Strange things are happening in Canberra. The governing ALP is undertaking a purge of its left-wing elements. Rogue Liberals are wandering the streets destroying public art they dislike. All the volunteer fire captains have resigned and have not been replaced.
And amidst all this, the Chief Police Officer of the ACT, Audrey Fagan APM, was found dead in a holiday apartment on Queensland’s Hayman Island last Friday. Undenied media reports suggest that a hanging suicide had taken place and two suicide notes had been found.
The possible angles on this boggle the mind, even if one rules out sneaking suspicions over the Queensland police’s much-discussed ability to find “no suspicious circumstances” surrounding deaths for which they were possibly responsible.
The Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, then went on local Canberra radio and clearly intimated that he felt the “pressure” leading to CPO Fagan’s death had been caused by demands from The Canberra Times‘ editor-at-large (and this year’s Canberran of the Year), Jack Waterford, for more media transparency from the police. An unflattering op-ed illustration which ran with Waterford’s column was also implicated.
It is true that Waterford has been railing for some time against the culture of secrecy within the AFP and the controlling nature of the large and well-resourced media unit. Waterford had rightly pointed out that in cultures of secrecy, corruption gains a foothold and thrives.
It beggars belief, however, that a 26-year veteran of front-line policing would be driven to suicide by an editorial and a cartoon. It is, however, a brilliant media strategy to point the finger at the media. We like nothing better than to write about ourselves and contemplate our awesome powers and their uses.
Commissioner Keelty would like the media to cease it’s “speculation” as to what brought on this tragedy and instead focus on “the achievements of a very successful young woman”. There’s a problem with this; the more we consider the remarkable achievements of CPO Fagan, the more improbable it seems that a squabble over media policy could have led to her death. It is beyond irony that in clamming up about her death, the AFP is following the secretive path of media control and manipulation for which it had attracted the supposedly lethal criticism.
Furthermore, the people of the ACT, if they are to accede to Commissioner Keelty’s wishes, are now unable to make any criticism of their secretive police force for fear it might lead to a fatality. Instead, we are told, accountability must flow via a minister for police appointed by a government elected every four years.
It is worth noting that the Commonwealth has no dedicated, independent, anti-corruption body and the AFP has no external oversight mechanism such as NSW’s Police Integrity Commission. It may well be that there is no corruption to be found, but it is amazing what can’t be found if you never look.
Instead, in Canberra, we are assured that we have no need to be told of things that might upset us and, lacking that information, have no place making uninformed comment on policing matters.
Tomorrow, CPO Fagan will be laid to rest with full police honours. Despite what Commissioner Keelty might wish, the public has a pressing need to know the causes of this sad occasion. We are asked to avoid asking hard questions for the sake of the family. Perhaps the family deserves some hard answers as to what led to their loss?