NSW Crime Commission faces staff upheaval, move from drug crime focus

In a remarkably frank session last week with the Parliamentary Committee responsible for overseeing the NSW Crime Commission, the Crime Commissioner, Mr Peter Hastings QC foreshadowed a renewed period of change, turmoil and upheaval at the state’s secretive organised crime fighting body.

At its hearing on 29 February, Hastings told the Committee on the Ombudsman, Police Integrity Commission and the Crime Commission that he was driving a move away from the Crime Commission’s long standing focus on drug related crime with a new focus on “other crimes” and domestic terrorism, but “looming” over the organisation was the “dark shadow” of the Government’s public sector employment legislation, “which will probably cause half the staff to leave.”

Hastings told the Committee that he was looking to adopt the model of the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission, where there was a standing reference to investigate organised crime, with the police force then identifying specific crimes where the Commission’s coercive powers could be best used.

Hastings said he wanted to broaden the scope of matters investigated by the Commission by “getting out of drugs and getting into other crimes”.

The Crime Commission was originally established in 1985 as the State Drug Crime Commission to deal with organised crime involvement in drugs, exposed by various federal and state inquiries at the time.

Under the leadership of long time Commissioner, Philip Bradley, the major work of the Commission was in drug investigations and the consequent confiscation of assets believed to be the proceeds of drug crime. During Bradley’s tenure, asset confiscation proved to be a lucrative, and ultimately controversial, focus of the Commission’s efforts.

Hastings suggested that previously the Crime Commission’s financial investigation capacity had been directed towards asset confiscation rather than identifying the financing of major drug importation, telling the Committee that “for a long, long time, very little attention was paid to the money side of drug syndicates.”

Hastings told the Committee that, as a member of the Joint Counter Terrorism Team, the Crime Commission had originally provided “analytical support” which he did not think a “particularly significant contribution”.

He had suggested the Commission use its hearings to investigate “domestic terrorism” in distinction to the Australian Crime Commission’s role in investigating foreign fighters.

Hastings said that he was holding more private hearings than in the past because a hitherto reliable source of Commission intelligence – telephone intercepts – had dried up at the higher levels of organised crime.

He said that the Commission had “basically been in the past a telephone intercept agency … That has now ground to a halt, and the way in which we circumvent that is still under discussion.”

Installed as Crime Commissioner in 2012 in the wake of an inquiry and legislative and organisation reforms following the conviction on drug importation charges of senior Crime Commission officer, Mark Standen, Hastings has overseen significant change at the Commission.

The change has not been universally well received within the organisation, with staff surveys recording a drop in morale and lack of confidence in the reform process.

Hastings said that resistance to these changes was down to the “comfort zone” of staff and that there was “more to come” with some “major aspects” of the internal reform process yet to take effect.

Hastings said that the likely application of the Government Sector Employment Act to the Crime Commission from February 2017 would adversely affect the pay and conditions of Crime Commission officers, who until now had been employed on individual contracts with remuneration set outside the general public sector regime.

Hastings told the Committee that the changes would mean “less pay … [with] the senior level; coming a fair way down … and the bottom level comes a far way down our staff in terms of pay levels.”

Asked what would happen if most or all of 23 directors and senior managers affected by the legislation were to leave, Hastings answered “Life will go on.”

Hastings noted that the changes would see an end to current disparities in remuneration between people performing similar jobs, which unusually for the public sector, could see differences of between $10,000 and $50,000, based on experience.

 

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