Queensland police let off with a talking to after inquiry’s scathing report | Australian police and policing


Throughout the inquiry into Queensland police responses to domestic violence, the public learned about cases where officers who were found to have engaged in serious racism or sexism were let off with a “local management resolution”, which is basically a stern talking to and a demand to do better in future.

Those sorts cases dominated Guardian Australia’s reporting during the hearings and since. There were officers found to have committed sexual assaults, and some staff were also recorded making racist comments, making references to beating and burying black people.

“It’s very important that the message is very clear that, if you are making a racist or sexist remarks in the Queensland police service, this is not the job for you,” the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said on Monday.

The scathing final inquiry report by Justice Deborah Richards makes it clear the fundamental failure lies at the feet of the Queensland police leadership.

But at the conclusion of the inquiry, no one is losing their job.

Not the police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, who – when the inquiry was first recommended last year – denied that any cultural issue existed, initially declined to appear at the hearings, and denied on the witness stand that problems were “widespread”.

Not the deputy commissioner, Steve Gollschewski, who members of the QPS first nations reference group – the formal advisory body of Indigenous leaders and elders – alleged engaged in aggressive behaviour and used “racialised language” during a recent meeting. Those complaints have been dismissed out-of-hand. Gollschewski has been given a promotion as a special coordinator of police reform.

Gollschewski on Monday denied the allegations and said: “I have the utmost respect for all First Nations people and, in particular, every member of the First Nations reference group.”

And not the police minister, Mark Ryan, who in 2019 met with Kerry Carrington, a domestic violence academic whose work focuses on specialist police stations for victims of family violence.

Carrington said on Monday she had told Ryan bluntly there was a need for cultural reform and more specialist resources, and that he was dismissive and rejected the need for reform.

Ryan says he remembers the meeting differently. But Carrington says the minister should be sacked.

The inquiry and the report is the most significant for the Queensland police service (QPS) since the landmark Fitzgerald inquiry in 1989, and the findings in relation to police leadership are the sort that would – in other circumstances – cause heads to roll.

In the report Richards says the QPS leadership was responsible for the “culture of fear and silence” that exists and characterised a system where reprisals were common against police officers who spoke up.

The report says that addressing problems within the QPS would require “a strong and respected leadership”. It then goes on to say that QPS members were disillusioned and had lost faith with senior police, and that the leaders had failed to deliver long-term improvements.

During the hearings, the counsel assisting, Ruth O’Gorman, put it to Carroll that the problems could only be addressed if they were first acknowledged. There are shades of that statement in the report.

“If the QPS is to improve its responses to domestic and family violence, it will be important for the leadership to hear and acknowledge those among the QPS membership who feel abandoned, disillusioned and silenced,” the report says.

“It is unlikely that present and future commitments by the leadership to improving police responses to domestic and family violence will be effective unless it does so.”

The decision by the Palaszczuk government to keep Carroll in situ has been as much about optics as anything else.

The government has weighed the possibility of sacking the state’s first female police commissioner over the behaviour of men, balanced against the damage done to the reputations of police leadership by the inquiry, and the final report.

For now, the strategy is to portray Carroll as a potential reformer.

Palaszczuk says Carroll is a “strong leader” but that the QPS needs to do better.

“Let me say very clearly: I expect the reforms to be implemented. Very, very clearly,” Palaszczuk says.

The subtext: the police leadership has had a stern talking to, and a demand to do better in the future.

As one former police officer puts it: “It’s just one giant government local management resolution.”

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