Law and order politicians like South Australia’s Premier Mike Rann and New South Wales Treasurer Michael Costa — and their loyal sidekicks in the tabloid media –should be seen as nothing more than bully boys and thugs when it comes to how they deal with the office of the director of public prosecutions. The DPP is independent of government – yes, that’s right, i-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t.
But Costa and Rann don’t seem able to spell the word. They act under the misapprehension that they can kick the DPP around like an American district attorney. Well, sorry Michael and Mike, but that’s not the way it works – so back off with your nasty threats about starving the DPP of funds until he toes the party line.
Michael Costa reckons – as Richard Farmer reported on this site last Friday – that the NSW DPP Nick Cowdrey should find 10% in savings in his budget. But when Cowdrey did so, the volatile Treasurer hit the roof. How dare Cowdrey entertain, as a way of meeting Costa’s request, the prospect of cutting back on appeals against lenient sentences and give up allocating officers to prosecute sex offenders in the lower courts? Why doesn’t Cowdrey cancel all overseas trips by himself and fellow officers instead?
Costa obviously knows that the DPP’s travel budget pales into insignificance when compared with the cost of running appeals and prosecuting sex offenders in the courts. But then that’s the not the point of exercise. What Costa wants to do is to punish Cowdrey for daring to be independent.
Ditto SA’s Rann, who thinks that the role of the DPP is to be a lawyer “with a hide as tough as a rhino and one who wants to go out there and convict the bad guys”. In other words, an Elliott Ness. This is, of course, precisely what the DPP in the Australian system of criminal justice is not.
So when DPPs don’t play ball with the Rann Government’s hardline law and order agenda they find themselves in a similar position to Cowdrey – targets.
The shamelessly populist Rann got rid of one DPP – Paul Rofe – after Rofe fumbled the ball in a case in which a defendant got a suspended sentence and a fine for shooting a newsagent. And now, Rofe’s successor, Stephen Pallaras, is in the gun.
Pallaras, who was appointed in early 2005, quickly showed that he was not going to be a patsy for Rann’s law and order rantings. Interviewed in July that year after only three months in the job, Pallaras complained: “I’ve been ignored when I write to the Government. I’ve been abused over the phone by the Deputy Premier. I’ve been sledged by the Attorney-General’s cheap shots in Parliament. The Premier has effectively called me a liar.”
And fast-forward 23 months later and the relationship between Pallaras and the Government haven’t improved. The penalty Pallaras is paying for his independence is the leaking, a fortnight ago, of an email by the chief executive of the SA Attorney-General’s Department, Jerome Maguire, effectively accusing Pallaras of financial mismanagement.
The political hatchet jobs being done on Cowdrey and Pallaras are simply what might be described as ‘Thomas More’ moments. Remember that Henry VIII disposed of his lord chancellor, the ‘Man for all Seasons’, by having him beheaded because More wouldn’t play ball with the mad monarch’s legal manoeuvres to make himself head of the Church of England.
While it’s not suggested that Cowdrey and Pallaras have halos over their heads, it’s hard to not to view Costa, Rann and co as bully boys steeped firmly in the tradition of political thugs like Henry.