Perth Lord Mayor Peter Nattrass finds himself in an interesting situation on the question of whether he asked a senior copper for the criminal record of a political opponent who’d been to jail seven times.
A confidential document provided to the then Premier Richard Court by the Chairman of the Ant-Corruption Commission makes fascinating reading. It was prepared to assist the Court Cabinet in its deliberations over the appointment of the next Police Commissioner. One of the applicants was Deputy Commissioner, Mr Bruce Brennan.
Following is an account very largely drawn from the article by “West Australian” reporter, Luke Morfesse.
During a fiercely contested election for a Perth City Council seat in 1998, dirt was circulated against Mr Terry Maller, an opponent of one of Nattress’s favoured candidates. Both the “West Australian” newspaper and the “Sunday Times” were contacted by anonymous sources spreading malicious rumours about Maller who subsequently withdrew from the contest. The Lord Mayor’s preferred candidate also subsequently withdrew.
At a Council meeting in 1999, Maller, as a member of the public, asked Dr Nattress a question to which Nattress responded that he would not support a candidate who had a “significant criminal record.” Maller subsequently provided a copy of his police record to the “West Australian” so as to clear his name because he claimed there had been unfounded allegations of child sex claims made against him.
Following Dr Nattrass’s statement at the Council meeting, a complaint by Maller that his police record had been unlawfully accessed and released to a member of the public, was undertaken by the Police Department and subsequently, the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Dr Nattrass was interviewed twice by the ACC. On the first occasion, Nattrass told the ACC that he found a cutting of a “West Australian” article about Maller sitting on his desk at his consulting rooms. The cutting was accompanied by an anonymous note in which it was claimed that: “This man has been in jail seven to nine times, the last in 94.” Nattrass told the ACC investigators that anything else he knew of Maller or his police record, he had learnt from the media.
Dr Nattrass denied that he had ever asked for or been provided with any information about Maller’s criminal history from a senior police officer. According to the document, “he also denied that he had told reporter, Noel Dyson of “Business Review” that he had obtained his information from a senior police officer.”
Dr Nattrass denied that he had ever asked any police officer to provide him with information regarding Mr Maller’s criminal history. The document says Dr Nattrass was “absolutely firm” that neither Mr Brennan nor any other police officer ever provided him with a copy of Mr Maller’s criminal history. Nor was he ever given details of Mr Maller’s criminal history verbally or in writing.
Dr Nattrass’s account of matters is remarkably different to the account provided by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr Bruce Brennan to the ACC investigators. Mr Brennan advised the ACC that Dr Nattrass had asked him about Mr Maller’s criminal record and that the Lord Mayor “appeared very keen to get something on” Mr Maller.
Mr Brennan’s diary shows that Dr Nattrass contacted Mr Brennan 26 October 1998 and asked him if Mr Maller had a criminal record and if Mr Brennan could tell him what his record was. Mr Brennan told Dr Nattrass that he would get his staff to check Mr Maller’s status. Mr Brennan asked Acting Inspector Paul Newman to check the computer.
Mr Brennan later rang Dr Nattrass and informed him that Mr Maller was known to police and that he had a somewhat chequered past and that he was not a suitable person for Council. Dr Nattrass asked how he could get a copy of Mr Maller’s criminal record but was told by Mr Brennan that police were not allowed to divulge the details of a person’s criminal record.
Acting Inspector Newman who was also interviewed by ACC investigators confirmed Mr Brennan’s account of Mr Brennan’s side of the conversation with Dr Nattrass. Newman was in Brennan’s office when the Lord Mayor rang Mr Brennan. He obtained Maller’s criminal record for Mr Brennan and rang Dr Nattrass and put the call through to Mr Brennan. He remained in Mr Brennan’s office during the telephone conversation between the Deputy Commissioner and the Lord Mayor.
It was following these interviews of the two police officers by the ACC investigators that the Lord Mayor was again interviewed. On this occasion he was represented by lawyer and partner, Julie Bishop. At the second interview the specific details of his contacting Mr Brennan were put to Dr Nattrass.
The Lord Mayor claimed he had absolutely no recall of ever contacting Mr Brennan specifically about Mr Maller’s criminal history. However, because he presumed that Mr Brennan would naturally have kept a record of the event, he did not deny that it might have happened as described by Mr Brennan.
According to the document prepared by the ACC for Premier Court, Dr Nattrass contradicted the testimony of two other witnesses. One of those witnesses was journalist, Noel Dyson whose conversation with Dr Nattrass was witnessed by his Managing Editor. Dyson informed the ACC that Dr Nattrass had told him that he had obtained the information from a “senior police officer.”
The other witness was “West Australian” reporter, Liz Tickner who told the ACC investigators that Dr Natttrass had informed her that her earlier report that Maller had been jailed five times, was wrong and that he had in fact been jailed seven times. Dr Nattrass’s information turned out to be correct.
“The West Australian” reports that Mr Maller has met officers of the Western Australian Royal Commission into Police Corruption to expand on his complaints that his criminal record was leaked by a senior police officer to Dr Peter Nattrass. The “West Australian” understands the Commission will soon decide whether to investigate the issue.
Crikey awaits further news as to whether the federal member for Curtin will be required to again apply her legal skills.