Australian Biography

Ray Whitrod - full interview transcript

Tape of 12

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[When] you were appointed as Commissioner, what was your brief?

Well I was given a fairly specific set of recommendations made by John McKinna and ... and Cabinet instructed me to carry these out. I think from memory there was something like fourteen to sixteen and they included these things like promotion by merit, which I obviously agreed, greater distribution, [and] delegation of authority down the ranks, the introduction of an operations centre and so forth. These were all set out very clearly and, and these were handed to me by the Police Minister, who said, 'Ray, Cabinet would like you to bring these into effect'. And so for the seven years that I was there, they were my guiding lines. I ... I agreed with them because I knew John McKinna. We were friends, and I agreed with his recommendations and so that's where I got my ... I thought, my authority from to bring about change. But unfortunately every time I wanted to introduce one of the McKinna recommendations, the Police Union objected to it very strongly, as in the case of promotion by merit, and they would run immediately to the Premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, bypassing by both me and the Police Minister, and ... and Joh would listen to them and if he didn't sort of immediately negate my ... my ideas, he would make it difficult for me to implement them.

And why do you think the magistrates and part of the judiciary were unwilling to bring convictions against the police officers that you prosecuted?

Well, it's ... it's ... it's a rather wild suggestion that they were so influenced but I suspect they were all part of the promotion by seniority and because the ... the corrupt police were the smart police. They were the more intelligent. They tended to be from the detective office, which was the elite group, and they knew their way around the courts. They were well known to ... to the court officials and were regarded as good fellows, so that there would be ... and I was regarded as a Mexican, somebody who came from south of the border, and Mexicans never had any worthwhile ideas at any rate. So I had this whole Queensland culture opposed to me because I was a Mexican.

Wherever you've gone, you've put a great deal of emphasis on raising the standards of the police through education. Did you take a similar line in Queensland?

Robin, I did a ... a ... a check of the personnel files of the qualifications, education or otherwise, of the members of the force, and I was horrified. I can't now recall the exact percentages but I would think something like sixty per cent if not more of the then serving police - these ... and these were the more elderly ones - had left school at primary school level and never got to a secondary school. Then there were perhaps about twenty per cent or even less that had got to ... and these were the younger ones, that had got some secondary education. I think there were three in the force of over 3000 that matriculated. There was one, one odd character with a university degree, but on the whole the force came with a educational level of primary school, and of course, you know, these days in order to tackle modern legislation and understand modern technology, you need a better education than primary school. So I went to the Director of Education in Queensland, explained my problems to him. And he said, 'Ray, go softly and quietly on this and we'll introduce a scheme which will gradually raise the standard ... the educational standards of your police officers'. He said, 'I'll offer a schooling slightly higher than primary school, the sort of training, teaching English and arithmetic that we give the brick layer apprentices', he said, 'And other apprentices'. He said, 'If you can get your police to attend those, at least we will have started'. So I went back and talked to my Minister and we agreed that we would accept this offer from the Director of Education and I advertised through the police gazette that these courses would be open and what's more I said I would give a week's leave to every police officer to study for each subject that he was going to do, and I said when they'd finished this apprenticeship level they would get accelerated promotion to senior constable. It was a magnificent offer. It never occurred to me when I was a young police officer and the ... the police executive immediately went to Joh, and without Joh bothering to consult me, he made a public statement that Mr. Whitrod's ideas were far-fetched. Queensland did not need its police officers to be Rhodes Scholars. Now the level I was talking about was apprenticeship level for brick layers and Joh ... Joh said, 'We didn't need that'. Of course he didn't have it himself. And of course he proved that you could become a millionaire without having that education. And at the time Joh and the universities were at loggerheads. Zelman Cowan was the vice chancellor of Queensland University, and he and I were friends from long back, way back, and Joh and he didn't get on too well together, but Zelman eventually left and became Governor General and I saw quite recently, Queensland University had offered Joh an honorary doctorate for his assistance in promoting education in Queensland.

You were in Queensland through the seventies. You went there in 1970 and stayed for six, seven years.

Yes.

That was a period of a lot of demonstrations and political activity and political change in Australia. What impact did that have on you as Police Commissioner in Queensland?

Well they were seven troublesome years and the things that you mentioned contributed to that. I think one of the early ones was the Springbok visit of the South African rugby team that came out, and there was a lot of opposition and demonstrations in Adelaide and Melbourne and Sydney, wherever they played. And the Premier was keen, as I was, that people who wanted to watch the Springboks play should be able to do so peacefully. There were some fairly large demonstrations planned against that and we did take some steps to ensure that the playing grounds were well covered, but at night time the players had to return to their hotel. They had an hotel where they were staying and this was picketed by a large number of demonstrators, mainly university students, who would gather outside the hotel and create quite an uproar: large numbers, two or three thousand outside this smallish hotel and threaten to enter the hotel, and not attack, but certainly cause some sort of furore inside the hotel. And the ... the first night this occurred there was a ... I made sure we had sufficient police on hand to prevent any physical encounter. The ... the ... One of the problems was the hotel was next to a hospital and the matron came to me and said, 'Oh Mr. Whitrod, the noise is causing disquiet amongst our patients in the intensive care. Could you do something about it?' So I went to the leader of the demonstrators and said, 'Look there are problems here. The hospital's nearby. They've asked for quiet. Can you tell your people to be quiet'. He said, 'Oh they won't believe me when I tell them I got the information from you'. So I said, 'Go to the matron and check for yourself'. So he did and he came back and he addressed the crowd and said, 'Go away and come back tomorrow night', which they did. And they came back the following night, reinforced with all sorts of missiles to throw and cause trouble. And they did. I was there taking charge and in the room I was in, overlooking the crowd, the window was broken by a large stone being thrown. So I told the police to clear the street and they did. And this upset the demonstrators and caused quite a lot of public concern, [on] both sides. There was a lot of ... Queensland's a conservative place and a very rugby loving place, so there was a fair bit of support for the Springboks and a fair bit of criticism of the fact that the demonstrators had been given too much free rein by me. But I came out of that fairly well. The Courier Mail published a editorial saying that the new Police Commissioner had come through that with flying colours and that was something. I'd received ... I'd been talking to the university students and had promised them that, as far as I was concerned, the police were there really to maintain order and not to carry out any instructions that might interfere with any citizen's liberty. I got a very angry letter from the Postgraduate Society saying that I'd gone back on my promise.

And then it came out, Joh had given a day's extra leave to all the Queensland police for their very strong control of the situation, and it also came out that the Queensland police had voted [a] no confidence in me because I'd urged them to use some degree of common-sense and so the postgraduates wrote to me and said, 'We apologise. We didn't understand', and that was nice.

Ray, what was your relationship with the students like?

Well, they welcomed me after I'd sort of made it clear that I was not one of the usual bully boys around the place. Soon after I got there Zelman Cowan was appointed vice chancellor and he ... for some reason, was immediately attacked by the university radicals, who called him Jew Boy and invaded his office and stayed in his office and Zelman asked me for some help. The students also went on strike and occupied a number of the buildings. So I went down to the campus and spoke to the students and said, 'Look, let's work out what your problems are and I can understand because I, until recently, have been a student myself, in an ordinary class, and I think I can be of some help to you'. And there was a very aggressive and competent young lady who was spurring the radicals on, and she wanted to engage in some sort of a off-the-cuff debate with me, and the media were there, of course, because it was a public concern, and so it was agreed that we would have a public debate that night in the great hall on the campus. It would be covered by the ABC and the lass and I would debate about student strikes on the campus and the presence of police on the campus. And, Robin, you might remember about this time there had been similar problems at Melbourne and it had been there agreed by the police and the students that the police would not come on the campus without the consent of the university. It would be a no-go area for police. Now that didn't appeal to me, so we had this public debate and the lass was very good and I explained that my theory that the police represented the people, represented the law, and not any political party, and I said I haven't come there to merely ask them to stop their strike, I'd come there to ask them that we could put a police station on the campus, and they were thunderstruck by this. There were no police stations on any university campus in 1970 in Australia. But I explained that ... that we would be there to help the students. And so they agreed and Zelman Cowan approved. And so we opened a police station on the campus of Queensland University, and I made sure that it was manned by a young man, who himself was a part-time student at the university, and he spent his whole free time, when he was not at lectures, and he would look after renewal of drivers' licences, check on ... on stolen goods from ... from the cases of the students, report accidents and ... and look after visas, all sorts of things to be of service to the Queensland students, and they welcomed the idea. It flourished but of course at the end of seven years when I left, Terry Lewis immediately closed the police station down, but it was in fact a ... a first, that I know of, where there was an active police station on the campus. I went around to a number of the ... of the university colleges and ... and gave my little talk about what I thought was the proper police philosophy. The engineering students elected me as their patron for two years running. I told them my number two son was doing engineering at Adelaide and so they thought it was appropriate that his father should be patron in Queensland, and really I got on well with them.

You ... I t was through a demonstration though that you had a rather famous clash with Joh. Could you tell me about that demonstration?

Well, that was towards the end of my ... my time in Queensland. I was just telling you how we established good rapport with the students. I was welcomed on the campus and when ... whenever I went there, both by Zelman Cowan, who became a friend of mine, and by the students. And I went to the staff club and had beer with some of the people, but towards the end the students wanted to march into the city, and Joh had said there will be no marches, no protest marches in the city by students or anybody. So they'd come to me and I said, 'Look this is a government direction. The roadway will not be occupied by students. If you ... it seems to me though that if you walked on the footpath on either side you're not ... not putting a ... the roadway, and blocking traffic'. So I said, 'As far as I'm concerned that would be a lawful way for you to announce your presence in the city itself'. St Lucia's about four miles out from the city. They marched in and of course they did crowd on the roadway, and just near the police headquarters there's an overhead bridge and when they got there, one of my traffic inspectors, who was not a supporter of my common-sense approach, stopped the procession with a team of his motorcycle police and ordered them to disperse. And they were a bit slow in doing so. One of the leaders of the demonstration was a young first year student, [a] girl [of] seventeen, who was carrying a flag, and he asked her to surrender the flag. She objected so he pulled out his baton and hit her on the head with his baton. She was a slight girl. Now from the overhead bridge, there were all the cameras of all the commercial stations and the ABC trained on this particular spot. Now I don't know how they got there, but I suspect they might have been told by my opposition in the police force that that's where the students would be stopped. And that night on the seven o'clock, six or seven o'clock news, there was a very clear picture of a young girl being hit on the head by a police inspector. And next morning, Zelman Cowan asked to see me with the head of the Student Union, [the] president, and [they] came to me and [he] said to me, 'Ray, the Student Union are very upset at what they think was an unnecessary use of physical violence on one of my students. What are you going to do about it?' And I said, 'Well, vice chancellor, I really need to get all the facts together first. I've seen what you've seen on television but I need a report from my police who were there, so that I could examine all the facts'. So the ... the police, the union president, a nice young man, went downstairs and the media were waiting downstairs, and ... and the ... the ... he said to the media, 'Oh the Commissioner's going to investigate this matter ... officially investigate this matter'. So the ... the afternoon papers came out, [the] two o'clock edition: 'Police Commissioner will investigate the police bashing of a student'. And in between times, I think, the Police Union got onto Joh. Joh rang me up and said, 'There'll be no, no such inquiry. You are not to conduct this without Cabinet approval'. And I explained that all I was doing was seeking ... trying to get the facts. And he said, 'You're not to do that'. He said, 'The people who ... who you ought to be investigating are the students because they were on the roadway'. And I said, 'Well, there's a difference between violence that was used on the students and walking on the roadway'. He said, 'Mr. Commissioner, you're not to do any further investigation'. I thought about that very seriously.

It seemed to me that the Premier was intruding into my operational control of the police force, but then the police witnesses that I needed to get information from were members of the motorcycle team and the inspector, who all were against me, and I thought that it was likely that they would just refuse to carry out my orders, and then if that happened there would be quite a uproar: the Commissioner no longer was in control of the police force. So I bit my lip and I said, 'I accept your direction, Mr. Premier', and we didn't have that inquiry. But subsequently ... subsequently, a bit later on, not very much later on, there was a raid on a hippy colony in north Queensland, north of Cairns. It was said to be a police raid because there was said to be marijuana growing on this hippy colony, which was on crown territory at any rate, and they probably didn't have any authority to build the little shanties that they built there. It was a well-planned operation by the inspector in charge of the area and he arrived by naval patrol boat and there was a large force, perhaps twenty police, and they went through this little hippy colony: tore down all the shelters, burnt a number of home-made furniture items that the hippies had made, couldn't find any marijuana, really created a big problem up there for the hippies because in fact what they wanted to do was to make the hippies move on. And the hippy spokesman got in touch with me and said, 'Mr. Commissioner, your police have really used excessive force on our people up here. We are a peaceful, law-abiding group. There is no marijuana here. Certainly some of the girls sometimes sleep with the men, but they're all over age'. So this was hitting the newspapers so I wanted an inquiry there so I could get the facts. Well, luckily I had in Queensland an assistant commissioner named Gulbransen, who I knew would accept my direction, and an inspector named Becker, a capable ... both capable officers, well-respected and I said to Norm Gulbransen and to Becker, 'Go to this spot, do an inquiry and bring back a report', and I said, 'The ... the Premier has said there will be no police inquiry north of Cairns. This is north of Cairns. I'm instructing you as the Police Commissioner to go. It's up to you to decide whether you go or whether you listen to the Premier', and they said, 'We will go'. So they went to ... to the hippy colony and came back, and largely verified that there'd been unnecessary damage to the hippy colony. There was no marijuana growing there and subsequently the local inspector was charged but as usual he was found not guilty.

The police minister, Max Hodges, who had stood up for you through all of this, lost his job over that didn't he?

Either that or I think the ... the girl batoning charge. I don't think he was ... no, he probably was there for the hippy thing too. Now he ... he stood up a lone voice in Cabinet for me. Now how Queensland produced a man of his calibre, I don't know, but Max was a strong supporter for me and stood up against Joh, and Joh took away his portfolio from him.

What did you think of Joh?

Well, initially, Robin, I ... all I knew was that he was a Lutheran Sunday school teacher and I thought that my vision of an honest police force must find echo ... echoes with Joh: an honest and competent police force with Joh. It didn't work out that way. Joh's Christianity is a different mould to mine and he and I didn't see much of each other. When we did talk, it was friendly talk, but he regarded me purely as another one of his public servants to whom he could give direct orders and I would carry them out without question. That was the ... that was the political dogma in Queensland, that the Minister's word was in fact God. When the Minister spoke, you jumped. You never questioned what the Minister said, legal or illegal. I think Joh knew that I would not carry out anything illegal that he might ask me to do, or immoral, not that I ever got that sort of request from Joh, except that every time that I tried to improve the ... the educational standards - the moral standards and the educational standards, Joh stymied me.

He also had members of his group, didn't he, his Cabinet, whose areas you were trying to clean up. Could you tell me about that aspect of your relationship with politicians?

Yes, there were certain members of his cabinet who were personally interested in maintaining the level of poor policing that had been there before I came along. One case arose in Fortitude Valley where the ... the local director of Myers, a large emporium in the Valley complained to me there was a lot of lawlessness in the streets of Fortitude Valley, which was upsetting the custom at his store. He said he'd spoken to the local inspector of police at Fortitude Valley and had received no response whatsoever. And so he asked what I could do to improve the ... the orderliness of Fortitude Valley. And I thought about this and it seemed to me that if I couldn't use my inspector in Fortitude Valley I needed a little independent, loyal group to me. So I formed a little team of ten or twelve men. I picked one of the, one of the green Mafia, one of the executive who had always opposed me, a man named Murphy, who I thought was a better calibre than the rest, and I thought if I could put the challenge to him he might change his ways and support my reform efforts, and he did. And Vince Murphy came over and I said to him, 'Vince, we have this problem in Fortitude Valley. You go out and pick your own men, report to me and see what you can do to reduce the problem of lawlessness in the valley'. So he thought about this and he said, 'Commissioner, there's one area we can start on'. He said, 'There are a large number of deaths, road deaths in Fortitude Valley'. He suspected there was a lot of drunken driving. He said, 'We can start on that quite legitimately without anybody accusing us of being reformist'. So he, Murphy and his team, who became known as Murphy's Marauders, started concentrating on the sly grogs and the gambling joints and checking the drivers of cars as they came out at ten, eleven o'clock at night, and made a number of arrests and the number of road accidents and fatal deaths dropped considerably in the Valley.

Whose interests were you treading on there?

Well we ... well we were clearly treading on the interests of some entrenched, what I would call businessmen, I suppose, that is those who were running the brothels and who were gambling, had gambling dens, as the Fitzgerald Inquiry showed.

It was a political connection ...

So there was a political connection there that I hadn't ... I'd guessed at it in a way and I thought that there might ... if Murphy had managed to do something along the lines we suggested, I knew that I could expect some sort of attack, but it came through the Police Union of all things, who complained that Murphy's Marauders were getting more overtime than they were. And I told the green Mafia that if their men were as successful as Murphy's Marauders I would be happy to pay overtime. And then later on, which that didn't stop me, I got a direction from Cabinet, that I was not to allow Murphy's men to stop patrons leaving the sly grogs and the gambling dens and the pubs, not to stop them and be breath tested. They had to have at least a hundred yards clearance before Murphy's men did their interrogation. So I told Murphy that this was a Cabinet direction I couldn't alter and I said, 'I hope it won't interfere with your operations'. He said, 'Trust me, Commissioner'. So I watched the monthly crime statistics and they continued to improve and reduce crime, and the number of drunken driving convictions still increased, and the number of road deaths diminished, and this went on. So I called Vince Murphy in one day and said, 'Vince, how are you still maintaining your campaign?' He said, 'Commissioner, what we're doing', he said, 'We're not stopping any of their patrons from these places within 150 yards'. He said, 'It's carefully marked out in each brief'. So I said, 'How do you know which ... which cars to tackle?' He said, 'My men get into place about six o'clock at night and they put a little sticker on the left headlight of each car parked in the back of the brothels and the pubs and sly grogs and when they came out and driving along the road, 200 yards along my men wait for them and they pick them up'. So I said, 'Go to it'. Well, Murphy's Marauders were immediately disbanded by Lewis when he took over.

This was ... Fortitude Valley was the area that was represented by the man who came to be known as Shady ...

Oh this was Shady Lane's political area. He had been a Liberal and had switched to become a National to support Joh and had been given a ministerial post. Shady Lane had been one of the special branch people that we had in Queensland, and I was highly suspicious of, about their activities, but I'd never had time to personally check what was going on. I had too many other fights on my hands. But that's where Shady Lane came from and as you know the Fitzgerald Commission pointed the finger and later on he was convicted.

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