8th March 2020

Pondering the intricacies of Police management can be a tedious exercise, but there is one common denominator that has been exposed. If Management, Police or otherwise fails spectacularly in one area, it is guaranteed not to be isolated; it is inevitable that management has failed overall and the various problems of an organisation will start to surface over time, showing the breadth and depth of the management failures.

The Community Advocacy Alliance (CAA) has been calling for an inquiry into the management of policing in Victoria for five years. We identified serious problems back then that have not abated, but more have been piled on, and the normal principles of bad management are manifesting slowly as more bad practices are exposed. The inevitability of this contagion spreading is a reality. There is also an inevitability that the focus will ultimately shift accountability to the Government of the day. We have no doubt there are more problems to come.

The mismanagement that has ended up spawning a Royal Commission can be seen in other aspects of the Police functions. Legal services expenditure, procurement malpractices, and personnel mismanagement.

With police members suffering PTSD at near epidemic levels with many cases caused or substantially contributed to, by the mismanagement of staff, rather than exclusively the exposure of Police to operational trauma the human cost outstrips the material considerations.

Additional failure to manage effectively the core functions of the organisation, crime detection and crime prevention coupled with the road toll, make this a sorry and embarrassing tale.

Recent extraordinary revelations about Police mismanagement at the Royal Commission and the Bourke Street Inquest is probably an unfair characterization, as mismanagement seems to be the norm rather than being extraordinary.

What has been amazing is, that while the Royal Commission and the Inquest have proceeded, the Auditor General has not been tasked to conduct a shadow investigation into the financial impacts and procedures associated with these two events plus the other identified failures.

Exposing who authorized expenditure for what, would identify just who is pulling the string that empties the fiscal bucket of VicPol.

We were very surprised when it was reported in the media that a Deputy Commissioner claimed he, ‘authorized’, the alleged $4.5m to protect the identity of Lawyer X, Nicola Gobbo, but legal circles have told us that this amount probably only related to the High Court Challenge against the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). All the other legal steps taken would make the legal bill somewhere north of $30m. The question is, how does one senior executive authorize and commit the Police budget to that sort of exposure?

Given the amounts involved, one would expect that Ministerial approval would be required, but was it sought.

The other issue to consider about this action was VicPol v The DPP both Government entities, so win lose or draw, we the taxpayer were,’ toasted on both sides’. This has the whiff of a power struggle with us the loser, whoever won.

VicPol sought Ministerial approval for the ex gratia payment of around $2m to Nicola Gobbo, but it would seem, not the bigger legal bill.

We can estimate that the costs to suppress evidence that might damage the Police hierarchy at the Bourke Street Coronial inquest could exceed $1.5m and two civil cases unsuccessfully pursued by VicPol recently have cost the Police budget (or some budget) somewhere close to $4.5m each. That is only the ones we know about.

With legal bills somewhere north of $40m just for these known actions, and probably with associated costs adding another 25% that would be somewhere about $50m.

A serious question must be asked as to what processes and what accountability exists to authorize incurring these costs given that VicPol, it can be argued, failed to achieve its objective in each of the actions.

The question of the objective is a pertinent one because on the surface it would give the impression that the way these legal issues are dealt with, is more to do with protecting the hierarchy of VicPol rather than the furtherance of law and order for the State.

$50m is a hell of a lot of money, blown for nothing.

Equally irksome is that the true cost of legal actions is unable to be identified in the Police Annual Report.

The question also raises the quality of the legal advice to VicPol and whether it was properly considered, and what additional costs were incurred where VicPol failed to comply with the Model Litigant Rules that apply to it.

We know that most of this massive expenditure could have been avoided by competent management and it could be argued that most, if not all the $50m, was just wasted on questionable rationales, rather than furthering the Police function.

VicPol has an ordinary record when it comes to the use of our money. The $100m unaccounted for in the IT area and the multimillion-dollar debacle called the Booze Bus Scandal, when linked with the legal expenses exposes a common thread; nobody is held to account.

Any executive whether sworn or unsworn, that authorized transactions that came under an audit microscope would not escape scrutiny even if they are no longer serving, a precedent set by the Royal Commission.

The outcomes of an audit could disclose, ‘misconduct in public office’, a criminal offence. Any successful prosecution could also result in the Crown seeking restitution rather than penal servitude.

At least the former Senior Police and non-police executives have their superannuation to fall back on, and the Taxpayer might recoup some losses.

After all, if somebody authorizes something they are not entitled to, it becomes a personal authorization and would incur personal liability, and they could be acting outside the protections of, ‘Vicarious Liability’.

When the selection of the new Chief Commissioner is undertaken there are many qualities for the successful applicant to possess in relation to Policing operational skills, and we do not argue to minimize the importance of those attributes; however, there needs to be equal consideration to broader management skills in relation to Governance, personnel management and fiscal responsibilities.

Just think of the resources that could have been made available to Operational Police on the front line if the millions squandered had been applied to the policing core function – serving the public.

We might also have been able to get police when we needed them.

Victoria Police has the highest ratio of police to the population of any force in Australia and is probably the most expensive, but it is unable to deliver a service that the community expects. This is a very serious failure and indicates again management failures that no doubt cost money.

The CAA has invited the Auditor General to investigate the governance and management of Police expenditures over the last twenty years and bring to account, by identifying those who have abused the trust of the people of Victoria by mismanaging their money. And further, where maleficence is identified, the individual is referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration of criminal sanctions.

Interestingly, any culprits may not have the shield of unlimited taxpayer-funded legal services to defend them; that proposition might just grab their attention. How could VicPol fund a defence for ripping off the Police purse, our taxes?

The areas of concern are, but not limited to;

  • Approval processes and evaluation of legal actions, criminal and civil. initiated by VicPol.
  • Approval processes and evaluation of defending civil actions against VicPol.
  • What objective test is applied to these decisions?
  • What costs are incurred by failures of VicPol to comply with the Model Litigant Rules?
  • Is there a competitive tendering process for engaging Legal Services on a case by case basis from the Government Legal Services Panel?
  • Are reasonable cost estimates provided to VicPol prior to litigating and are these cost properly evaluated objectively?
  • The accuracy of these cost estimates for legal actions.
  • Whether legal advice is properly evaluated on a cost versus outcome risk basis?
  • Is there an effective post-evaluation process of Legal Services provided?
  • The use of Judicial Personnel Management processes and the cost.
  • The efficacy of the procurement processes, procedures, review and oversight by VicPol.

Within months a new Chief Commissioner will be appointed, and we can only hope that the successful applicant will have the capacity to resurrect a failed administration.

It would be appropriate that the future fiscal performance of VicPol began with a clean slate, or at least the new Chief Commissioner knowing what the issues are that need to be addressed.