There is one big potential winner from the surprise decision of Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon to quit her post, and that is the ambitious and media friendly Simon Overland. Overland, who headed the gangland busting Purana Taskforce, is a man of serious ambition and he must surely think that his time has finally come. His rival for the top job Noel Ashby has been banished courtesy of 2007 Police Integrity Commission hearings which have resulted in him now facing trial on criminal charges relating to leaks about an investigation.

Overland is the Assistant Commissioner for Crime in Victoria, and was mooted as a replacement to take the New South Wales Commissioner’s job last year when Ken Moroney retired. He had, sources say, a number of meetings in Sydney last year about the job. His high media profile in Victoria and his political savvy — he worked for a time in Duncan Kerr’s office when the latter was Justice Minister in the Keating government — would make him a safe political choice for the Brumby government which, in the lead up to the next election, simply wants the troubled Victorian Police Force out of the newspapers altogether.

That Overland would be a tough law enforcement type, rather than a softer more liberal individual like Nixon has been, was evident in the dismissive way he reacted to the recent expose of secret police infiltration into community groups in Victoria.

While there are serious issues about abuse of power and intrusions into people’s privacy from the existence of such a shadowy group in the Victorian community, Overland merely noted that there is “appropriate” oversight of the secret police activities. And he defended an amendment to freedom of information laws which exempt individuals and groups from obtaining information complied about themselves by police intelligence:

“(The security intelligence group) is a sensitive area and obviously we hold very sensitive information,” Mr. Overland said, “The reality is most FOI requests were refused because of that. But there is still a whole process that you’ve got to go through to deal with the FOI requests so we asked for the amendment because it is a lot easier to say, ‘You are not going to get it, so don’t bother asking.'”

In other words, trust us!

Victorians faith in their police force has been shaken during Christine Nixon’s time in office. She has presided over an internecine war between Overland and his supporters on the one hand and Ashby and his crew. The Police union has run amok, and the Police Integrity Commission, the independent oversight body, has been working overtime on cases of alleged corruption.

But one thing Nixon did do was to rightly defend the Sudanese community when former Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, attempted to play the race card in the 2007 election, by wrongly arguing that too many Sudanese were getting into trouble with the law and this meant he would be letting less migrants from that part of the world into Australia. Nixon pointed out that the Sudanese community were not a problem when it came to crime. Fortunately, Andrews race card ploy fell flat. Thank you Christine.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey