CRIME: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Drug trade behind police corruption
, June 5, 2004
Following a series of gangland killings of police informers, a former Federal Court Judge, Sir Edward Woodward, made the alarming comment that corruption in Victoria was at the worst level ever. His comments cannot be ignored: not only because they were made to the Criminal Bar Association, but because he was a former Royal Commissioner into the notorious Ships' Painters and Dockers Union.
Whatever the accuracy of his observation, there can be no doubt that in several states of Australia, there has been an alarming increase in police corruption which damages the hard-earned reputation of the Australian police forces.
What is not widely recognised, however, is the link between police corruption, organised crime and the drug trade.
The problem of corruption varies from country to country. Often it is due to factors such as a weak legal system; inadequate pay for public servants; and a lack of accountability and transparency in government.
For Australia and other Western countries where the rule of law is well entrenched and government agencies have well-established anti-corruption practices, it frequently appears in attempts by organised crime to subvert the police force.Drug revenue
As the main revenue sources for organised crime are drugs and prostitution, these are frequently linked with police corruption.
The direct cost of drug-related crime is huge. A Parliamentary report last year said that drug crimes cost the country some $2.5 billion a year, although the effects extend far beyond the direct cost, in terms of lives destroyed, violence, and the undermining of public institutions.
It is not surprising, therefore, that illegal drugs - heroin, marijuana and designer drugs such as ecstasy - are the common link between Melbourne's gangland killings and police corruption, as Victoria's Police Deputy Commissioner, Peter Nancarrow, said recently.
The position in Victoria has been so bad that the Drug Squad was disbanded in 2001, but it has subsequently become even worse.
Apart from the gangland murder of people who offered to testify in court against corrupt police, others in anti-corruption units have been threatened by both organised crime and corrupt police.
Clearly, the illicit drug trade is intimately linked with both police corruption and organised crime. If drugs could be removed from the equation, the problems in both these areas would be substantially lessened.
The key problem in Australia is that public policy on illegal drugs is hopelessly confused, at a number of levels.
First, the links between organised crime, police corruption and drugs is obscured by the official policy of treating all forms of drug abuse (tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs) together.
This has been one of the central planks of the lobby which favours legalisation of drugs, on the Dutch model.
Australian governments have accepted this line, which finds its expression in terms such as "harm minimisation", a meaningless expression which actually means tolerance of the drug culture.
Yet there is very little in common between the problems of tobacco use, or even misuse of alcohol - the main "legal" drugs - and the illicit drug trade.
This confusion is perpetuated in the Federal Government's National Drug Strategy, which advocates a "harm minimisation" approach to both legal and illegal drugs, and views drug abuse as primarily a social and medical problem (which it clearly is with tobacco, at least), rather than a legal one (which is untrue, where heroin, marijuana and designer drugs are involved).
This approach was repeated in the recent House of Representatives report into drug abuse, Roads to Recovery, tabled in the House of Representatives in August, 2003.
Additionally, the legal approach to illegal drugs has been hopelessly compromised by policies of toleration pursued by various State governments. These include the legalisation of marijuana for "personal use" in some states, the widespread provision of free injecting kits for heroin addicts, legalised heroin injecting rooms, and the policy of giving heroin addicts access to methadone programs, without ensuring that they are heroin-free.
The result is that law enforcement programs are compromised by governments intent on accommodating the pro-drugs lobby. Additionally, police who lack clear guidelines to enforce an anti-drug policy, are subject to constant attempts to suborn them into accepting a share in the huge profits made by drug dealers, in other words, by organised crime.
If Australia is to deal with this problem, it will have to begin with a zero-tolerance policy towards illicit drugs, vigorous pursuit of drug traffickers, and forced rehabilitation of those convicted of illicit drug use, backed up by the power of imprisonment. Without this, it will be almost impossible to deal with the problems of organised crime and police corruption.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council