The news yesterday that Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mr Michael Keelty, is stepping down in September from his post provides an important opportunity for the Commonwealth government to correct the accumulated mistakes of the past.
As someone engaged to assist Dr Haneef, my professional focus has been upon Dr Haneef's legal rights. The AFP, under the leadership of Mr Keelty was responsible for many of the mistakes and failures of judgment which impacted so adversely on Dr Haneef and his family.
Dr Haneef was in detention for 25 days before the charge against him was dropped. It took another six months and two court cases to remove the threat to Dr Haneef's passport and visa rights. Throughout all of this, the organisation, under Mr Keelty, refused to admit its mistakes and continued to attack Dr Haneef's reputation. It was not until just before Christmas, last year, with the release of the report of Mr Clarke QC, that someone in an official position was prepared to say, definitively, that Dr Haneef had done nothing wrong.
The impact of the actions of the AFP on the lives of Dr Haneef and his family has been devastating. However, the Clarke Report reveals even more alarming concerns about the AFP which the government must address. Mr Clarke revealed that the AFP exhibited severe organisational problems under Mr Keelty.
The Clarke Report revealed that, during the Haneef case, the AFP was unable to produce a consolidated document which recorded all of the available information. There was an obvious need, said Mr Clarke “for a document that provided in an accessible format a running compilation of the evidence collected by or provided to investigators on the important aspects of the investigation”.
The AFP could not organise their information and came to unsupportable conclusions. Mr Clarke compared these inadequacies with the performance of ASIO on the same matter. In contrast, ASIO was competent at organising its data and came quickly to the correct result that Dr Haneef posed no security threat.
The AFP’s failings also involved an inability to provide basic information support to its front line investigators. Detective Simms, one of the two officers who arrested Dr Haneef, told the Clarke Inquiry that he wished that someone had told him how easy SIM cards were able to be obtained in England. He said: “It begs the question as to why terrorists would want to use SIM cards that are registered in the names of associates or relatives. It just doesn’t stand to reason”. The failure to have such crucial information at its fingertips displays organisational deficiencies of a high order.
Dr Haneef's experiences showed attitudinal problems in the AFP that hampered its ability to carry out basic policing responsibilities. The National Manager Counter Terrorism Domestic was the officer in charge of investigating Dr Haneef. Mr Clarke found that this officer lacked objectivity. A basic requirement of a competent police officer is that he or she can look at the evidence without fixed views. The investigation of Dr Haneef showed that the organisation under Mr Keelty had lost that quality.
The problems of the AFP under Mr Keelty also involved an inability to admit error and move on. The AFP strung out the investigation, spending millions long after the case had collapsed. Even towards the end of last year, the AFP public submission to the Clarke Inquiry was inaccurate and designed to destroy Dr Haneef's reputation rather than inform the public.
The government should take this opportunity to make sure that these failings are addressed. It should take great care in appointing the new leader of the organisation. It should also fully resource the accountability and transparency structures that are intended to provide oversight to the AFP. It should closely monitor the organisation to make sure that these problems are fully addressed.
Our country’s premier police organisation should be professional, accountable and effective. The government must take the opportunity to pursue this objective with vigour.
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