It’s far from the usual story of corrupt police
This is a good time not to be a Victorian. While the Andrews government has just been re-elected with an increased majority, its new Attorney-General has just had laid in her lap what is probably going to be the biggest scandal in any one of the justice systems in this country.
Never before have we had to address a problem that might lead to hundreds of retrials and even some get-out-of-jail cards being issued to the kind of men you wouldn’t bring home to meet mum.
This is not the usual corrupt police story where a brown paper bag is handed over in return for a blind eye to the donor’s crimes. This is a story about allowing the zeal to bring down the bad guys go right over the top. It is a mystery to me that it ever happened.
Here we had a female barrister, whose name has been suppressed but is well known to Melbourne’s criminal milieu, passing on confidential information to police officers to be used in criminal prosecutions.
This is a huge contravention of a major plank in the system of British justice still followed in every jurisdiction in this country. Now the defence lawyers of Melbourne are in a frenzy of working up submissions to enable the retrial of their clients, some of whom may just be set free.
We all can understand just how much the men and women of our police forces want to bring the bad guys to justice, but we also all understand that safeguards are fundamental to ensure that everyone is equal before the law — that everyone is entitled to a fair trial. You can bet your bottom dollar that some of our worst, most vile crooks will be salivating at the prospect of having their convictions set aside.
Very little water has drifted under the bridge yet and it is anyone’s guess as to where this will all end.
On Wednesday night on Sky News, I interviewed a brilliant young Melbourne lawyer, Justin Quill. His insights were invaluable and he knew what questions needed to be examined.
For a start, this royal commission will take time. Potentially it will have hundreds of cases to look at, and so a two to three-year timetable, at a minimum, is on the cards. If retrials are necessary, and that seems very likely, where is Victoria going to find the judges to look at this added caseload when the “house full” sign is already up for judges dealing with their existing workload?
Alarm bells must be ringing through the corridors of police headquarters as well. Many retired officers, including, no doubt, former commissioners Christine Nixon and Simon Overland, must now expect to receive subpoenas. Plenty of serving officers will be forced to appear as well.
There will be no escaping this turmoil because the High Court came down so hard on the Victorian police force. Several retired officers now have spoken out about the use of Lawyer X, as she has been dubbed. They want to shed light on her being used as an informant, with the obvious suggestion that not all of her information was reliable.
It is always difficult to rely on the word of ne’er-do-wells who know how to game the system to get light sentences. They also may wish to apply for compensation if they can demonstrate that tainted evidence was used against them at their trials. It is a certainty that this royal commission will be producing spectacular new revelations every day it sits. Those under the gun will find no place to hide, and journalists and lawyers will be the big winners.
On another front, the issue of climate change still rankles the smartest of people. The commentariat is full of big names who think the concept is rubbish. US President Donald Trump is a first-class denier who pulled his country out of the Paris Agreement. In Australia, Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Paul Murray, Chris Kenny and a host of radio jocks rubbish climate change every day.
In the Hawke and Keating cabinets there were often heated debates where really clever people took opposing sides over a submission. Climate change was never really debated there, although I did propose to the cabinet that some measures should be taken to minimise future damage.
I was laughed out the door then but I wonder if a similar result would occur today. A Shorten government, and it is becoming likelier every day that Australia will have one in the next six months, is committed on the issue and the move to renewables will be on with new zeal and pace.
The commentariat should be prepared to acknowledge that it has had little success in weaning the electorate off it.
Climate change belief runs strongly through the electorate. If you are pushing a cause, it helps to have a saint on your side.
I note that broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough, revered around the world for his love of nature, is urging faster action on climate change. He carries so much sway with people from developed and undeveloped countries that his crusade no doubt will influence public opinion.