Phillip Bradley, boss of Australia’s most controversial crime fighting agency, is domineering, abrasive and obsessed with secrecy. For the past two decades he hasn’t just run the NSW Crime Commission — he has been the NSW Crime Commission.
When the 59-year-old former lawyer steps down in November, his legacy will be one of stunning success but also heartbreaking failure. It was under his nose, after all, that one of the worst corruption cases in Australian history occurred. Earlier this year, Mark Standen, one of his top investigators, was found guilty of conspiring with informants to import more than $120 million worth of pseudoephedrine into Australia.
“His legacy will be identical to the legacy of George [W] Bush,” former crime commission officer turned academic Michael Kennedy says. “He had no idea what was going on beneath him and he believed that the ends justified the means.”
Bradley’s supporters admit that his reputation has been tarnished by the Standen fiasco. But they don’t want people to overlook his many triumphs.
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“I’m a great admirer of Phillip Bradley,” former NSW police detective Tim Priest tells The Power Index. “He’s managed to take a fledgling organisation and make it probably the best law enforcement agency in Australia. He is without peer in the country.”
Since becoming commissioner in 1989, Bradley has demanded more and more powers to smash the state’s drug syndicates — and politicians have gladly handed him them. He’s won the ability to investigate almost all serious offences, compel witnesses to give evidence (even if they’re not accused of a crime) and secure wire taps in under an hour. People can even be sent to jail if they tell their relatives that they have been questioned by the commission.
He’s used these powers — for the most part — to devastating effect.
The NSW Crime Commission claims credit for 80% of the state’s most serious arrests, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. It has put high-profile murderers and drug barons behind bars and has confiscated hundreds of millions of dollars worth of criminal assets.
“Name any aspect of organised crime — they’ve unravelled a lot of it,” says veteran crime journalist Bob Bottom. “They’ve achieved twice as many arrests as the Australian Crime Commission with only one-tenth its budget.”
A former senior NSW police officer praises Bradley as a “decision maker” and an “action man”: “He’s not a bureaucrat at all. He cuts through the paperwork and says, ‘This is what we’ve got to do’. He doesn’t need a hundred meetings.”
But not everyone is a fan of Bradley’s gung-ho approach to crime-fighting — particularly his willingness to cut deals with criminals. Earlier this year, The SMH revealed the crime commission had allowed crooks to walk away with millions of dollars worth of criminal assets in exchange for information.