NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione arrives at the inquest
The careers of NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and his deputy, Catherine Burn, are in shreds following damning evidence of operational mismanagement and neglect during the 17-hour Lindt cafe siege on December 14, 2014.
Hailed as heroes by Premier Mike Baird, the state’s two top cops now look like they graduated from the Keystone Police Academy.
Flanked by Scipione and Burn, Baird told reporters two years ago: “I worked alongside Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn throughout the entire siege. I have nothing but admiration, respect and gratitude for the incredible work she did. That goes for the other police officers involved, all the way from Commissioner Scipione.”
But sensational inquest evidence revealed that Scipione and Burn both went home to bed as the siege unfolded into the night. And both testified that they had nothing to do with police anti-terror operations at the Martin Place cafe, even though specialist operations and crisis management are top of Burns’ CV.
Greens MP David Shoebridge told Parliament last week: “It turns out she did nothing. In her evidence which was grudgingly given after she was forced to appear before the coronial inquiry, she had no role whatsoever in the siege.”
Burn told told State Coroner Michael Barnes: “I did not think I was an involved person in this matter.”
Scipione wasn’t much help to the inquest, either. He knew nothing and did nothing. His sworn evidence was that he gave no orders at all during the siege.
Shoebridge, a former barrister and legal rights specialist, is the first NSW politician to break ranks and condemn the senior police command over its handling of the siege.
“The NSW Police is the only agency in this entire state that for the last 20 years has not had budget cuts but real growth in income year after year,” he told MPs.
“During the siege it had to borrow a room from the nearby NSW Leagues Club, which had only one phone line. The specialist mobile command post in a truck had been flogged off.
“Heaven help us if we have a serious terrorism incident, because this merry lot in charge appears grossly and utterly incapable.”
Shoebridge joined MPs from Labor, the Shooters and Fishers Party and the Christian Democrats to call for former deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas to take over the Commissioner’s job.
Foley reiterated his confidence in Kaldas saying he was “the finest police officer of his generation”.
Kaldas is currently in The Hague working for the United Nations in a senior anti-terrorist role after being blocked by Baird as the natural successor to Scipione.
In April 2015 Baird overruled Kaldas’ recommendation by Police Minister and Deputy Premier Premier Troy Grant and extended Scipione’s contract by two years to shaft Kaldas.
Kaldas appeared to welcome the all-party call for his return, telling political correspondent Andrew Clennell: “Working the UN has been a great experience, again, but it has reminded me that credible leadership is crucial to the success of any organisation. NSW will always be near and dear to my heart.”
Grant, a former police inspector before becoming the MP for Dubbo in 2011, remarked enigmatically: “Those who want to apply, apply.”
In a desperate move to convince doubters he is still in charge, Scipione increased the number of deputy commissioners from three five to organise loyalty among his executive team. The move was ridiculed by one senior retired officer, who told Crikey: “The Commissioner has simply increased the number of factions at the top. It’s a recipe for more instability and back-stabbing.”
However, Kaldas’ long list of supporters inside and outside the police should be aware that he can never become police commissioner while Baird is premier. It’s personal and inexplicable, but Baird jealously guards his right to name the next police commissioner, and Kaldas’ name doesn’t appear as a candidate.
Baird and Scipione are close; both are Christian fundamentalists with links to the evangelical movement.
The Lindt siege inquest has inflicted terrible damage on the standing of Scipione and Burn in the eyes of the public, Parliament, press, justice system and the rank and file of the NSW Police Association. The question being asked is how long can they carry on when they are caught amid the wreckage of a siege that cost three lives.
Next year’s final coronial report will probably bring them both down and end Burn’s career ambition to become the state’s first female police commissioner.