New bosses must be tough

by Chris Griffith
Published 16 August 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


The Goss Government's choices for the second post-Fitzgerald CJC head and police commissioner, both due within two months, will make or break the future of criminal justice in Queensland.

With competent leaders, the future of Fitzgerald-inspired police reforms and the CJC's independence will be secure for the time being.

With unsuitable or supine appointments, the old police culture, government interference, and political compromise will again characterise decision making on criminal justice matters.

Already, both jobs have been advertised. Applications for CJC chair close August 21, and for police commissioner on September 9.

But how will these selections be made, and how do they compare with the processes adopted by the National Party Government in late 1989 that led to the appointments of Sir Max Bingham and Noel Newnham?

This time there is direct government participation in initial short- listing and, depending on an election date, the prospect of little consultation with the opposition parties.

In the case of the CJC chair appointment, Premier Wayne Goss is taking responsibility for short-listing the applicants, a mechanism which could allow the government to eliminate at an early stage contenders it did not support.

In 1989, advertising, screening, and short-listing was performed by the Fitzgerald Implementation Unit, an interim body headed by management consultant Peter Forster.

Mr Forster's job was the initial implementation of the Fitzgerald report. It included initiating these appointments and finalising the legislation that established EARC and the CJC.

He presented a short-list of two candidates to the party leaders so they could interview both applicants before cabinet's final determination.

Unfortunately, this sentiment was undermined when Cabinet met and appointed Sir Max at the very moment Mr Goss, as opposition leader, was busily interviewing the other candidate.

However, unlike 1989, the Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee must endorse the government's selection for CJC chair unanimously or by a majority which includes non-government members.

Committee chairman Peter Beattie said he expected the premier to supply the committee with the list of initial applicants, the short- list, and Mr Goss's recommended selection.

The committee would decide its endorsement based on this information.

However Mr Beattie said the committee would have no role if it (and parliament) were dissolved because of an early election.

According to the CJC Act, the Government, under this scenario, is required only to "consult" the opposition leaders. It is not required to seek opposition endorsement.

To circumvent this problem, the committee last year recommended the CJC Act be changed so it could remain constituted until a new committee was appointed. This recommendation has so far been ignored.

It is therefore possible, should the government call an election before November, that the CJC chair could be selected directly by the Premier with purely token consultation with opposition leaders.

Meanwhile, the government has appointed a panel of four which will sit in October to recommend the next police commissioner.

Mr Forster will chair a panel also containing PSMC chairman Peter Coaldrake, NCA head (and former EARC chairman) Tom Sherman, and current Police Minister Nev Warburton.

Again, the government, through the police minister, is involved with the initial administrative role of short-listing from all applicants.

Back in 1989, the process was very different. Mr Forster, after discussion with Premier Ahern and Police Minister Cooper, appointed the PA Consulting group which prepared the job description, advertised throughout Australia and overseas, and short-listed three applicants for the position.

There was no government involvement in this initial short-listing.

However the final selection was by a panel containing Sir Max Bingham, the Cooper Government's police minister, Vince Lester, Mr Lester's consultants, and after some lobbying, Mr Forster, who flew to Melbourne to interview the three contenders.

They were Mr Newnham, Tasmanian Police Commissioner, Bill Horman, and the then South Australian NCA head Carl Mengler (now with the CJC).

There was no formal consultation with the opposition parties, however Mr Forster, after representation to Premier Cooper, provided the then opposition leaders with profiles of the three applicants, but no names.

This took place the evening before Mr Cooper announced Mr Newnham's appointment.

Interestingly, both Mr Goss and the then Liberal leader Angus Innes complained about this consultation process (the lack of it) in State Parliament. Mr Goss said: "It is not consultation in good faith."

This time around the Goss Government is taking no chances. According to Mr Warburton, there will be no consultation with the opposition, full stop!

However under the Police Service Administration Act, the Police Minister must "concur" with the CJC chair on the appointment before cabinet's decision.

In both cases, the Goss Government has not exactly embraced the ideal of wide community and opposition consultation in the selection process it has chosen.

Yet it has ensured its interests are strongly represented.

The consequence is that the next CJC head and police commissioner could find their authority undermined if it is argued, with any credibility, that their appointments were the product of vested interests.

The government should make amends by passing the Beattie committee recommendation, by re-examining whether the Police Minister should be part of initial short-listing, and by re-thinking its decision not to consult the opposition.

It could, as Civil Liberties Council president Terry O'Gorman suggests, allow parliament to debate and endorse both appointments so that any reservations about the appointees or the process could be raised under privilege.