Justice, they say, must not only be done but be seen to be done. Not in the case of Tasmanian Police Commissioner Jack Johnson, it would seem.

Mr Johnson, who has been in the job for less than nine months, yesterday voluntarily stood aside as a result of his being investigated into an allegation that he disclosed official secrets. What those secrets are is anyone’s guess because Premier David Bartlett who announced the investigation in a hastily convened media conference yesterday would not reveal details.

But who is investigating Mr Johnson? His own Deputy Commissioner Darren Hine and a team of Tasmania Police. It’s a case of employees investigating the boss and is as such inherently dangerous.

This is particularly so in this case because Mr Johnson’s appointment was a controversial one. The powerful police union made it clear that it did not want Mr Johnson, who was previously second in command, to get the top job.

The Hobart Mercury reported on February second that the police union boss Randolph Wierenga was concerned about the management style of Johnson and other officers. In December last year police held a no confidence vote in their bosses.

Another former senior police officer Ivan Dean, who is now a member of the Tasmanian Parliament, predicted that Mr Johnson’s appointment would not be smooth and that police morale would fall.

Why then allow, in these circumstances, the allegations against Mr Johnson to be investigated by police officers who might have an axe to grind and be glad to see the back of their boss? The optics of this investigation are not pretty at all.

Instead, the matter should be investigated by a retired police commissioner from another state or a former judge or senior mainland lawyer to ensure that Mr Johnson is accorded complete fairness and that is seen to be the case.

David Bartlett has promised, since he took over the premier’s reins from Paul Lennon two months ago, a more transparent Tasmania. There is nothing transparent about a police commissioner being investigated by his own officers — nothing at all.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey