The public persona of current NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller has risen in prominence of late, to the point where he’s become a household name, in a way that previous public servants that have held that position haven’t been.
Recent weeks have seen Fuller in the media spearheading a very public campaign against the Black Lives Matter movement, making all sorts of statements about how its actions could affect the NSW economy and falsely blaming it for the rise in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne.
Over his three years as the state’s top cop, Fuller has led an intensification of the war on drugs, especially via a massive spike in the practice of strip searching the public, whether that be teenagers at music festivals, or citizens commuting home by train.
But the rise of Mick Fuller hasn’t been confined to an increase in heavy-handed policing. It’s also seen the commissioner moving into traditional health roles with his appointment to the expert panel on music festival safety, as well as being charged with heading up the state pandemic response.
This has led to the head of one of the largest police forces on Earth not only ensuring that saturation policing has become a part of daily life, but, at the behest of the premier, his growing mandate has seen him assume the role of what might be described as deputy premier of the NSW police state.
Outlawing a social movement
“The commissioner is clearly not an economist,” NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge said in regard to Fuller’s recent comments asserting that if last week’s planned Black Lives Matter protest went ahead, it could put “NSW back five to ten years economically”.
“He has also played fast and loose with the truth,” the Greens justice spokesperson continued.
“His false allegations about the role of the Melbourne Black Lives Matter rally in the transmission of the virus were another example of him willing to speak his mind and direct political discourse without having due regard for the facts.”
The police commissioner told Sky News on 20 July that the June Black Lives Matter protest held in Melbourne had directly led to an outbreak of the disease in the city’s public housing towers, which is an assertion that has been debunked by the experts on a number of occasions.
Fuller has attempted to have three NSW Black Lives Matter protests banned over the last two months, hence his argument about the Victorian protest.
However, he failed to mention that the initial tens of thousands-strong 6 June Sydney march led to no increase in COVID transmissions.
Indeed, the BLM movement is calling for an end to systemic violence towards First Nations people carried out by authorities, especially the police. Yet, Fuller’s officers have continued to perpetrate this violence, with the commissioner putting one incident down to an officer having “a bad day”.
Medical degree not required
Premier Gladys Berejiklian appointed Fuller to the position of NSW emergency operations controller in late March. This placed him in control of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with far-reaching control over border force officers, defence personnel and health experts.
And the NSW police commissioner was also gifted a hefty increase in wage a few months later. “This government has given Mick Fuller not only a very substantial pay rise, but also a substantial increase in his role, and through him, in the role of NSW police,” Shoebridge outlined.
“I don’t think anyone doubts that there will be an essential element for the police as we seek to enforce elements of a lockdown in response to a pandemic,” the Greens MP added. “But that role should always be very much subservient to the role of NSW Health.”
Enhanced pandemic police powers saw a huge law enforcement overreach with officers handing out steep fines to citizens who clearly weren’t causing public health hazards, $1,000 fines were issued to teens and one young man got fined after the law had been revoked.
This increased policing further raised questions around the encroaching role of police in the day-to-day lives of the public, as it came on the back of rising strip searches, sniffer dogs in shopping malls, and Fuller’s ever-increasing barracking against calls to pull back on these measures.
“This didn’t happen in the last six to twelve months,” Mr Shoebridge explained. “Both Labor and the Coalition – for the last twenty-odd years – have repeatedly given the police any additional powers and resources they want.”
“Whether that be increased powers over public gatherings, increased powers to detain people without charge or increased powers to stop and search people,” he added. “And that has been matched with year-on-year real increases in the police budget.”
The last decade saw the NSW government pass anti-consorting laws, laws that allow officers to crack down harder on protesters, laws that permit the prolonged detention of suspects as young as 14, as well as laws that can curb the activities and movements of those not even convicted of a crime.
“The police force has grown both in powers and resources, and as it has grown, it has been handed a greater and greater role in public administration in NSW,” Shoebridge made clear. “And that has been at a very real cost of civil liberties, and I think, just plain good administration.”
Wielding brute force
The Greens MLC asserts that along the way the role of state police has been skewed from what it should be, which is being engaged with the community in order to improve public safety, but instead, it’s become “a NSW Police Force that has really put a lot of emphasis on the word ‘force’.”
Fuller’s tendency to err on the side of brawn is exemplified in his comments around his belief that young people should have “a little bit of fear” about police, as well as his putting one his officers having thrown a First Nations teen face first onto the ground, as a constable just having “a bad day”.
“This is an organisation that wants to impose its will on the people of NSW. And unfortunately, both the Coalition and Labor have given it the power and resources to do that,” Shoebridge concluded.
“It is a very disturbing trend if you care about civil liberties, and you care about that traditional philosophy that we used to have of policing by consent, rather than policing by brute force.”
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.