2nd May 2022
An unholy spat unfolded within Victoria Police last year between a Sergeant with Christian beliefs on the cusp of retiring and a Deputy Commissioner who is openly gay and is not too subtle with his aspirations for the top Police job.
The spat has spilt into the public domain.
When Police join the Force, they take either an Oath or an Affirmation to serve, “without favour or affection, malice or ill will…” The vast majority of Police take this undertaking very seriously.
Concurrent with this, Victoria Police has published the following Inclusion Policy:
Victoria Police is committed to a workforce that embraces diversity and inclusion and our vision for this is: Our policing services are provided through leadership that fosters a diverse, inclusive and respectful workforce, better equipping us to work together to understand and respond to the Victorian community
In 2021, Victoria Police embarked on actions that bear a strong resemblance to the persecution and bullying of one of their own, a Christian, who expressed concerns about using police resources for the apparent promotion of a Gay agenda by one of the force’s most senior officers, Deputy Commissioner Neil Paterson.
Mr Paterson has been instrumental in promoting the inclusion of LGBTQI people into Victoria Police and he applied multiple sworn police to the 2021 Australian LGBTQ+ inclusion awards submission, which resulted in a Silver Award. The Victoria Police submission was undertaken despite the peak of the COVID Pandemic severely stretching Vicpol’s most valuable asset, manpower. To question this resource allocation in the circumstances is reasonable.
Mr Paterson appears to have overstepped the mark with his apparent biased gay agenda bullying of Sergeant Bruno Staffieri, over the latter’s respectful comments and concerns.
No ‘Inclusion Policy’ worth its salt excludes individuals based on their religious beliefs and nor can it be at law. Yet Mr Paterson appears to have done just that, based on what appears to be his response to a respectful and courteously worded dissent expressed by Sergeant Staffieri on the Police internal social media platform.
“ Last year, Deputy Police Commissioner Neil Paterson posted on internal police social media celebrating that “Victoria Police is proud to have been recognised as a silver employer at the 2021 Australian LGBTQ+ inclusion awards.”
In response, Sergeant Staffieri responded: “Yes I agree. Great achievement. But if the public knew how much time, effort and taxpayer dollars went into this, they would also be demanding why we didn’t get a gold.”
Mr Paterson defended the campaign and said it had not received significant public funding.
Sergeant Staffieri responded: “Sir, I totally value and respect your opinion and your rank, I simply ask that you value and respect mine.”
Mr Paterson, the state’s second highest-ranked police officer, fired a public broadside at Sergeant Staffieri, suggesting he consider looking for a new job.
“I don’t respect or value your views as they are offensive and there is no place for those views in Victoria Police…. Either limit your comments on Yammer to comments that are respectful of everyone or consider your employment options,” Paterson posted -source https://www.advanceaustralia.org.au/this_victorian_copper_is_a_bloody_aussie_legend
Sergeant Staffieri displayed a respectful tone while expressing concern over the resources which went into achieving recognition of Victoria Police for its inclusiveness. Mr Paterson, on the other hand, was bullying and anything but respectful or inclusive in his response to the Sergeant.
Sergeant Staffieri has since been subjected to a protracted and ongoing investigation, as a consequence of this exchange and has apparently been charged under the Police Act and has now after two years been advised he will be suspended.
The aggressor and person who would appear to have breached the Chief Commissioner’s Inclusion Policy appears not to have been disciplined.
We applaud Victoria Police for seeking to include LGBTQ+ people into the organisation. But inclusion does not mean giving them a place of pre-eminence over others. Inclusion also does not mean forcing out others because they seek to politely voice their beliefs respectfully, influenced by their religion.
The Deputy was responsible for escalating this matter into a religion versus gay spat. That he did not think through the impact the spat would attract, brings his judgement into serious question in addition to his deliberate breaching of Force Policy.
We find it hard to accept he is so naive that he would think the contentious comments published on an internal VicPol Social page available to 22,000 police staff, would not find a way into mainstream media and be widely circulated on public social media. We strongly suspect the action was either wholly reckless or deliberate.
If you don’t want it to get out, don’t write it.
So how has such an experienced senior officer as Mr Paterson fallen into such serious error? Could it be that ambition plays a part? Ambition for the LGBTQ+ community or ambition for himself? Mr Paterson appears to have made LGBTQ+ inclusion, his personal agenda and in doing so appears to have lost objectivity critical to his role as one of the most senior leaders in a major Australian policing agency.
As a police leader, he must lead for all, not just some. Mr Paterson appears to have failed significantly in his most important duty – leadership. This brings into question his suitability to remain at that very senior level, let alone progress to higher office when the Chief Commissioner’s Office becomes vacant.
We should also be concerned over the apparent inaction of Chief Commissioner Patton in this debacle from whom we hear nothing. Most significantly because this egregious breach of force policy is the Chief Commissioners’ own Policy.
Paterson has thrown down the gauntlet to Patton, in a not too subtle challenge to the Chief Commissioners’ authority. A blatant act of dissension that cannot be tolerated in any circumstance from any Police member let alone somebody of Paterson’s rank.
Mr Patton holds the highest office in Victoria Police and therefore, arguably, the highest duty to lead his police. Mr Patton is singularly silent in this matter, apparently preferring to leave it to others in Command to mount what looks, from the outside, alarmingly like a campaign of religious persecution against Sergeant Staffieri for daring to respectfully dissent.
All this is against a backdrop where Victoria Police have serially neglected their duty in a range of very serious investigations including ‘The Red Shirts’ and ‘Slug Gate’. It seems that the police no longer catch real crooks. They prefer to ‘catch and kill’ their own.
To think this all could have been avoided if the Deputy had shown a modicum of Leadership and called the Sergeant in for a cup of coffee and an informal chat to avoid any spat engulfing VicPol and now the Chief.
The actions of the Deputy have left the Chief Commissioner in the untenable position, to either side with the Deputy, or allow this breach of his authority to stand, alienating a sizable proportion of his workforce and the community.
So, what should happen? Chief Commissioner Patton must show the leadership of his position and immediately intervene.
The discipline charges against Sergeant Staffieri must be immediately withdrawn. If the Sergeant’s conduct is in error, he should be counselled and provided appropriate supervision and training. Or he could be allowed to continue on long Service Leave and retire with dignity, as was his intention after having provided 35 years of fearless and exemplary service to the people of Victoria.
Yes, Sergeant Staffieri was actually on Long Service Leave leading to retirement when he was brought back to duty, interviewed under direction, and advised he was to be suspended from duty.
Mr Patton has little choice but to refer the conduct of his Deputy Mr Paterson to IBAC for investigation during which time Paterson should be suspended. That precedent has been set by the way Staffieri has been managed. Mr Paterson’s potential breaches of Sections 342 (Adverse Action) and 789FD (Bullying) of the Fair Work Act (Cth) were apparent in his ‘public’ diatribe directed at Sergeant Staffieri. The singling out and charging of the Sergeant also arguably amount to further ‘Adverse Action’ by Victoria Police against Sergeant Staffieri.
An apparent power struggle by Paterson against the Chief does VicPol no favours, his continued service is untenable.
It does seem as though some 11th hour sanity may be being applied with the Sergeant now advised that he will not be suspended. This should be the precursor to the charges being dropped. However, this does not detract from the serious breaches by the Deputy.
We can hope the Chief has stepped in and will stamp his authority on the force by terminating Paterson.