Apol­ogy owed af­ter Op­er­a­tion Prospect de­ba­cle

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Opinion - MARK MORRI Mark Morri is The Daily Tele­graph’s crime editor

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.

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