The Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Queensland Police Service Responses to Domestic and Family Violence, which also looked into toxic culture of ‘unchecked’ sexism, racism, misogyny and brutality which pervades the Queensland Police Service (QPS), has handed down a damning report, calling for urgent systemic change.
The question is, will the QPS implement its recommendations?
The final report was scathing, detailing a “broken system” and a “failure of leadership” which has allowed a culture of sexism, racism, fear and silence to persist with impunity across the state.
Even Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk described the findings as ‘raw and confronting’, as she once again promised that her government would implement every one of the 78 recommendations.
In doing so, Ms Palaszczuk backed beleaguered Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll to implement the reforms.
But the fact is Ms Carroll, who was sworn into the top job in 2019 inherited a ‘poisoned chalice’, does not have the confidence of inquiry chair, Justice Deborah Richards, who has been highly critical of the her leadership, suggesting she does not have the will to implement the reforms, and is likely to continue the state’s police service to act above the law when it comes to brutality, sexual harassment and racism – as it has for decades.
And there are a good reasons for Ms Richards to be cynical.
Can the current top brass confidently implement reform?
When Katarina Carroll first took office, a domestic violence victim named *Julie was coming to the end of a long legal battle with the QPS for compensation for a breach of privacy after a senior Queensland police officer illegally accessed her personal information on the QPS’s QPrime database and given it to his friend, Julie’s ex-partner – a man who threatened to kill Julie and blow up their children.
Despite Mr Punchard subsequently being charged and pleading guilty to nine computer hacking-related offences for which he was given a two month suspended sentence in October 2019, (he resigned from the QPS in 2021) Julie bravely fought on, and eventually won her battle, representing herself in QCAT against QPS highly experienced (and expensive) legal team.
Many have criticised Ms Carroll for never publicly acknowledging the incident, despite it causing serious damage to the QPS, and despite her own stated mission as she took the role, to ‘do better for victims’.
Officer who crucified honest cop is rewarded
But doing better for those victimised by officers of the QPS is far from what the police commissioner has done.
In fact, it has now been reported that the senior officer who served a disciplinary notice on former ‘honest cop’ Rick Flori for allegedly leaking CCTV footage of his colleagues assaulting arrested man Noa Begic, as he was handcuffed and in custody in the carpark of a Gold Coast police station has been given the task reforming the culture of the police service.
But despite each of the officers clearly being involved, only one was ever disciplined over the incident. He was never charged with a criminal offence.
By contrast, the man police say informed the public of the incident went through years of criminal prosecution and had his career, mental state, finances and life shattered beyond repair.
The officer who served the notice of Mr Flori was Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski, a 42 year veteran of the QPS.
This is now the very person rewarded with the appointment to senior coordinator responsible for rectifying the toxic culture in the service.
Commissioner Carroll has done what she can to present officer Gollschewski as a star of the service, but those in the know have criticised the appointment as further entrenching the appalling norms considered as acceptable in the QPS for decades.
QPS sends clear message that bullying and intimidation are acceptable
The only person charged in relation to the incident was Rick Flori – for allegedly leaking the footage. It took Rick Flori several years and a protracted legal battle to clear his name of wrongdoing.
Media also carried the story this week of how Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski became angry and aggressive during a meeting with the QPS’ First Nations advisory body, pointing his finger at a senior elder and saying “you people” don’t run the organisation. It’s reported that members of the QPS First Nations reference group threatened to walk out of a meeting earlier this year because of the alleged behaviour and “racialised” language of the deputy commissioner.
Mr Gollschewsk has since responded to the reports saying that he has the “utmost respect for all First Nations people”.
Actions of course, speak louder than words, and it’s fair to say that the challenge facing the Deputy Commissioner now is whether or not he can overcome these allegations and establish some real credibility. Not just within the organisation he is now charged with reforming, but with the wider community.
Restoring trust in police – there’s a long, long way to go
General mistrust of police is growing right across Australia, but right now, it is currently painstakingly obvious in Queensland, made crystal clear, after a five-month inquiry heard evidence from dozens of witnesses and received more than 820 submissions, including 365 from current or former police officers.
And while the overall response to domestic violence was the commission of inquiry’s focus, it heard a significant body of evidence about many more issues within the QPS, including:
- Sexism,misogyny and racism are a widespread problem within the QPS, and have not always been dealt with appropriately,
- The QPS failed the people who suffered as a result of the conduct, failed to meet its human rights obligations to those people and failed its membership as a whole,
- Negative attitudes towards women were prevalent within the service and impacted the ability of the QPS to consistently respond well to domestic and family violence,
- Racism towards First Nations employees, staff from other cultural backgrounds and members of the community,
- Sexual harassment and bullying are rife, with those responsible facing minimal disciplinary action, and
- A lack of “integrity” in the senior leadership and a “pervasive culture of fear and silence within the organisation”.
Inquiry into QPS DNA testing
In addition to this, the QPS is also currently under fire for its DNA testing procedures, which are now subject to review, with serious implications. It is possible, if DNA testing is as flawed as some of those providing evidence suggests, innocent people could be behind bars.
Youth Justice reforms have been criticised by the National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds as breaching Human Rights and only last week, audio emerged of police and watch house officers allegedly involved in discussions containing racist slurs and offensive jokes towards Indigenous Australians.
Real reform requires accountability
The Queensland Government has pledged $100 million in funding to implement “nation-leading reforms” and initiatives to improve police responses to domestic and family violence, but it’s clear that the issues within its justice system go well beyond one single facet of policing, despite the fact that the response to domestic violence is a critical one.
Change is vital, but it also needs to go hand in hand with accountability – a commission of inquiry’s recommendations are one thing, a truly reformed police culture is quite another.