WA’s Police Commissioner expressed his discomfort yesterday over the recent police raid on Perth’s Sunday Times newsroom to discover the source of leaked Cabinet information.

Speaking to the Perth Press Club, Dr Karl O’Callaghan said the raid “should never have happened” and that similar raids wouldn’t happen again, because “I won’t do it”.

However, his rationale seemed much more based in pragmatism than on some lofty respect for media freedom. He said there were no victims in the case and he had other priorities where there were real victims of crime. (Journalist Paul Lampathakis, the recipient of the leaked material, doubtless is of the view that he became a victim simply because he was doing his job.)

Given the commissioner’s bold statement that such a raid wouldn’t happen again on his watch, it will be intriguing to see what eventuates when police receive another similar referral from the Corruption and Crime Commission, which sparked the Sunday Times raid.

The commissioner also said he opposed police being given authority to impose suppression orders on news media, as floated recently by Perth’s deputy coroner.

He said such a system would be “completely unworkable and completely impractical”.

Dr O’Callaghan said that if police were given such powers to suppress the media, it would not be a once-off but would grow and grow.

He said police and journalists had a symbiotic yet tense relationship and that the media had co-operated on those rare occasions when police had asked them to hold off on publishing.

The commissioner emphasised that he was his own man and that he would immediately go public if politicians tried to interfere with his independent powers.

Similarly, he would continue to speak out on the performance of the courts and soft sentencing in particular, which, he said, was undermining the system of justice in Western Australia.

He said the public expected the commissioner to criticise weak sentencing by the courts.

Dr O’Callaghan also highlighted the likely impact of the government’s demand for a three per cent cut in spending across the public sector. He said cutting $25 million from the police budget would force police to retreat from marginal programs to concentrate on core services.

Peter Fray

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