REX GARD­NER Strife and times of gang­land cru­sader

Sunday Tasmanian - - News -

APART from be­ing kinghit by a man near the El­iz­a­beth Mall, Si­mon Over­land’s five years in Ho­bart may turn out to be the most re­laxed of his tur­bu­lent ca­reer.

The for­mer Vic­to­rian Po­lice Chief Com­mis­sioner, who quit that role amid con­tro­versy in 2011, found an ideal life­style in Sala­manca and had rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity as sec­re­tary of Tas­ma­nia’s Jus­tice Depart­ment from 2012–2017.

Now work­ing as the CEO of the City of Whit­tle­sea on Mel­bourne’s north­east fringe, Over­land is back in the spot­light with Vic­to­ria’s an­nounce­ment of a royal com­mis­sion into the Lawyer X scan­dal, where po­lice re­cruited a crim­i­nal lawyer as an in­for­mant to dob in her high-pro­file clients.

In Tas­ma­nia, while he kept a low pro­file and shunned the me­dia, few peo­ple would have been aware of the in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence, knowl­edge and se­crets Over­land car­ried.

He was reg­u­larly seen strolling con­fi­dently to and from work through Sala­manca to his apart­ment, snap­pily dressed in tai­lored suits with pork pie hat adorn­ing his closely cropped head.

You could see he was en­joy­ing life in Tas­ma­nia.

His salary pack­age as depart­ment sec­re­tary ranged be­tween $370,000 and $443,000. He reg­u­larly worked out and was tall, fit and ripped.

For much of his time he com­muted to and from Mel­bourne to spend week­ends with his fam­ily. He was a reg­u­lar at the Ho­bart air­port, al­ways trav­el­ling light, and al­ways car­ry­ing an ex­pen­sive hat. Cou­pled with his trade­mark sun­nies, it prob­a­bly gave the ex-po­lice chief some cover.

Over­land, now 57, was ap­pointed by the Tas­ma­nian La­bor gov­ern­ment in 2012, a year af­ter re­sign­ing from Vic­to­ria Po­lice on a pay­out es­ti­mated to be up to $2 mil­lion.

His Tas­ma­nian so­journ was de­scribed as a “self-im­posed ex­ile” from Vic­to­ria.

Af­ter join­ing Vic­to­ria Po­lice from the fed­eral po­lice, Over­land headed up the Pu­rana task­force, which brought crime king­pins such as Carl Wil­liams, Tony Mok­bel and some of the state’s most no­to­ri­ous killers to jus­tice.

He is cred­ited with bring­ing Mel­bourne’s gang­land wars to an end — and was held in high re­gard. The tele­vi­sion se­ries Un­der­belly fol­lowed.

Fol­low­ing his clean-up of the gang­land un­der­world, his ap­point­ment to the high­est of­fice was as­sured. In Oc­to­ber 2010, just weeks be­fore the Vic­to­rian elec­tion, Chief Com­mis­sioner Over­land re­leased what were found to be mis­lead­ing crime statis­tics, which painted a rosy pic­ture for law and order un­der the Brumby La­bor gov­ern­ment.

He was con­sid­ered too close to the gov­ern­ment, and when the Lib­er­als un­der Ted Bail­lieu swept into power, Over­land was un­der pres­sure. Af­ter six months, he tossed in the job.

He was crit­i­cised in a post­elec­tion Om­buds­man’s re­port for the mis­lead­ing statis­tics.

His exit was ig­no­min­ious. One news­pa­per said the one­time gang­land cru­sader went from “hero to zero” in a very short time.

Many were sur­prised when he popped up a year later in Tas­ma­nia as a La­bor ap­point­ment, say­ing the “La­bor mates’ club” was at work.

His ap­point­ment was crit­i­cised by Will Hodg­man’s Lib­eral Op­po­si­tion at the time, but nev­er­the­less, some years later, the Lib­er­als in Gov­ern­ment re­newed Over­land’s Jus­tice Depart­ment con­tract.

Then, one Ho­bart sum­mer evening in Jan­uary 2013, Over­land was in the news again.

Over­land and his wife had been to a wine-tast­ing, and were near the in­ter­sec­tion of El­iz­a­beth and Liver­pool streets head­ing to the mall, when he was hit from be­hind and sent crash­ing to the ground.

But the attacker, who was drunk, picked the wrong man.

Over­land jumped to his feet and re­strained his attacker, while his wife called po­lice. The man was ar­rested and charged – and nine months later Roy Kin­sel­lar, 30, was found not guilty on the grounds of in­san­ity.

Over­land re­signed from the Jus­tice Depart­ment in July 2017 to take on the Whit­tle­sea CEO role.

The new chal­lenge for Over­land was sort­ing out a dys­func­tional city coun­cil ac­cused of hav­ing a cul­ture of bul­ly­ing and abuse.

This year, a pub­lic spat erupted be­tween Over­land and Whit­tle­sea coun­cil­lor Mary Lalios, who is also pres­i­dent of the Mu­nic­i­pal As­so­ci­a­tion of Vic­to­ria.

It was re­ported Cr Lalios made a bul­ly­ing com­plaint against her CEO af­ter he raised is­sues of po­ten­tial “work­place bul­ly­ing” re­gard­ing her ques­tion­ing of a staff mem­ber. An in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor ruled in favour of Over­land – and Cr Lalios has been on leave from the coun­cil since April.

The in­trigue in the cor­ri­dors of power in Whit­tle­sea will now pale into in­signif­i­cance against what is promised from the royal com­mis­sion into the Lawyer X case.

The Lawyer X de­tails have been sup­pressed for years un­der court or­ders. It went all the way to the High Court, and came to light last week, prompt­ing the Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment’s royal com­mis­sion.

The High Court has called the po­lice use of the Lawyer X in­for­mant as “atro­cious” and “rep­re­hen­si­ble” con­duct.

Doc­u­ments re­leased by the Vic­to­rian Supreme Court last week quoted the high-pro­file gang­land bar­ris­ter in­former as say­ing: ”There was no topic, crim­i­nal, or­gan­ised crime group or un­der­world crime that was “off lim­its” dur­ing the many de­brief­ing ses­sions that oc­curred dur­ing the years that fol­lowed (her re­cruit­ment) …..”

The Her­ald Sun re­ported that Lawyer X, in a 2014 in­ter­view, told them she had won a $2.9 mil­lion pay­out from Vic­to­ria Po­lice, which in­cluded an agree­ment from Chief Com­mis­sioner Over­land that she would never be forced to be a wit­ness in any fu­ture pros­e­cu­tion.

There are cer­tainly in­ter­est­ing times ahead be­fore the royal com­mis­sion hands down its in­terim re­port in mid-2019 on what has been de­scribed as one of the big­gest le­gal scan­dals in Aus­tralia’s le­gal his­tory.

Pic­ture: JA­SON ED­WARDS

FO­CUS: Si­mon Over­land out­side his Rich­mond home.

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