Perth Lord Mayor, Peter Nattrass, has had rough few weeks amid calls for him to reveal how he obtained information about the criminal record of a candidate for election to Perth City Council.
What, with calls by a fellow Councillor to step aside, demands by the Premier and the media to explain how he discovered the criminal record of a candidate for election to the Perth City Council, Terry Maller. With the issue now being officially investigated, it has just been a plain awful few weeks. If ever Pete needed a kind word of public support, surely it is now.
However so far there has been no such word from the member for Curtin, the Lord Mayor’s wife Julie Bishop.
Crikey readers will know that Dr Nattrass is the centre of a maelstrom over the alleged leaking of the criminal record of Terry Maller, a previous candidate for election to the Perth City Council.
As a result of a complaint by Maller, the WA Royal Commission into Police corruption is presently considering whether to take on as a term of reference the matter of how Mr Mallers police record found its way into the public arena.
Nattrass has stated that his knowledge of Mallers’ criminal record came from newspaper reports, an anonymous note left on his surgery desk and through information given to him by a now deceased former Councillor and former chairman of Crime Stoppers, Noel Semmens.
Maller alleges that his record has been leaked from the Police Department. He claims that particular reference to a conviction in 1994 could only have come from his written police record. Maller argues that his 1994 conviction for a cannabis offence was dealt with by the court late in the day, no journalists were present in the court and his conviction was not published in the media.
The Western Australian Premier, Dr Gallop, publicly called on Nattrass to provide the WA public and Perth City Council ratepayers with an explanation. Minister for Local Government, Tom Stephens has also called on Nattrass for a public explanation.
The Editorial of the West Australian newspaper joined the chorus, calling for Dr Nattrass to explain his part in the Terry Maller affair. As the city’s civic leader, he has a responsibility to maintain public confidence in the institution, and in local government overall.
For a time, Nattrass declined all calls, very properly claiming that under the Western Australian Anti Corruption Commission Act, it is an offence for him to disclose the content of his interview with the ACC. That defence of silence was to be shattered.
The Chairman of the ACC, Terry O’Connor, announced that Nattrass was no longer bound by any confidentiality provisions of the ACC, stating: now that the matter has got into the public arena, Dr Nattrass is at liberty if he wishes to comment and put his side of the story. O’Connor subsequently wrote to Nattrass confirming his oral advice.
O’Connor has said that consideration would be given to reopening the ACC inquiry on receipt of a fresh allegation.
Matters then moved to another stage. Maller has lodged a complaint with the Western Australian Electoral Commission which is responsible for the conduct of Perth City Council elections. The Electoral Commissioner has found that the complaint justifies an inquiry and has appointed a special investigator to inquire whether Nattrass improperly used Terry Mallers’ criminal record against him in the run up to the May 1, 1999 elections.
The relevant provision is Sec 4 (85) of the Local Government Act, which reads:
Bribery and undue influence
(2) A person who
(a)threatens, offers or suggests detriment for, or on account of, or to induce, electoral conduct or a promise or electoral conduct;
(b)uses, causes, inflicts or procures detriment for or on account of, electoral conduct; or
(c)interferes with the free exercise of the franchise of an elector,
commits an offence.
Penalty: $10,000 or imprisonment for 2 years.
(4)In this section
-“detriment” means violence, injury, punishment, damage, loss or disadvantage;
-“electoral conduct” means
(a)candidate at an election;
(b)withdrawal of candidature from an election; or
(c)a vote or an omission to vote, at an election; or
(d)support of, or opposition to, a candidate for election;
-“reward” means a reward in the form of valuable consideration or any other recompense, benefit or advantage
Obviously this matter still has a way to go. As reported in Crikeys earlier article, thus far Dr Nattrass has been represented by partner Julie Bishop, a lawyer in a former life. The latest inquiry is expected to take some months. Should the ACC investigate the matter further and or the Royal Commission take the matter as a reference, Julie could have much more to do.
Following O’Connors written advice, Dr Nattrass subsequently provided an extensive written explanation to the Sunday Times newspaper that in part, Crikey now recounts. Crikey of course does not question Dr Nattrass’s account of events.
Nattrass wrote: I have never been told the details of his [Maller] criminal record by anyone, including by any police officer. Furthermore, I have never been shown or been given a copy of his record. It is not an offence, as far as I am aware, for a third party to ask questions, even of a police officer, of a persons background.
The Deputy Police Commissioner contact.
Nattrasss reference to never having been given details of Mallers criminal record refers to evidence that Deputy Police Commissioner, Bruce Brennan, gave to the ACC. Mr Brennan advised the ACC that Dr Nattrass had asked him about Mallers’ criminal record and that the Lord Mayor appeared very keen to get something on Maller.
Mr Brennans 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 Mallers 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 Mallers criminal record but was told by Mr Brennan that police were not allowed to divulge the details of a persons criminal record.
Acting Inspector Newman who was also interviewed by ACC investigators confirmed Mr Brennans account of his side of the conversation with Dr Nattrass. Newman was in Brennans office when the Lord Mayor rang Mr Brennan. Newman obtained Mallers criminal record for Mr Brennan and rang Dr Nattrass and put the call through to Mr Brennan. Newman remained in Mr Brennans 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 Mallers 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.
In his article in the Sunday Times Dr Nattrass explains matters this way: It does not surprise me at all that I could not remember such a call, especially as it was said to have been made over six months earlier. Further, in my role as Lord Mayor I make and receive literally hundreds of phone calls each week. I also have numerous dealings with numerous police officers on numerous issues to do with the City. So any one conversation with a police officer is not something that I would particularly remember.
Despite having a notoriously poor memory for names and events, I do believe I would have remembered such a call if anything of consequence had been said. The evidence of the police officers indicated that nothing of consequence was said, nor indeed anything that I did not already know.
Crikey can only conclude that the Lord Mayor has a different view of the world to most people including the Commissioner of Police and the ACC. Asking a Deputy Police Commissioner for someones criminal record and receiving a report that the person in question had a chequered past and not suitable for Council, is to most people something of consequence. Crikey figures it is something most punters would remember after six years, never mind six months.
Dr Nattrass is probably right when he says: It is not an offence, as far as I am aware, for a third party to ask questions, even of a police officer, of a persons background. It is however, most certainly an offence for a police officer to provide a persons criminal record to a member of the public, which according to Deputy Commissioner Brennan, is what Dr Nattrass requested.
Other ACC Witnesses
According to ACC documents, Dr Nattrass also contradicted the testimony of 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.
A further witness, West Australian reporter, Liz Tickner told the ACC investigators that Dr Nattrass 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. On February 25, 1999 Dr Nattrass told Tickner I am absolutely certain about his record, absolutely certain its seven. It landed on my desk. You do your homework. Dr Nattrasss information turned out to be correct.
This appears at variance with his Sunday Times article in which he says, I have never been told the details of Mallers criminal record, nor have I been shown or given a copyTo this day, I do not know whether Maller has been in jail seven or nine times;
The late Mr Noel Semmens
In contrast to his absence of memory of his conversation with Deputy Police Commissioner Brennan, and in spite of his notoriously poor memory for names and events, Dr Nattrass gives a detailed account of his conversation with the late Noel Semmens.
According to Dr Nattrass: At one point, Noel Semmens sought my advice about running for council. I was delighted that a man of his standing and broad expertise would express an interest in running for council. However he told me he had become aware of the fact that a person running for or elected to council was not required to disclose their criminal record. He knew of Maller as a man to have a criminal background which had included time in Pentridge Jail.
Noel asked me if having someone with a criminal record as an elected representative would reflect on the Council. I told him that a person with a criminal record was eligible to run for Council as there was nothing in any legislation, as far as I was aware, that precluded such a person standing for election nor requiring disclosure of such a record.
It was such a concern to Noel Semmens that subsequently we discussed the possibilities of amending the Local Government Act accordingly. With his background as chairman of Crime Stoppers, he would have been an ideal person to take up such as issue. He wanted to ensure that the Council maintained the highest possible standards of accountability and probity.
Mr Semmens told me that, in conversations with others about the matter, including the police, it had been conveyed to him on more than one occasion that Pentridge Jail was reserved for hardened criminals. In particular, I recall his comment that you dont go there for stealing crayons.
Dr Nattrass added: I do not suggest nor have I ever suggested, that Noel Semmens had communications with police regarding the detail of Mallers criminal record.
In respect to journalist Dyson, Dr Nattrass in part writes that: I believe I conveyed to Dyson that I had heard that Maller had been in jail seven times or maybe nine times. Having now read what Mr Dyson apparently said to the ACC, I do not think it is inconsistent with my general recollection of the conversation with him. If, in fact I did mention police, it could only have been in the context of me conveying the message from the chief of Crime Stoppers about the significance the police attached to a criminal who had served time in Pentridge Jail.
Specifically, I do not believe that my remarks indicated to Dyson that the reference to seven or nine times had come from a police officer. Clearly the reference to seven or nine times came from the post-it note delivered to my surgery a few weeks earlier. Neither were they intended to convey the message that anything had come directly to me from a police officer.
Crikey understands that following the publication of Nattrasss article, the wife of the late Mr Semmens contacted Perths two talkback stations to express her strong objection to her late husband being implicated in the matter.
The anonymous note
Dr Nattrass explains receipt of the anonymous note in the following terms: In about January 1999 I found, left on the front desk at my surgery, a copy of the newspaper article of The West Australian, dated 5 January 1998, with a yellow post-it note stuck on the front. On the note there was written the words this man has been in jail 7 (or 9) times the last in 1994. I was not able to decipher whether it was a figure 7m or a 9.
I have no idea who left the note at my surgery but it is left unattended during most of the day. I often find letters or documents left there for me.
Following the Lord Mayor’s lengthy explanation of matters published in the Sunday Times, Premier Geoff Gallop renewed calls for Nattrass to give a full account of the matter. I thinkhis statement was deficient and hell be accountable for that in terms of the way that the City of Perth operates and in terms of his relationship with his elector, he said.