Australian Biography

Ray Whitrod - full interview transcript

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In relation to the policing in New Guinea, how did you feel about what you had to do and the kind of police force that it was?

Well, I was encouraged by the calibre of the local police compared to my friends in the old Commonwealth Investigation Service. Papuans, New Guineas, appeal to me. They're a hard working bunch of people that I think anybody would like and ... and they tried hard and by the time I got there, the results of the missionary and state schools meant that there was a crop of youngish men coming through who could read and write, some up to elementary school, some to secondary school, and these were feeding in to the police force as recruits. We used to select our recruits from men coming out of the Kalabus, which is the local prison, because they tended to be the local leaders of their ... of their groups. The ... the sort of tribal custom in New Guinea was that disagreements were settled by ... between the two people concerned, by slashing each other with a a big cane knife and cut across the shoulder. And when that happened the fight was ceased and both the victim and the assailant and their friends would go then to the police station and report the offence, and the offender would be charged with assault, occasionally grievous bodily harm, and the sort of standard sentence was two years. And he would go into the Kalabus where he would be bathed and got rid of all the pigskin fat that he put on in the highlands to keep warm and he'd be given meals, which were nutritious and ... and had all the necessary vitamins in so he started to flourish. If he couldn't talk Pidgin, he'd be taught Pidgin. If he could talk Pidgin, he'd be taught English, and then he'd be taught either bush carpentry or some elementary mechanics so that he could put up a house or service a truck, and he got a small wage as well. So that after two years, he came out of the Kalabus fit, educated, speaking Pidgin or English, with some money, real money, and he'd go back to the village and the rest of the village would look at him with envy, [laughs] and because he'd been one of the leaders and that's why he'd become potentially involved in the fight, he was the more likely person to be our ... our ... our policeman. So we had quite a ... I would think the majority of the constables in the department were ex-Kalabus boys and they'd learnt discipline and they'd learnt about a clock. One of the big problems in New Guinea with the police service was that the natives got up and went to sleep by the clock [sic] and if it was a cloudy day they got up late. And if you had a meeting scheduled for ten o'clock, if it was cloudy they would drift in about midday, but if they'd been at Kalabus's for two years, they knew about time, so you could organise shift work so they were invaluable as recruits. And then we picked the brighter of those to do sergeants' courses and officers' courses. But then of course when they fed into the main body they were up against the older members, who weren't educated, didn't know Pidgin and ... and didn't know clock systems and couldn't read fresh instructions that came out, so that they would have to defer to the younger boys to tell them what the instructions were, and this was a big blow to their status. But when they went out in the bush, the old boys were far better, much more experienced bushmen than the young ones, so it tended to level off a little bit, but there was a growing difference in the young ones and the old ones. But I liked them. I thought there was a future. I thought they ... they could run their own police force, given a few years and we had some youngish officers who I thought would ... would make good inspectors and later on they did.

Now you were disturbed by the way in which you were expected to handle the Bougainville problems. Could you tell me about that and could you tell me why you were disturbed.

Yes. Well, I went over there to Bougainville. One of my problems was I didn't know much about New Guinea. I hadn't served in New Guinea during the war. All I knew was what I'd read and so when this problem of almost an insurrection in Bougainville occurred, and there were complaints coming in from Canberra that the big firms couldn't get on with their exploration, I thought the best thing would be for me to go over there. So I went over to Bougainville, down to the mining spot and, and looked at it and it seemed to me ... And I talked to the local people there and to some sympathetic whites that were there and it seemed to me that when the native people had agreed to surrender their plot of land they hadn't understood what was the new industrial development, that their hill would be flattened and their, and their lovely little bay, which they used to go fishing in - had fished for centuries - would be filled in with gravel from the pit and so forth, and there would be high rise buildings and it would be completely changed. And so the day before I got there I think ... two days before I got there, one of the native women had stood in front of a bulldozer with a small piccaninny, a small child in her arms and refused to move, and this had been captured by a ... international photographers for the press and this had gone around the world, and so there was a lot of international focus on how we were robbing these poor simple natives. And I talked to them, and it seemed to me that really they hadn't understood what was involved in the contract and ... and I didn't see how it could be that the police ought to be involved to throw them off their land. If the police were, in fact, to maintain law and order and to be representatives of the ... of the people and not of foreign powers, then the administration would have to use soldiers and not police. Police could be used to keep the peace but not to ... to forcibly and physically remove the ... the ... the landholders from the land they and their forefathers had farmed for centuries. It was difficult for them to see what was happening and so I went back and told David Hay and he talked to some of his kiaps in the ... the native ... in the native branch and so forth, and they ... and they were keen that there should be force used and ... and so ... This time I was in really in mental trouble about what I should do, and I got a phone call from John McKinna here in Adelaide, asking me to go to Queensland to ... to be appointed ... to apply for commissionership there. He said, 'I've recommended you strongly, Ray'. And I said, 'I can't go, John. I've only half started my ... my responsibilities here'. I said, 'I'm not doing very well but I really can't leave these ... these natives', and so he rang again and I said, 'No, I'm committed'. And then Max Hodges, the Police Minster from Queensland, flew up to see me, and said, 'Look, Ray, you come to Brisbane where ... We've got a corrupt police force there. I know you're doing a lot of good for the ... for the natives here but we've got Aborigines that are having rough treatment in Queensland'. He said, 'You know Australia better than Queensland ... than New Guinea'. He said, 'You'll find me as the Minister, and the Premier, much more supportive than what you're getting here. We don't have a kiap service. You'll never win them over'. He said, 'You might have won over the gnomes of Canberra, but you're not going to win over the kiaps'. So I'd had this attack of malaria. I wasn't very well. Mavis wanted to see more of her grandchildren, and she was ... she was, well, sixty-five about that stage, so I resigned and went down to Brisbane.

I applied and Cabinet accepted me. They interviewed me first which was a new idea. They interviewed me and luckily I seem to have passed. Wally Ray was the Cabinet Minister. He'd been in the airforce with me and he gave Max Hodges a lot of support and so Max won the day, although there was some opposition because there were local people, local interests. The Catholics had their man, the Irish had their man, and the Masons had their man, and they were nominating each of these very strongly. So in a sense I was a sort of ... sort of a half-way choice.

We'll stop there a minute ... [INTERRUPTION] What did you know about the Queensland police force when you agreed to go there as their new Commissioner?

Not a great deal, Robin. I think there's an increased flow of information these days between State police forces but twenty, thirty years ago when I went to Queensland I didn't know a great deal. I'd come across of course a couple of nasty references when I was a Commonwealth police officer about a little bit of corruption in Queensland, but I really didn't know much about it and I suppose, at the back of my mind, there was always that thought of the ... the kind of sergeant at Birdsville who helped my mother, and I think that's what in a way attracted me to go to Queensland. And I had assumed that the Queensland police force would have been like the South Australian police force, but of course it wasn't.

When did you realise that it was different?

I think the first day I arrived in Brisbane, got off the plane, was driven into police headquarters in an official car, the driver of the car, a senior constable who'd wangled that particular duty said to me, 'Commissioner, do you know this is a very corrupt police force?' or words something like that. And I thought, what an extraordinary introduction into a police force and, you know, what a reckless statement to make to ... to a new person, but he ... This was a fellow called Sergeant Ken Hogget I got to know very well, but he'd ... he'd done some homework before I got there and he knew my background and he felt that he could talk frankly to me about the problems of corruption in Queensland. So he alerted me that at least some members of the Queensland police force thought the force was corrupt.

Did you get a feeling that these members of the force had pinned a lot of hopes on your arrival?

Oh, Robin, I hadn't ... I've never thought about that. I realise now they had, but there was only a small number who were wishing for better things. Better things morally, I mean, rather than money-wise. It was a small group there and I managed to identify some of them in the first couple of years, and get them to form a little kitchen cabinet that I could talk freely to, but I hadn't realised that they had hoped that I might come along with a clean broom and do some sweeping up of a lot of nasty corners.

And what were the corners? Can you describe to me what the corruption was to which they'd alluded?

Well, the main ... the main ... the main exposure of what was going bad in the Queensland police force came out of course at the time of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, and that in the main was only one ... one variety of corruption. It was brothels who were paying off police to keep quiet; SP bookmakers who were being warned of any impending raids; various illicit activities that were being tolerated. A little bit I think of what the police refer as the worst type of corruption, that is police themselves committing crimes, but we never really got into drugs, and neither did Fitzgerald, and I don't know if that meant there wasn't any drug trafficking in Queensland at the time. I suspect there was, and we never really got in to some very serious violent crimes that had taken place in Queensland that I think now had been inspired by ... by the network of corrupt people in Queensland. But, so the Fitzgerald Inquiry only ... only identified and published perhaps half, if I can use a rough, half of the corruption in Queensland. The rest has never been looked at by anybody.

Tell me about the activities of Commissioner Bischof, who had been there for a very long period just a little before you arrived and had, in fact, presided over a lot of this period of ... of corruption that you inherited. How did he operate and what sort of a man was he?

I'd met Frank Bischof at a number of police annual conferences so I'd known him in a sort of social way. Big, tall, imposing man. Never, never volunteered much at Police Commissioners' Conferences. Never contributed much in the way of new ideas. Seemed happy with the world. Spent most of our weekends at conferences, he would go to the races, and then of course later on, after I'd left the Queensland police force there was a ... the Courier Mail published the ... the Hiley information. Hiley was the State Treasurer at the time Bischof was Police Commissioner and Hiley had been approached by a little trio of unlicensed bookmakers and they'd gone to Hiley and complained to Hiley that the levy that they were paying to the police was too high. And Hiley had asked them what it was and it turned out that the whole of Queensland was paying through SP bookmakers ... was paying a levy to the local police to allow them to operate without any police control. And then Hiley found out that this money, some of this money, was then forwarded to Queensland, to Brisbane and to Frank Bischof. Now what Bischof did with the money, which was enormous because Queensland's got a number of country towns - I forget the figure I worked out - there was a ... a set tariff for ... for towns I think above 2000 in population. I forget what the annual fee was, but it was quite substantial, and then it increased according to the potential target of ... of betters on SP bookmakers. I think at the time it was running around about a million dollars a year, if not more. I think more, from memory. I think it was closer to two million dollars. Now how much of this money went through to Frank Bischof was never disclosed by Hiley, if he knew. Now Hiley, apparently, had no knowledge of Bischof passing this money on but it was said that it was going into a political party's slush fund. I don't know. I imagine some of it went in because the politicians were well aware of the existence of SP bookmakers. They flourished everywhere, even in Kingaroy, which was the ... Joh Bjelke-Petersen's electorate, the Premier. There was a very prominent SP bookmaker [who] operated right under Joh's nose. Now, Hiley chased this up a little bit to find out how the money was being spent and he found out that Bischof would go to the races in Brisbane every Saturday, and I think the midweek races, and have a bet on a ... several horses in each race. And he would invest 500 or a thousand on each of those three horses in a race. They ... they ... the betting would be carried out, what's called, on the nod by the bookmaker, and the bookmaker's clerk would write down three bets 1500 dollars to Mr. B. Now if one of Frank's horses won, that B was converted to Bischof. There was never any reference to the losses, so that Frank Bischof was always able to have a valid reason for having a lot of money. He was a very successful punter.

What happened if the horse lost?

What happened?

... If the horse lost?

Well it didn't matter. Bischof paid the money but, say $500 but we was getting four to one, five to one, so he finishing up with a lot of money in his possession which he could explain away. That's how they washed, laundered bad money into good money. This all came out through Hiley, but Hiley's revelations were not published in Queensland until after I left and I knew nothing about this. But Joh Bjelke-Petersen did. Never told me that the whole of Queensland police force was operating on the understanding that SP bookmakers were not to be prosecuted. Now this meant a number of things. It meant that the police control most of the slush money, which was going to politicians, which meant that they ... the police really controlled votes in Parliament and also they were on very good speaking terms with politicians so that if the local sergeant of police of a country town didn't like one of my reforms, he would talk to the local politician, who owed him a lot of favours and so I had great difficulty in getting things through the Queensland Parliament.

Now you didn't have access to this report. How did you verify what you'd been told on that first day, that the force was indeed corrupt?

Well I made a mistake in going to Queensland and not insisting that I be allowed to take a trusted assistant with me. Now most of overseas forces, where they've been reform Commissioners, they've ... they've arranged for somebody to go with them. You can't do it by yourself. It took me eighteen months in Queensland before I was able to satisfy myself that I had a little team of, perhaps, ten police officers, who I could thoroughly trust, and so it took me a long time to build together a little group which we called the Crime Intelligence Unit, and they were ... they were committed to, as much as I was, if not more, to cleaning up the force, and they fed me background information about what was going on in the Queensland force, police force, but it took me a long ... eighteen months before I really got off the ground.

Commissioner Bischof had gone, but what about his henchmen? What about the people who organised the collection of that money?

Bischof was a very astute operator and he had selected three young detectives to be his bagmen, who went around to the brothels and ... and to the gambling joints and to the SP bookmakers and extracted the levy from them. I never knew who'd channelled the country money in to Bischof. Who did that? There must have been somebody else in a fairly senior position who co-ordinated that money trail. I never found out, neither did Hiley and neither did Fitzgerald. But Frank Bischof got this little group of very good operators, smart operators, who were given the ... the ... the nickname of the rat pack, and they were known as the rat pack, and they had ... They were a very powerful group in ... in Brisbane and elsewhere. They were given a great deal of freedom of movement. One of them, often spent time in Sydney. Whenever he felt like it, he would just fly off to Sydney and ... and associate with his opposite numbers of the rat pack in Sydney, and so there was a little closed network, interstate, of ... of corrupt police.

Who were the rat pack?

Well, the rat pack have been named. Al Hand, Tony Murphy and Lewis. Now Fitzgerald looked at this so I'm not ... he's got the best evidence on the identification and I ... They would be very happy to sue me for defamation if I named them too much. So it's the Fitzgerald stuff I'm quoting to you now [laughs] and they ... they ... they were the organisers. But when I came along and Bischof had gone, there was a little hiatus in this arrangement. The king ... the king pin had gone, Bischof, and I wasn't filling his shoes and so they needed an outside organiser, who came along, who was a former licensing policeman and ... from England and he really was the one who went around and revived the Bischof network. Tony Fitzgerald got a lot of help from this man because he gave him immunity from prosecution.

And that was?

I can't think of his name, right at the moment. It's slipped me.

So there were senior policemen, when you arrived to take charge, who would have regarded the arrival of a man with a reputation for honesty with some trepidation because it might affect what they were doing, their lucrative practises. Did they try to discredit you?

Well they ... The sort of officer class of opposition really didn't have to do much because [laughs], see, I had a fair load of ... of what's the word I want to use? Opposition coming through the Police Association executive and they had access to the media. There was a sort of an arrangement with the police roundsman. I think it still exists, that if you want to break a story you need to be on good terms with the detective, and in return for the detective giving you the story, you support his cause. And so I had fairly bitter attacks from the media on me personally, on the family and on my little Crime Intelligence Unit and ... but the senior men weren't senior for very long, Robin. I have to explain to you that seniority was a very ... was the dominating factor in information in the Queensland police force when I went there. John McKinna had been invited up from South Australia by my Minister, Max Hodges, to give a blueprint for reform and one of the first things John McKinna said, 'You must get rid of this promotion by merit'.[sic] Now what this meant was that every police officer went slowly up the ranks because of his service, not because of merit or passing examinations so that when you reached the retiring age of sixty, you almost certainly were an inspector, or a superintendent, or a senior sergeant and you retired on an increased ... increased superannuation for that rate. Now they got to that position of supervision within the last year of their service, so they weren't very concerned about the future of the police force. All they were concerned about was their going away present. And I said to Ken, Ken Hogget one day, 'What do all these inspectors and superintendents do in their final year of service because I can never them in their office when I want to ring them'. And Ken said, 'They've been doing the rounds'. And I said, 'What do you mean doing the rounds?' And he said, 'They've been going around to all the people to whom they've done favours and ... and reminding them that there would be a public farewell and a testimonial dinner at which these people would be expected to contribute'. So I said to Ken, 'Well, look, I can't understand that. I can understand if they did that at the start of an ... of an inspector's service but not when he was leaving'. 'Oh', said Ken. Ken said that the ... the SP bookmakers and the brothel keepers ensure that the incoming inspector knew how much slush money they'd given to the retiring inspector, and made it quite clear that if the new inspector co-operated in the same way, he also would be given a nice going away present. And I said to Ken, 'How much is involved?' and he said, 'Nobody ever knows'. He said, 'But I personally know a number of inspectors who, when they retire, bought houses suddenly in which to retire'. He said, 'Of course, there's nothing illegal about a member of the public giving a farewell present to an outgoing inspector. I mean, it's just a gesture of goodwill'. He said, 'But what happens is', he said, 'The new inspector knows what he's expected to do'.

How did you decide to tackle this whole situation? What was your programme of reform?

Well it was difficult because I really had no hard evidence of corruption. In order to do this you need to be part of the criminal conspiracy, you need to be there. If you're not in the swim, you're never told, so you don't know. You might suspect that there's something going on, but unless you're party to the proceedings you've really got no first class evidence. I started a little Criminal Intelligence Unit to do a number of things. One was to concentrate on a few target criminals and also to keep a watch on possible bent policemen in the police force by seeing how much money they had: were spending and accruing it, and also to see if we could recruit some of the prostitutes, who were involved in the brothels, because the prostitutes knew who the policemen that were coming to the brothels to get paid, sometimes in cash, sometimes in kind, and if I could secure enough prostitutes I would be able to charge some policemen. Sometimes we might be able to overhear some conversations if we arranged a meeting between a prostitute and ... and the ... and the rat pack. Well, we did one of those and the encounter was in the ... in the centre of a large racecourse, just the two of them, but we'd wired up the girl too, so we could have a recording of the conversation and when we got ... After the interview she came along and we checked the wiring and the wiring was defective. We ... we had very inadequate technical equipment at the time. I've mentioned this before to you. Our listening devices were very poor, so that didn't come off. But we did eventually persuade one of the well ... well known madams who operated both in Brisbane and in Sydney, Shirley Brifman, and Shirley knew a great deal of what was going on in the rat pack and their associates in Sydney. And Shirley agreed to come to Queensland and give evidence of the corruption of a number of Queensland police sergeants. And we ... one of my assistants, Norm Gulbransen, who I trusted completely assured Shirley that she would be safe in Brisbane. Well, she came up to Brisbane. We got a long detailed statement from her. We charged one of the corrupt police, but three days before Shirley was to give evidence she died suddenly overnight. It was said she'd died from an overdose of drugs. I've always had my doubts about that, but Norm Gulbransen thinks it might have been that she was too scared to go in the witness box. I think ... I think she was murdered. There are a number ... a couple of other girls like that who simply disappeared. And so we never were able to get any evidence from that side of the fence.

But you did in fact get sufficient evidence to bring some cases against some policemen. How did they go?

Yes. Well, I think for various ... We were able to by close supervision and surveillance, we managed to get evidence sufficient for prosecutions against twenty-three of the Queensland serving police. Now the first five charges that we laid were all dismissed and they were found not guilty. Now I ... I'd studied evidence down here at the Adelaide University. I was well versed in what was needed and I checked each of those five briefs and I made sure we had a watertight case before they went to the prosecutor. They were dismissed five times. So next time I made sure that not only did Gulbransen and I independently check the strength of the cases, but we got the case examined by the Crown Prosecutor. The twenty-three cases were not all those that we had, but they were the strongest and I was convinced they were watertight cases. We lost every case. Twenty-three cases we bought before the courts and lost every one.

Why?

I really don't know. I've suspected some skulduggery at different levels of the judiciary. And certainly Tony Fitzgerald was able to put the finger on a couple of very doubtful members of the judiciary. But I think the whole of the Queensland public service was determined ... was ... was ... was working on the promotion by merit system [sic].

Promotion by seniority.

Sorry, promotion by seniority so that magistrates who heard my cases had been promoted by seniority.

[end of tape]

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