As we’ve noted before, they love a campaign at The Australian. Their editorial conferences must be great fun as they brainstorm strategies to attack the ALP, then turn them into marching orders for journalists.
The result might be misleading articles or misrepresented interviewees, but Labor governments are big enough and certainly ugly enough to take care of themselves.
When it comes to reporting corruption, however, the stakes are higher and we can’t be quite so cavalier.
Yesterday Paul Maley and Michael McKenna wrote about the “tainting” of the Australian Crime Commission by a former Queensland police officer who was implicated in the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission’s Dangerous Liaisons report. They followed up today with an article about the concern of the head of the ACC that he needed a freer hand to sack “crooked officers” explicitly linked to yesterday’s piece.
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The guts of the story is this: the Queensland officer moved to the ACC in 2003/04, well before he was identified in the CMC report. He was sacked in 2004 by the ACC but was reinstated by the Industrial Relations Commission. Maley and McKenna also reported that the man is suspected by the ACC of involvement in the leak of the now-notorious Debus file note last year.
“Despite the ACC’s concerns, the agency has been unable to rid itself of the employee, who works as a public servant, not a police officer,” Maley and McKenna wrote.
We don’t know whether the individual at the centre of these claims — who was not named — is “crooked” or “tainting” the ACC. There has been no evidence produced of his involvement in the leaking of the Debus file note, but serious allegations relating to the individual’s involvement with discredited informant Lee Henderson have been made. The Australian’s articles correctly identify a significant and serious issue for the ACC in relation to this person.
But Maley and McKenna omitted some details from their reports.
The individual concerned was one of the subjects of an investigation by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity into claims of corrupt conduct earlier this year. ACLEI is the Commonwealth’s integrity commission established to keep a watch over the ACC and the Australian Federal Police.
The investigation was into a specific issue of whether that individual had acted corruptly in relation to the circumstances of his dismissal. One of his superiors, AFP chief of staff Roman Quaedvlieg, was also investigated. ACLEI found that no-one, including both the individual and Quaedvlieg, had acted corruptly, but that ACC staff had shown poor judgement and should review their management practices.
How do we know about this? Paul Maley wrote about it last Monday.
The ACLEI report was not an investigation of the issue raised by Maley and McKenna, but the omission of the fact that a recent investigation had found no corrupt conduct by the individual concerned appears peculiar.
Today’s article is more problematic.
The tenor of Maley and McKenna’s pieces yesterday and today is that the ACC can’t rid itself of a potentially crooked officer because of the industrial relations system.
But ACLEI had criticised the ACC for its handling of the dismissal of this individual. The Industrial Relations Commission went further. Last year The Age obtained a copy of the confidential AIRC judgement. It was scathing of the ACC, which was compared to the Keystone Cops:
The commission is forced to the conclusion that the whole of the ACC actions in this matter are so fraught with dishonesty and stupidity that the board of the ACC should review all of the human resources practices within the ACC.
The ACC successfully appealed the decision but subsequent hearings confirmed the original decision. The ACC has been “unable to rid itself of the employee” because it was dishonest and stupid, a court has found. No mention of this was made in The Australian.
“It is understood he is on leave,” Maley and McKenna wrote yesterday. Crikey understands that in fact the individual has not been at work at the ACC for at least twelve months.
This is substantive context for the Maley-McKenna articles which was not mentioned.
If these omissions look odd, there’s an inclusion that is equally peculiar. The fourth paragraph of yesterday’s article is:
The revelations came as the spectre of official corruption in Queensland was highlighted by veteran anti-corruption reformer Tony Fitzgerald QC, who warned on Tuesday that the “Moonlight State” was sliding back to its “dark past”.
It is a complete non sequitur. The issues raised by Fitzgerald are irrelevant to this case. But it nicely links an otherwise unassociated event with a campaign by News Ltd against the Queensland Government this week on corruption and accountability.
The Australian has a tendency in these campaigns to throw in everything even tangentially relevant if it suits the purpose. That’s fine for playing partisan games. But police corruption is an altogether more serious issue, and the cause of exposing unethical or illegal conduct in law enforcement is not helped by stories with serious omissions that look shaped to fit political agendas.