Operation Protea – Adjournment speech 23 June 2015

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[Uncorrected Hansard]

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [6.56 p.m.]: I have spoken before in this place about Operation Protea, which is a Police Integrity Commission inquiry considering the role of police on the Catholic Church’s New South Wales Professional Standards Resource Group [PSRG] and the memorandums of understanding that were drafted and exchanged between the police and the Catholic Church. The existence of the arrangements between the police and the church that resulted in a police officer sitting on an internal church body was revealed by my office following an application made under the Government Information (Public Access) Act, known as GIPA, which delivered a memorandum of understanding between the church and the police.

It is now apparent that indeed the memorandum of understanding was drafted initially by the New South Wales police. Crucially, the memorandum considered the issue of blind reporting, which is the provision of information by the church to the New South Wales police about alleged sexual offences against children from which information about the offences, including the identity of the victim, was removed. A document produced by the NSW Police Force in response to the Government Information (Public Access) Act request said in part:

        In relation to documents evidencing the work of the New South Wales Police officer from the CP&SCS who represented the NSW Police Force on the Catholic Church’s NSW PSRG, Det Acting Superintendent (Supt) … of the Sex Crimes Squad has advised that documents concerning PSRG meetings were confidential and maintained by the Professional Standards Office of the Catholic Church. Inspector Beth Cullen, the NSW Police representative on the PSRG, shredded hard copies of meeting material after each meeting. Furthermore, Inspector Cullen did not keep any documentation in relation to her work on the PSRG.

I seek leave to table the three-page response from the NSW Police Force, which I have been reading from.

Leave granted.

Document tabled.

Blind reporting allows an institution, be it the church or whomever else, to provide sanitised reports of allegations of child sexual abuse to the police. It was argued that such reports satisfied reporting requirements. But in fact they meant that prosecutions were made almost impossible due to crucial information not being provided. Blind reporting also means that there is no way to ensure complainants made genuine decisions not to approach the police and that they understood the implications of this action.

In addition, the lack of detail meant that blind reports did not trigger active investigations by police but were just added to the files as information reports. Furthermore, it was the institution that abused the victims that advised the police that the victims did not want to approach the police directly. The institution was the mediator between the NSW Police Force and the victims of abuse by that institution. It should never have been tolerated.

Blind reporting is not only bad policy; it is also likely to be illegal—representing a breach of section 316 of the Crimes Act, which prohibits concealing indictable offences. In fact the New South Wales Police Force sought and received legal advice on four occasions about blind reporting. Its lawyers advised that blind reporting might be “contrary” to section 316, “incongruent” with section 316 or “inconsistent” with section 316—in short, illegal. New South Wales police might also consider whether shredding meeting notes that may have been the only record of complaints of child sexual offences in their possession might constitute hindering the investigation or discovery of evidence or the apprehension of a person who has committed the offence of child sexual assault—that is, a breach of section 315 of the Crimes Act.

My office provided all documents held regarding the Catholic Church and the New South Wales Police Force memorandum of understanding which considered blind reporting to the Police Integrity Commission [PIC] for the purposes of Operation Protea. I personally attended the Police Integrity Commission in order to explain these materials and their history in detail. After five days of public hearings, a number of private hearings and the consideration of submissions and exhibits, the PIC produced a report which provided a recommendation that the New South Wales Police Force should “reconsider” the practice of blind reporting. Inexplicably given the evidence from the police I personally provided them, they also found that there was no evidence that the police shredded documents. Given the strength of the evidence presented that blind reporting hindered investigation of sexual abuse of children and likely amounted to a breach of the law, the recommendation of a review rather than the abandonment of blind reporting is extraordinary.

Indeed, in light of the fundamental flaws in the PIC report, I hope this matter will now be fully revisited by the Federal Royal Commission into child abuse. The former Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery has said that blind reporting was “the selective disclosure of information about crime that prevented the police force, with its agreement, from investigating and prosecuting crime”. There is one simple question that both the police commissioner and the Minister must answer: Is the New South Wales Police Force continuing to accept blind reports from the church and other institutions? Both the police Minister and the New South Wales police commissioner must immediately and publicly state that the New South Wales police will no longer accept any institution censoring its reports of child abuse to them.

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