Victoria’s new Police Commissioner Simon Overland is a popular choice. He is seen, rightly so it seems, as Mr Clean in a Police Force that has been riddled with corruption and which in recent years has been subjected to a vicious battle between the new guard, led by Overland and his predecessor Christine Nixon, and the old guard, led by former top cop Noel Ashby and former Police Association Secretary Paul Mullett.
But Overland is not perfect, despite the hagiographic profiles of him in today’s media. Back in 2001, when he was a senior officer in the Australian Federal Police he came in for criticism from the Federal Court for his conduct in a disciplinary matter involving an AFP officer, seconded to Interpol in France.
The officer, Chris Eaton sent some p-rnographic images to another AFP officer, in breach of AFP guidelines. How bad the images were is a matter for conjecture, although it gives some insight into Overland’s morality that he described the images as being “gross and p-rnographic”, whereas Justice Allsop who heard an appeal by Eaton against the AFP’s actions, was more measured. “Minds might differ about such characterisation,” Allsop said. He thought the images were “ribald or s-xually explicit.”
Overland had the task of investigating Eaton’s conduct and deciding what should happen to him. Eaton challenged Overland’s participation in the matter and Justice Allsop ruled in his favour. Overland, the Judge said, had misled, deliberately or through error, Eaton about the investigation and inquiry into his conduct.
Overland didn’t let Eaton see the views expressed by then AFP Commissioner Mick Palmer, and the Secretary General of Interpol, Ron Noble, about his conduct. Overland told Eaton he would not be taking Noble’s views (Noble wanted Eaton to be sent back to Australia) into account into making his own decision about what should happen to Eaton. But he wrote to Noble telling him that his views would be given consideration.
Overland was cross-examined about this discrepancy and Justice Allsop was unimpressed by his performance:
This evidence of Mr Overland reflects less than well on Mr Overland. It can most charitably be characterised as a punctilious attendance to any nuance which might be seen as available to neutralise material otherwise harmful to his own case. Less charitably, I detected in his evidence a steadfast refusal to concede anything harmful to him about what he recognised as material which contradicted the notion that he excluded Mr Noble’s views from his own consideration.
Justice Allsop also criticised Overland for the way in which his affidavit he filed in the case varied with his oral evidence, and used this reason to decide to make the AFP pay Eaton’s substantial legal bill. “I think it is very relevant to the question of costs that Mr. Overland did not frankly and openly set out in his affidavit the process of the decision making in the respects disclosed in his evidence,” Justice Allsop said.
A careful reading of Justice Allsop’s 2001 judgment shows Overland to be inflexible and rigid in his approach to this particular exercise in problem solving. As Justice Allsop said, “he had a view of the requirements of procedural fairness which was mechanical and formalistic.” And of the comments made by Justice Allsop about some of Overland’s evidence, it shows a preparedness to spin.