White knight in white shoe land

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Martin Leonard

Jacks and Jokers By Matthew Condon UQP, 466pp, $29.95 “THAT’S as­tound­ing,” said Queens­land po­lice com­mis­sioner Ray Whitrod on hear­ing the Bjelke-Petersen cab­i­net had pro­moted in­spec­tor Terry Lewis to as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner. Did the govern­ment not re­alise Lewis had been a bag­man for cor­rupt for­mer com­mis­sioner Frank Bischof? Po­lice min­is­ter Tom New­bery was un­moved. “That was when he was a de­tec­tive sergeant — he is now an in­spec­tor and wouldn’t do that sort of thing.” It was Novem­ber 1976, and the re­al­i­sa­tion for Whitrod, cor­rup­tion-fighter and re­formist, that his po­si­tion was un­ten­able.

Jacks and Jokers is the sec­ond in­stal­ment of a tril­ogy by jour­nal­ist and au­thor Matthew Condon cov­er­ing the rise and demise of a ca­reerist po­lice com­mis­sioner. Cov­er­ing 1976-82, the book fol­lows the suc­cess­ful first vol­ume, Three Crooked Kings, and ex­am­ines Lewis’s con­sol­i­da­tion of power, his subor­di­nat­ing law en­force­ment to the fur­ther­ance of the Bjelke-Petersen govern­ment, and the po­lice force’s re­ver­sion to a cul­ture that fos­tered cor­rup­tion and mis­con­duct.

Iron­i­cally, these grubby ac­counts at times chal­lenge the or­tho­doxy that the po­lice force im­me­di­ately ac­qui­esced in Lewis’s un­der­min­ing of Whitrod, who was sim­ply a naive white knight in white shoe coun­try. Rather, Whitrod’s legacy im­me­di­ately man­i­fested it­self in the cadre of hon­est of­fi­cers who op­posed and frus­trated Lewis’s at­tempts to over­turn the re­forms of the pre­vi­ous six years. It was a bat­tle Lewis fought for sev­eral years be­fore pre­vail­ing, tes­ti­mony to Whitrod’s achieve­ments.

As with Three Crooked Kings, Lewis’s ver­sion of events fea­tures heav­ily in this book. By con­trast, there is, at first glance, al­most a coy­ness about Condon’s anal­y­sis of Lewis’s as­ser­tions. Hav­ing con­ducted reg­u­lar in­ter­views with Lewis, 86, dur­ing the past four years, Condon no doubt must have ex­pe­ri­enced the chal­lenges of main­tain­ing his ob­jec­tiv­ity with­out de­stroy­ing his re­la­tion­ship with his source. He man­ages this deftly, subtly invit­ing the reader to make in­fer­ences about the cen­tral char­ac­ter.

“Lewis said he was used by nu­mer­ous people he thought were loyal,” he writes, tongue-in-cheek. Sim­i­larly, he quotes a wist­ful Lewis in his ver­sion of crit­i­cal in­tro­spec­tion: “I sup­pose I was overly … too kind to un­de­serv­ing bas­tards.” This bi­og­ra­pher is not above tak­ing the prover­bial.

Yet it cer­tainly was an op­por­tune time for many an un­de­serv­ing bas­tard. Condon pro­vides nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples in his pithy, rapid­burst writ­ing, some­times at the ex­pense of in­ter­con­nect­ing these di­verse anec­dotes. The char­ac­ters of the so-called Rat Pack — Lewis, Tony Mur­phy and Glen Hal­la­han, the bag­men to Bischof — fea­ture again.

Hal­la­han has re­tired at this point yet he can’t shake no­to­ri­ety given his in­ter­est in the bur­geon­ing drug im­por­ta­tion trade. Mur­phy, hav­ing beaten a per­jury charge fol­low­ing the sus­pi­cious death of the main prose­cu­tion wit­ness, rises to as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner un­der Lewis. One gets the im­pres­sion from this book that Mur­phy was in many re­spects the grey em­i­nence of the new regime, with Lewis con­tent, at least in the early days, to prove his loy­alty to and fur­ther his in­flu­ence with then pre­mier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

A new gen­er­a­tion of bag­men emerges, per­son­i­fied by Jack Her­bert, who re­news his friend­ship with Lewis. A non­de­script in­spec­tor, Graeme Parker, later to be­come a star wit­ness for the Fitzger­ald in­quiry, takes over the Li­cens­ing Branch. It was the era where il­le­gal broth­els and casi­nos op­er­ated with im­punity, at least for those pay­ing their dues to the sys­tem known as “The Joke”. And it thrived best un­der an arch-con­ser­va­tive govern­ment that staunchly pro­moted fam­ily val­ues and law and or­der.

At times a de­press­ing re­minder of what one politi­cian aptly dubbed the “Kin­garoy Cops”, this book is not with­out the oc­ca­sional tick­ler. Wit­ness, for ex­am­ple, a young Bob Kat­ter declar­ing in state par­lia­ment that Whitrod’s dis­patch­ing of Lewis to Charleville was “a vendetta”. Or Peter Slip­per, then pres­i­dent of the Young Na­tion­als state coun­cil, de­mand­ing an in­quiry into of­fi­cial mis­con­duct. And from Lewis him­self, a metic­u­lous di­arist (which proved his un­do­ing): “Hon. (Russ) Hinze phoned re bul­let-proof vest or­dered for him.” It’s a safe as­sump­tion he wasn’t talk­ing about your off-the-shelf va­ri­ety.

In con­trast to its pre­de­ces­sor, Jacks and Jokers fin­ishes in 1982 on a note of an­ti­cli­max and in­sou­ciance. Dur­ing that year Lewis reached his zenith. His friend Mur­phy, fel­low Rat Pack mem­ber and some­times ri­val, had re­tired early, recog­nis­ing that a closet could hold only so many skele­tons. Now a con­fi­dant of BjelkePetersen, Lewis held power un­prece­dented, even to the ex­tent of ve­to­ing po­ten­tial min­is­ters of po­lice. His po­lice crit­ics had dis­ap­peared, ei­ther driven from the force or cowed into si­lence.

In­deed, the events that will be cov­ered in the fi­nal book of the tril­ogy, to be ti­tled All Fall Down, would have seemed a lu­di­crous fore­cast for Lewis.

No one could have pre­dicted the up­heaval that would come five years later with rev­e­la­tions that the high­est author­ity in the force was in on “The Joke”. Just about ev­ery­one be­lieved a po­lice com­mis­sioner wouldn’t do that sort of thing.

Martin Leonard is a Can­berra-based re­viewer.

The Courier-Mail cov­ers a po­lice in­quiry in late 1976, soon af­ter the el­e­va­tion of Terry Lewis to as­sis­tant po­lice com­mis­sioner

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