The Scales of Justice


The Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) presentation of the facts in the Mohamed Haneef case has been sloppy to the point of scandalous. Statements to the court relating to the whereabouts of Haneef’s SIM card are errors that might lead some to believe this sloppiness is in fact due to partisanship.

Not that this should come as a surprise. By default or design, the broad parameters of policy covering AFP operations have increasingly been set by the National Security Committee of Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, John Howard.

The Minister nominally responsible for the AFP is the Minister for Justice, but under the umbrella of the so-called ‘war on terror,’ it is the Prime Minister who has come to oversee and direct the activities of the AFP. More often than not the AFP Commissioner channels information to, and seeks advice and direction from, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

This evolution is not healthy for Australian democracy. No police force should be influenced, motivated or directed by partisan political objectives. Yet that is the position the AFP now finds itself in.

There is scant Parliamentary oversight of the activities of the AFP. It is subjected to few of the normal checks and balances one might expect in a democracy over a large armed force. For instance, the activities of the Defence Force are subjected to close scrutiny by the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. A similar Senate Committee should be established to oversee the activities of the AFP.

Thanks to Emo

The lack of Parliamentary oversight can be partly explained by the rapid expansion of the AFP over the past 30 years, and the incorporation of duties and activities not envisioned at inception. For the Government to use the AFP as if its major duty is to fight the war on terror is not good enough and has led to abuses of power and process, as well as an unhealthy blurring of the lines between partisan politics and the national interest.

It is due to these structural and reporting weaknesses that the AFP urgently requires investigation and reform.

A judicial inquiry into the AFP would focus on a number of issues, beginning with the unusual relationship it appears to have developed with its Indonesian counterparts.

The Indonesian military and police have been involved in a number of illegal activities, including logging, mining, the gem trade, prostitution and people smuggling. It is ridiculous for AFP Commissioner, Mike Keelty, to expect anyone with any knowledge of Indonesia to believe his claims that the cessation of people smuggling has been brought about merely through co-operation between Australian and Indonesian police.

Keelty has refused to speculate  on a likely connection between Jemaah Islamiyah and the Indonesian military (and, through them, the Indonesian police). Contact exists between Pakistan military intelligence and fundamentalist groups in Pakistan, and there is no reason why such contact would not exist in Indonesia in order to assist mutual political outcomes from time to time.

The strangeness of the relationship makes it all the more necessary to examine the shopping of the Bali Nine to the Indonesian Police by the AFP.

The AFP should also be examined over its close ties with the Department of Immigration, which appear to have driven decisions leading to the unauthorised detention of Australian nationals, and most recently Indian national Mohamed Haneef.

The role of the AFP in the Solomon Islands should be examined too, to ascertain why it was given primacy over the Department of Foreign Affairs. It’s not appropriate in a democracy that a police force should have the principle role in formulating important aspects of foreign policy. Nor is it appropriate that the head of the AFP make critical statements about another country.  

The role of the AFP in relation to other Australian security services needs to be defined in order to bring to an end turf wars which waste effort and resources.

The Haneef case has exposed to the broader public and media what others have known about the AFP for some time.

The AFP’s use of the Department of Immigration and its laws to fulfill the political agenda of this Government must be examined if we are to preserve the rule of law in Australia.

The Howard Government has used the war on terror to increase its power at the expense of democracy. It has allowed, indeed actively encouraged, the perversion and misuse of Australian institutions and branches of the public service, the police and military. Some, such as Keelty, have gone along with or assisted these regressive changes.

There are moral and ethical reasons why Rudd and his team should front Howard on Haneef, but if they haven’t the heart, they should keep in mind that an unreformed AFP with Keelty as its head might prove to be a hostile force working against a Labor agenda.

After all, the AFP has received its political training, mandate and money from Howard.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.