Storm rages over Blizzard

by Chris Griffith
Written 13 December 1992


my face


It is out with the new, and in with the old!

Last Monday, Police Commissioner Jim O'Sullivan announced the sacking of his deputy, David Blizzard, former Victorian Police Officer, former "Mexican", and associate of former Police Commissioner Noel Newnham.

Tomorrow Chief Supt Greg Early, personal assistant to former Commissioners Bischoff and Whitrod, and for 11 years to Sir Terence Lewis, will become acting Assistant Commissioner, director of personnel. He replaces the retiring Frank O'Gorman.

Early, whose potential elevation to a senior position was disputed by former Special Prosecutor Doug Drummond, QC, and former Criminal Justice Commission chairman Sir Max Bingham, took Supreme Court action to remove legally these objections against him. He won his case out of Court.

However it is unlikely the appeals process will be as kind to Mr Blizzard. Under his contract, Mr Blizzard has until tomorrow to lodge a written submission of reasons as to why he should be retained.

Mr Blizzard says he will appeal. He maintains the decision is not justified, that he always tried to maintain "a proper and professional working relationship" with O'Sullivan and with other senior Police Service members.

He says he has never encountered this problem in his 30-year career, during which he worked under seven Police Commissioners, was a confidential adviser to two ministers and worked closely with three others.

The appeal will be decided by the Governor In Council, basically the 18 current cabinet ministers, with the Governor or her deputy presiding.

In Queensland the Governor in Council meets each Thursday at the Executive Building when Parliament is not sitting. A quorum of at least two ministers is required.

Already, Police Minister Paul Braddy has staunchly defended O'Sullivan in media interviews; in particular his methodology of raising this concern with himself and Sir Max Bingham, whom Mr Braddy says did not oppose the idea of a dismissal.

Yet there is no indication Sir Max advocated this sacking. The obviously good working relationship between Braddy and O'Sullivan, while welcome, suggests it is now a very steep uphill road for Blizzard.

Nor, of course, is there yet any detailed explanation by O'Sullivan as to why the sacking occurred. Was it incompetence, dishonestly, a failure to perform his duty, or was it simply personalities and politics?

Nor has O'Sullivan's explained his efforts, if any, in resolving serious differences in the short five-weeks since he became Commissioner.

Having the government on-side also provides O'Sullivan with power not enjoyed by his predecessor, Noel Newnham. For example, the odds would have been totally against former Police Minister Terry Mackenroth supporting Newnham had he tried to terminate O'Sullivan's services.

Of course, Blizzard, the disciplinarian, was unpopular with many Police. Ironically, the Police Union fought Blizzard and Newnham when they sought a power to sack officers whom they believed were incompetent or corrupt.

There was also obvious tension between the Union and Blizzard when, for example, in March Blizzard held a media conference and expressed concern about foul-play over missing files wanted by the Carter Inquiry into Operation Trident.

Blizzard delayed this conference for three days in the hope these files would reappear. Ironically, some, although not all files reemerged at the very moment the conference took place. This embarrassed Blizzard.

At the same conference O'Sullivan played down this concern about police foul-play. Further, Police Union president John O'Gorman organised a union meeting to condemn Blizzard for alleging police corruption.

There has also been a smear campaign against Blizzard. Recently it was touted Blizzard drinks too much, and that he was caught running a red light while over the limit and let off. These are reminiscent of the smears mounted against Sir Max during the Tasmanian drivers' licence affair.

This is not to mention newspaper leaks almost two weeks ago and again last weekend that suggested this sacking was imminent.

Of course, the existence of serious tension within senior ranks had been known for some time. It was particularly prevalent this year during Noel Newnham's suspension when senior police began jockeying for position to succeed him.

At a July news conference after his reinstatement, Newnham noted a lack of support for measures Blizzard had tried to introduce as part of the reform process during his period as Acting Commissioner.

Just prior to this, Sir Max had sought permission from then Police Minister Neville Warburton to mediate "a communication breakdown at the very senior level". (Mr Warburton said he regarded the service was in good shape).

Again in November, the day O'Sullivan began work as Commissioner, Sir Max told everyone to settle down after Blizzard was allegedly asked to reconsider his position.

Former Commissioner Newnham, watching events from Victoria, says resolving conflict by "getting rid of one side hasn't been shown to be very productive".

"The last thing a Commissioner of Police wants is a lot of sycophants around him. The job's hard enough without everyone saying Yes Sir! No Sir! You are right, Sir! That's the worst thing that could happen," Mr Newnham said.

Newnham acknowledges operational policing involves making and accepting snap decisions, but said: "That doesn't happen very much at the top end of the organisation. That's very much a middle or lower level kind of situation."

It is interesting that senior police appear to have such difficulty resolving conflict given it is they who have sponsored the introduction of conflict resolution and grievance procedures within the Police Service.

Besides, most policing involves conflict. Police supposedly are the professional masters at dealing with it.

Newnham also is critical of the secrecy provision in senior police contracts, the provision O'Sullivan uses to justify not publishing his reasons for the sacking. "It's normal, but it's poor," Newnham said.

"I think we've reached a stage of maturity in this country where public sector decision makers are expected to be held to account for all of their decisions. I believe the contract provisions are out of date."

As for the Appeals process, Newnham said: "That's not likely to achieve a genuine second look at it. I think it's a charade."

Certainly the PSMC could examine secrecy provisions and the Appeals process in its review of the Police Service.

As for Mr Blizzard - he must hope the band of ministers at Thursday Governor In Council meetings does not include those well off-side with the Victorian connection.