It’s far from the usual story of cor­rupt po­lice

The Australian - - COMMENTARY - GRA­HAM RICHARD­SON

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.

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