Australian Biography

Ray Whitrod - full interview transcript

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Ray, what led to your resignation from the Queensland police force?

Well, the trigger point ... I was a bit unhappy of course, because I wasn't achieving as much as I thought I should be, but the trigger point was when I'd ... I'd selected a replacement for an assistant commissioner who had retired and this required cabinet approval. And in the past, always in the past, the cabinet had accepted the Commissioner's recommendation, so I had sent to cabinet three names, one of which was my choice and two others in case cabinet wanted to see the comparisons and I sent these three names up. I'd checked as a matter of diplomacy, I suppose, with the Senior Police Officers' Association and with the Police Union as to whether they had any objections to these three names, and the three names I'd selected were all highly respected, competent men, who were next due for promotion in the sense they were the most able. I sent these three names forward to cabinet, just expecting the usual acceptance but instead the three names were rejected and an inspector named Terry Lewis was promoted over, perhaps, sixty men better qualified than him, and he was appointed assistant commissioner. Now Terry Lewis was well-known as one of the rat pack that Bischof had formed with Tony Murphy and Hallahan, and Terry Lewis. They were well-known to be bagmen for ... for Bischof and so I was astonished. And I went to the Police Minister, because Max Hodges had been replaced and there was a new Police Minister, and I went to him and I said, 'Look, this cabinet ... cabinet's solid on this choice', and he said, 'Yes'. I said, 'But you must know that Terry Lewis was a bagman', and the Minister said, 'Yes, but that was when he was a sergeant. He's now been an inspector for a few years and he wouldn't do anything like that', and I said, 'Well I don't agree with you. Can I talk to cabinet or to the Premier because it's important to me. I've been conducting an anti-corruption programme here for seven years, and everybody in the police force knows that Lewis is corrupt. Now if he's appointed assistant commissioner, it will nullify all my efforts', and the new Minister said, 'I will talk to the Premier'. And about an hour or so later the Minister rung me up and said, 'The Premier does not want to see you, nor will he allow you to address cabinet'. So my empire crashed to the ground. I'd been selling the young police officers the idea that the principal quality for a police officer was integrity and here was a known offender being [pushed] for promotion, and it seemed to me that if he was made assistant commissioner I would be retained as a figure head, as a token of honesty, and Joh would deal directly with Lewis, and all sorts of things would happen in the police force of which I would disapprove, but which I couldn't stop. So I wrote out my ... went to my wife, we talked about it all night, and next morning I sent my resignation to cabinet saying that I wished to be relieved from my commission as a Police Commissioner.

How did you feel in that moment?

Dreadful, not only for myself because I was nearing the end of my police career, but I'd started a ... a police residential college, at which I had recruited a large number of young boys and girls from secondary schools. We'd managed to get the pick of the country schools by offering the students at the police academy $4000 a year free board for three years, two years to complete their matriculation and one year, if they wished, in order to be trained as police officers but they weren't tied to it. So I'd got a large number of the crop of Queensland's best kids and I'd been out there and talking to them, been camping with them, been hiking with them, and impressing upon them that the first thing to do was to be honest and here, here was the Premier sending up a large signal saying, 'Whitrod's talking rubbish'.

And so you resigned? And so you resigned?

Yes, I did.

Was Joh expecting that?

No, he was not. He was not. I got feedback from the cabinet in which they said that Joh said that Whitrod had ... had turned traitor and had run away from his convictions that they had not expected me to give in so quickly. But it seemed to me ... to me important that I send a signal to the people of Queensland that something very seriously was going wrong with the Queensland police force and with their Premier. It was important that this be got through. Now Queenslanders are a group. They live in a wonderful state. They're apathetic about political matters. I had to stir them up somehow. It seemed to me the only way I could do it was making a personal sacrifice.

And many people think that that big splash finally set in train what led to the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Did you feel very vindicated when the Fitzgerald Inquiry occurred?

Yes I did. I got a ... a stack of letters and telegrams and ... and telephone calls from a number of people, not only in Queensland, but elsewhere, but from Queensland that I hadn't ... hadn't thought were supporters of mine and they said, 'Mr. Whitrod, you were proved right after all. We should have supported you at the time and we didn't and we're sorry'.

Now it was not only that you weren't supported, you were actively personally, domestically attacked, weren't you?

Oh all the time, Robin. As I told you the media were very much in the pockets of the police roundsman who were in the pockets of the detectives for information. At home our ... We had a silent number at home, but I had to leave the number at police operational headquarters for them to contact me, and we would get calls at three o'clock in the morning inquiring about our health. We ... In fact we had a heart specialist call, personally, at three o'clock in the morning because he'd been told by police headquarters that I was having a heart attack. We often had taxis coming, knocking at our door, at two o'clock, one o'clock, four o'clock in the morning, to take me to the airport. We had a load of gravel delivered on our front garden that we'd never ordered. My little team that were helping me were attacked through the media as turncoats and traitors to the cause of police. They had a very rough time and so did their families, and Mavis had a very rough time. She ... she really tried to shield me from this attack. Towards the end, Robin, I'm sorry to tell you, I got personally frightened of my own safety and I used to sleep with a revolver under my pillow. The attacks were so serious and ... and I suppose I was getting a bit nervous after seven years. Recently one of the ... The only man that responded to Tony Fitzgerald's response for a Queensland police force officer to come forward to give evidence at the inquiry, the only one, was a fellow called Dylan, a Sergeant Dylan, and he'd been in the licensing squad, so he was able to give Fitzgerald a lot of first hand evidence about corruption, and recently he called upon me, when he was in Adelaide, and he said to me, 'Commissioner, I've always wanted to shake your hand', and I said, 'And me too'. And I asked him how he was getting on, and he said, well his mother had always been very proud of him because they were Aboriginals [voice cracks], sorry, because they were Aboriginals and she was very proud of her son's progress. But since he'd given the evidence for the Fitzgerald, promotion had been shut off and junior NCOs had ... had by-passed him, and he'd gone to the top to inquire why he'd been by-passed because he was a good police officer. He said, 'All I got was a steely stare'. He said, 'And life, life, Commissioner, is very hard'. And I said, 'Well, I'd got frightened and had kept a revolver near me'. He said, 'So have I'. [BREAK IN TAPE]

Knowing that Terry Lewis was going to take over your office as Commissioner, what did you do with the material that you had on corruption in your files?

That worried me a great deal. I'm inclined to be a hoarder of ... of material and keep things in my files, but Basil Hicks, who'd been one of my good supporters, came to me and said, 'Commissioner, I've got a lot of material on file from sources that have given me what they think is the truth, but in confidence, and I'm afraid that when Mr. Lewis becomes Commissioner, all this material will be exposed'. So I said to Basil, 'Basil, go and burn the lot. I'll give you a written instruction to do so if you want one'. So Basil went and burnt all the material which had come from sources hostile to Terry Lewis, of course, and who I think Terry Lewis would have taken out his revenge on.

Did you keep any of your personal files from that period?

Yes, I kept ... I kept copies of most of the documents: my letters and instructions I'd received and so forth, and had them at my home and when we left St. Lucia, I packed them up. We were going down to Canberra where I'd been given a teaching post at the National University. We arranged for a well-known firm of carriers to bring them down to Canberra, but they never arrived. So of all my original material I've got very little left. I have to rely upon memory because my originals somehow disappeared.

How?

Well, the carrier firm said they'd been involved in an accident and had been burnt but I always doubted that but I was in Canberra. I would have to ask the Queensland police to investigate a suspicious report, and I knew I'd get no satisfaction, so I've just accepted that somehow, genuinely or otherwise, I lost all my basic documents.

Ray, the Queensland police force isn't the only force in Australia, or in the world, that has been corrupt. From your experience at a practical level of corruption, what do you think are the causes of it?

Oh well I suppose it's over simplistic to say it's greed and ambition, but it seems to apply especially to policemen who've got a discretion as to whether they should take action or not. It gives them opportunities to be corrupt which doesn't occur, perhaps, say to a schoolteacher or to a cameraman or somebody not in that sort of position of ... of power. And also it seems to develop most strongly amongst the detectives. The detectives are the ones who mingle, for good reason, with possible informers who are criminals and you also see a lifestyle which is just beyond their reach, but which they could have merely by looking the other way, or passing on a few tips, and I'm afraid the ... the inducements have greatly increased since I left Queensland. They were bad enough when I was in Queensland, but with the multiplication of drugs, for instance, the ... the amount of money available to corrupt police is staggering.

Do you think it also has anything to do with the existence of what are known as victimless crimes, or as it were, activities which the community actually doesn't frown as strongly on as the legislation suggests?

That depends. Yes, it's true. It depends very much on the culture of the society. I imagine, for instance, the ... the puritans that went from England to the United States would have had a very strict code of personal honour, but when you come to SP bookmaking, what harm is caused? All that happens is perhaps the state loses a little bit of taxation, or in Adelaide, when there was six o'clock closing of the hotels at six o'clock selling grog after six o'clock. Brothels come within that same category. Really what social harm is being caused by them? And policemen can easily rationalise their sort of looking the other way in return for a small reward to do nothing about that sort ... that sort of crime.

What do you think about the legalisation or at least the decriminalisation of things, for example, like cannabis or what's your view about decriminalisation as a way of coping with areas that have been traditional areas of corruption in the police force?

Yes, yes. Well, I suppose, it comes down to a personal credo. I'm more for a ... a state of low intervention by the state. I think the less control we have by the state the better because it takes away from the individual the need to make decisions. If the state is imposing controls I ... I ... I would, as far as marijuana's concerned, I would not oppose ... oppose its use publicly and did so I think back in 1956 or '57, when I was a part of a national committee set up to assess whether marijuana should be legalised or not, and I and the present archbishop of Adelaide, Ian George, we came out strongly in saying ... in favour of saying, 'Look, maybe, maybe prohibiting marijuana is a ... is an offence against society. but it's a small crime compared to what happens when the money goes towards bribing police, and you get a much greater crime because it's being prohibited'.

And so you're in favour of it not being prohibited?

No, I'm ... yes. I'm in favour of it not being prohibited.

Going back to Queensland, how do you think that Terry Lewis managed so effectively to get Joh on his side against you? We know that there was probably some sort of connection there that was a corrupt one, but he did use other methods, didn't he? Would you like to describe how that worked?

I'm not sure how ... how Terry Lewis developed this relationship initially with the Premier. There was no official reason for him to have that connection. He was a ... a lowly sergeant and a lowly inspector, but Joh welcomed all forms of information being fed to him, particularly from policemen. He always had a police driver provided whenever he went to the country and he would talk to the police driver about affairs of the district. And the policemen, on the whole, would be reasonably well informed and Joh, I think, became accustomed to relying upon policemen as reliable informers. For instance, the special branch acted solely, I think, as an information centre for Joh and they were smart enough as per Shady Lane's activities to ... to offer information which influenced Joh's judgement, and as the Fitzgerald Commission showed, Terry Lewis managed to persuade Joh that a. I was a friend of Gough Whitlam's. I suppose I am in a way. We were in the airforce together. He said that I was ... was a strong ALP supporter. I've never been a member of the ALP or supporter of the ALP. He managed to sell Joh the idea that I represented all of the things that Joh disliked. For instance, I encouraged girls to join the police force and Joh's form of religion was that the place for females was the three Ks: the Kirk, the kitchen and the kindergarten, and outside that there was no role for women. Now, I ... I went out of my way to recruit good quality girls to join the police force and so I suspect deep down my credo was opposed to Joh, and Lewis was smart enough to feed Joh with that information, and Joh was not smart enough, or didn't want to discover what was the truth.

What are your political views, Ray?

What kind of political views?

What are your political views?

Oh, what are ... [laughs] Well, I ... I ... first ... first rule as a Police Commissioner: you have no political views. You must be strictly neutral and I maintained that all my service life. As regards now, I tend to be a ... a John Howard supporter, I suppose, in the sense that I don't like over regulation. I'm not a supporter of socialism and I'm not altogether a supporter of free capitalism. Somewhere in between, it seems to me, there's a useful medium but I don't ... I don't like forcing people to do right by law, rather than by their own personal choice.

So you've mostly voted Liberal all your life?

I've voted, yes, Liberal. Yes, I don't think I've voted any other way except Liberal.

But your social views are what is known as small 'l' Liberal, am I right in that?

Yes. Yes, exactly.

Would you like to tell me about that?

Well, it seems to me ... [laughs] Well my little sort of ... get-informed-religious beliefs are that each of us individually has to face the world and work out a credo for him or herself, and that the more challenges we get to do right or wrong, the stronger we become if we choose the right. And so every time that choice is taken away from you by government regulation, the less likely the personality is to develop.

You've been described as the only truly honest Police Commissioner Australia's ever had. Now whether or not that's true, your reputation for honesty and integrity has been very strong. Where did you develop your ethical credo? Where did that begin in your life?

Well, Robin, I think I wasn't always honest in my younger days as I've mentioned to you. I think it came about when I met a man Ivan Menzies, who was a Shakespearean actor. No. He was a Gilbert and Sullivan actor from England and came out to Australia, maybe 1935, something like that. He'd made some mention of a religious movement called the Oxford Group in England publicly, and I'd been rather dissatisfied with the sermons I'd been listening to in ... from Baptist pulpits for all my life, and I felt uneasy about them, but I didn't know what the alternative was, and a good friend, Eddie Lee said to me, 'Why don't you go and see Ivan Menzies?' I went and saw Ivan Menzies. He told me about this Oxford Group which had developed in ... in England, founded by a Baptist clergyman of all, [laughs] an American Baptist clergyman, in which there were four basic absolutes and it was absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, and these were, you know, ideals I'd never really thought I would achieve, but it drove home to me that there were black and white things in this world. You were either honest or dishonest and you were either selfish or unselfish and I ... that was about that time I was ... I had been a year or so in the police force, I felt I should clear my own conscience about things I'd done wrong and went along and made reparations for them. And I ... and I ... and Mavis came with me on the second trip to Ivan Menzies and she also felt that the material which he was presenting was relevant, and in fact inspiring and so we ... we joined the ... we couldn't join, but we helped to establish an Oxford Group in ... in Australia through Ivan Menzies. And we were ... I suppose, two of the very early members of it. It later became known as Moral Rearmament during the war. There had been some sneers about its founder ... [its] founder's comments about Hitler and so forth, and Mavis and I have always remained sort of in touch on the fringes of it. We ... we both admire the members of it very much and we ... we agree very much with their modus operandi, the way they operate. But once or twice because I felt dishonesty, I've spoken up at meetings and been the only anti in the room, and one of the things about Moral Rearmament is that you all [are] supposed to receive the same directions from God and apparently I was not receiving [laughs] the same directions, and I spoke up once or twice and sort of was pushed on the outer a little bit, because I didn't agree with the things they were doing. For one thing, it ... it was formed by a Baptist unmarried American pastor and I always felt that he didn't really understand what married life was all about. He advocated that you slept in separate beds and Mavis and I always slept in a double bed. We've always been a joint family. We've always enjoyed a loving relationship and we felt that was the ... a better way of life than being still single - living and sleeping in the same, same room. So we've kept a little distance from them, but I ... they are a group that I admire very much. They're very unselfish and I like them.

But even in relation to that, your independent thinking could never be kept down. You always had to work it out from first principles for yourself.

Yes, I don't know where that came from, perhaps from my mother. My mother's influence, I think, was quite strong for a little lass from Birdsville with two years' schooling. But she always wanted to know what it was all about and what ... what was going on and so forth, and encouraged me to think a little bit for myself, and to form my own judgements, and while that's helped me in some ways, it's also meant that I got into hot water on other occasions.

You said that when you began in the police force there was no ethical training at all, that you just were expected to bring, I suppose, what you'd learnt in your church or whatever to the situation. When you were running the police forces that you ran, did you introduce ethics as a ... as a matter for discussion?

At, at the Police Academy we started in Brisbane we had these lively young people with good intelligence. We used to have sessions there: group sessions and to discuss social problems and ethical problems, and besides that, I arranged for them to do some camping trips in the mountains nearby and ... and Mavis and I would go along to those sites and ... and have informal talks and I'd hope that some of my ideas would wash on to the younger people: ideas that a policeman needed to be honest to start with. He needed also other things but if he wasn't honest then he was a danger to society and not an asset.

It's often been pointed out that one of the factors that's there in a corrupt force or indeed any group that goes off the rails, is a concept of loyalty and obedience to authority. What do you think about the idea of loyalty: of loyalty to your mates rather than loyalty to a principle? Did that play a part in what you saw in Queensland and how does it work in police forces?

It played a very large part, Robin, when you, particularly when you're a detective and you work in teams of two, you learn to rely completely on your mate. You go on into a dark building at night and you cover the front door, he covers the back, you meet in the centre. If he's in trouble, you rush immediately to his aid, he comes to your aid. You go in the witness box, you give evidence to support ... support one another. You spend a lot of time together, you get to know each other's families, you become close mates, closer I think than aircrew, really, because there's only one other to whom you're attached, and maybe over time you might acquire several others, but there's this very close bond particularly amongst detectives and amongst the uniformed people, there's a similar bond because sometimes they feel it's us against them. That out there there are drunks and there are assault and robbery types and sometimes you are sent to arrest a man who's bigger than yourself. Sometimes he's got a couple of mates and there's only you and your mate to do the job. And I know there have been times when I've been with Ted Calder and we've faced a large ... not ... a largish group and had to force our way in and make a couple of nasty arrests, and I only did so. I only felt confident doing so because I knew Ted was with me. And if he'd turned tail and gone off ostensibly to ring for reinforcements, I would have been on my own and got very severely beaten up. So you learn to trust and carry on with your mates. So maybe if he does a little peccadillo like sneaking off for lunch a couple of hours early or ... or doing something a bit irregular, you'd cover for him, and he covers for you. It happens in all forms of life but in the police forces, particularly in the detective group where you are largely unsupervised, opportunities for little breaks away occur and then you just cover for each other. If one's made a mistake, the other will cover. So you ... so that you grow up very much as part of a small team in a larger team as you, as your experience extends and you don't dob in your mates, and that was my problem in Queensland. I thought there were a large number of honest policemen in Queensland but none, none of them would come forward and tell me about what their mates were doing on the side. It's a very strong bond between policemen that you don't talk. It's almost like a blue veil of secrecy. It's stronger, I think, than Masonic bonds or even the Mafia, for silence.

Ray, how do you get people to keep what's good about that bond. but recognise that it's more important to stick with a principle than to say my brother, right or wrong?

Yes.

How do you do that?

I wish I knew, Robin. I've thought about this a lot and I eventually came up with the conclusion that in the end you must ... can only rely upon your own, your own conscience and if that's strong enough, you've got your priorities right, that your mate is there but that if he's doing things which are harming other people, then you must either try and stop him or you report him. It's as bad as ... it's as strong as that, and it means a lot of heartbreak and a lot of, I suppose, disharmony sometimes, because two male detectives will never completely agree on what's completely honest and what's not honest, and so, you know, there are problems about it. But it seems to me in life you've only got yourself to be accountable for. You can't ... can't shield ... shield any activity by saying, 'Well he's my mate, I'll ... I'll cover for him'. You can do it to a certain extent but not ... not when it's important.

What kind of groups within the force are inclined to be more honest and more willing to report mates, if they do the wrong thing?

I wish I knew. I tried very hard. Queensland was a fairly large force, about three and a half thousand, mainly men with about twenty women, and I looked around for some allies I could find within the police force that would support my ideals and there was a branch of the Police Christian Federation and I went to them and talked to them and they were ... they were decent chaps but only keen on, sort of, personal evangelisation rather than feeling any responsibility for making their workplace honest. They ... they did nothing wrong but they did nothing to stop their mates from doing something wrong. I went to the Police Scouters Association. I was a member of that because I was in scouting and they weren't interested in this area. They ... they were involved in scouting activities, and I went to the International Police Association and that was a good social brotherhood, but they incorporated anybody regardless of their moral code and so forth. So there was nobody really except, perhaps, if I'd known, I think the Mormons in Queensland were one religious group whose members I never suspected, or any had any suggestion were involved in any criminal activity. But, on the other hand, they never helped me with the organisation. And the other group that I never had any problems with was the females. Now that may well be that females had really only come, through me, into the force and therefore were in very lowly situations and unable to exercise much discretion ...

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