept secret? The whole idea of an apology is to publicly recognise a wrong. Why he or his predecessor Bruce Barbour need to know who is talking to journalists is beyond me.
During Operation Prospect a number of journalists were ordered to appear before the former ombudsman Bruce Barbour and, under the threat of jail, were questioned about their police contacts and sources. Mr Barbour spent four years investigating the whole sorry saga of a secret police unit targeting innocent police before he abruptly retired and left Prof McMillan to finish the report.
Eventually he handed down a 900page report making 38 recommendations, including issuing apologies to people and potential charges to others. The report was widely criticised publicly by some of the state’s top lawyers and privately by some of the most senior police.
Being familiar with all of this, I have a few recommendations of my own.
Firstly the office of the NSW Ombudsman should apologise to The Daily Telegraph, myself and the NSW Crime Commission for its inaccurate statement.
But its biggest apology should be issued to the taxpayers of NSW for wasting $14 million on the secret inquiry which achieved little.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence but the only person and organisation mentioned in the final report is former deputy commissioner Kaldas and the NSW Crime Commission who both publicly attacked the final report when it was released last December. The NSWCC has since apologised to the remaining six people the Ombudsman said had been ignored.
Operation Prospect was set up to investigate the illegal bugging of police by a covert internal affairs unit run by the NSW Police Force looking into police corruption between 1999 and 2001. It led to two parliamentary inquiries and a public falling out between then-police commissioner Andrew Scipione and deputies Catherine Burn and Kaldas.
Only Cath Burn remains in the force. Since the Prospect debacle the office of the Ombudsman has been stripped of its powers to investigate police complaints.