Crikey’s resident Labor legend, Boilermaker Bill Mckell, is most excited about
the appointment of top NSW cop Clive Small to the corruption fighting outfit
known as ICAC.
I was just about to turn off the lights last night and go to bed when I
got an email alert for the morning’s Daily Telegraph – a story about
Clive Small taking up a senior post at the Independent Commission
Against Corruption (ICAC). After my initial surprise, some thinking
shows the appointment to carry a certain logic – both for Small and the
Clive Small has had a relatively high profile in the NSW Police Force
since he was an investigator on the Woodward Commission, then led an
inquiry into the Nugan Hand Bank. His climb to fame and reward was
greatly assisted in 1989 by taking a contrary view on the 25 charges
relating to sexual assault laid against a former senior policeman,
Harry Blackburn. According to the detailed examination of the
Backbacker murders, Sins of the Brother, written by Mark Whittaker and
Les Kennedy, within days of being appointed to the taskforce on the
Blackburn case, Small had pulled apart the case, and in doing so,
earned the enmity of some very senior police.
A Royal Commission, headed by Justice Jack Lee, was appointed to
determine what sort of forces were trying to protect Blackburn.
Instead, careful assessment of the evidence, cleared Blackburn and
vindicated Small. The strongest criticism seemed to fall on the police
who had organised a media walk for Blackburn, running him through the
gauntlet of reporters, cameras and technicians.
In a prescient acknowledgement of Small’s assistance, Judge Lee said that:
“The people of New South Wales will watch with interest Mr Small’s career”.
It seemed that senior police management had some very grim viewing
intended for observers of Small’s career. It seemed stalled till he
took up the lead of the taskforce on the backpacker murders. The
taskforce’s success in identifying and gathering the evidence to
convict Ivan Milat put Small back in the spotlight, and marked him as
someone who had the potential to lead the NSW Police Service. He put
his name forward for the post of Commissioner when Tony Lauer stepped
down amidst the Wood Royal Commission: the Government eventually
appointed Peter Ryan to the post. In 1997, following a significant
upheaval of the organisation, Small was appointed as the Assistant
Commissioner, in charge of Crime Agencies, a blend of serious crime
units including homicide and fraud, designed as an integrity measure to
overcome the bad influence of the days of the CIB.
At the same time, Commander Mal Brammer, formerly the Kings Cross
Commander who had cleaned up that station during the Wood Royal
Commission, was put in charge of Internal Affairs. Serious observers
had lined these two up as future Commissioners. That probably didn’t do
their respective relationships with then Commissioner Ryan any good at
all, and in December 2000, Ryan shifted both Small and Brammer to what
appeared to be positions of comparable standing, but were for all the
world, demotions: Small was to move to take charge of the Greater Hume
police region, which contained the heroin capital of Sydney,
Cabramatta, while Brammer was going to head up the Macquarie region.
The injury to the two men’s standing was not helped when Ryan appointed
his own chief of staff to head Internal Affairs, and an underling to
head up Crime Agencies.
The Greater Hume region, and in particular the Cabramatta command was
undergoing a crisis, with allegations that police were turning a blind
eye to drug crimes because there weren’t just the resources to
make it worthwhile, as well as accusations of poor leadership and low
morale. It was here that the ginger group consisting of detective Tim
Priest, anthropologist Richard Basham and community leader Ross
Treyvaud, started their campaign on policing issues that eventually
reached the ear of Alan Jones, the broadcaster, and Michael Costa, the
former Police Minister.
Small soon became another target for the group for failing to act on
their concerns, and for what they saw as attempts at discrediting
witness they thought central to exposing the grip that Indochinese
crime gangs had over local young people. This witness was codenamed
“James”, and despite two Parliamentary inquiries, two internal
investigations, it was only recently with the tabling in the Parliament
of an opinion by Bodor QC that the contest over James’ claims seems to
have come to an end.
Before Brammer could take up his position at Macquarie Region in March
2001, he was appointed Executive Director of Operations at ICAC – the
equivalent position being taken up by Small now. Brammer was quite a
catch for the ICAC, which had been undergoing significant restructuring
at the time to recast its work and methods of operation. Brammer’s
appointment held the promise of developing closer links with the Police
Service and other key agencies, such as
the secretive Crime Commission. However, Brammer’s term at ICAC was
almost completely overshadowed by an investigation carried out by the
Police Integrity Commission into allegations that an internal reform
unit had been improperly prevented from doing its job by senior
elements in the service. Brammer’s role in the whole murky affair had
been to conduct an IA investigation into the reform unit after
allegations of rorts had been made. Brammer’s evidence put him at odds
with Peter Ryan, and left him relatively isolated in the senior ranks
of the Service.
PIC’s Operation Malta went on for over two years, and its report was
brought down after all the major players had left or been seen off. The
report contained some criticism of Brammer’s action, and it is
understood that he resigned from ICAC to be able to pursue what he
thought to be necessary corrections to the record. He was eventually
replaced by Michael Outram, who had been brought out by ICAC to head up
a newly established specialist intelligence unit. Outram, with a career
in the London Metropolitan Police and a stint in the Mets’ specialist
anti-corruption unit, CIB3, brought a fresh face and sharp mind to the
job, but little in the way of knowledge of NSW institutions. The
reasons for his departure aren’t known yet, but it
must be sudden as he’s listed as the contact person for a high level
position within the ICAC presently being advertised.
If Clive Small is the pea in the pod for the lead investigation role at
ICAC, it will see a highly regarded police leader put to good use after
a few dismal years where Small was sidelined by enemies in and
out of the Police Service. After his stint in Greater Hume, Small was a
target for Costa and Jones: both wanted to see him out of the
Service, but Ryan stood firm. A face saving proposal was put together
where Small was seconded to the Premier’s Department, to lead a whole
of government approach to crime prevention. Inasmuch as these projects
can deliver any meaningful results, observers say that Small
had a decent crack at the job. He was left high and dry last year,
however, when Commissioner Ken Moroney declined to extend Small’s
contract with the Police Service, giving no reasons for his decision.
Having seen Moroney make it to the top job, where he was now
comfortably esconced, and with two officers considerably junior to him
make it to Deputy Commissioner level, Small had every reason to think
that his time with NSW Police was over.
Small’s appointment at ICAC comes at an interesting time. The current
Commissioner, Irene Moss, has just over 6 months of her term left, and
speculation is mounting about possible successors (an issue I’ll
return to in another article). Small won’t be amongst the candidates,
because he doesn’t have a law degree to meet the statutory requirement
that the appointee be eligible for judicial appointment.
So any further ascensions will depend on his performance in this role,
seeing that there are few comparable leadership roles in the public
sector for a man of his calibre and experience. He also joins
the ICAC at a time when keen observers believe that after several years
of tumult in restructuring and recruiting, the organisation has
never been so well positioned to discharge its functions. Small’s
appointment only lends credence to those observations, and sees ICAC
with a sharp and savvy investigator, who is well regarded by fair
minded observers, with media skills that won’t hurt the ICAC if they’re
put to good use in highlighting the ICAC’s activities. I suspect
that Small has at the back of his mind that a good stint at
ICAC would do him no harm if he were to throw his hat in the ring for
Police Commissioner when Ken Moroney retires. However, given there are
two deputies already in waiting, Small will need to have a better than
good stint to ensure that he’s still genuinely in the running.
That can only bode well for the future for ICAC. Judge Lee’s
observations of 15 years ago are still pertinent today: Clive Small’s future career should be watched with interest.
Boilermaker Bill Mckell can be reached at [email protected]