ANALYSIS: How do we live in a place where Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker deems it acceptable to not stand aside, let alone resign, after the Office of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption announced he was investigating the charging of Constable Zach Rolfe?
But we are dealing with a confusing and hopelessly compromised situation here too, where the body investigating, ICAC, seemingly needs investigating for its own failures in the matter.
And that any findings of wrongdoing they make from their Rolfe investigation, will then be handed over to two other bodies being investigated, the NT Police and the Department of Public Prosecutions, to deal with.
Two bodies, who seemingly already failed to act on the recommendation by ICAC to investigate Darwin Turf Club chairman Brett Dixon over the grandstand scandal report.
The very fact this ICAC investigation has been announced, shows the ICAC failed in its task of overseeing the police investigation into the shooting death of Kumanjayi Walker, which should actually form part of an investigation into this whole affair.
The whole thing is a pretty little daisy chain of conflicts of interests.
And that is why the Territory needs an independent public inquiry, and even then, with someone brought up from down south to oversee this, the second part of that broken scenario still stands.
Which is perhaps why, now that the Territory has a new Director of Public Prosecutions, we also need a new Police Commissioner, from outside of this place, who was not involved in the Constable Rolfe charges at all.
Mr Walker was shot and killed by Constable Rolfe on the night of Saturday November 9, 2019 and subsequently Constable Rolfe was arrested and charged later on the afternoon of Wednesday November 13. Constable Rolfe was found not guilty of murder, and the two alternative charges of manslaughter and engaging in a violent act causing death, by a Supreme Court jury on March 11, after an almost five-week trial.
A further component that is not being discussed at all, and will not form part of the ICAC investigation – which will look at the period from the shooting to the charging – nor completely examined as part of the coronial inquiry, are any failures of policing that happened in the lead up to Kumanjayi Walker’s death, and bigger picture questions of whether there are changes needed in policing in Aboriginal communities. Presumably the answer is yes.
We live in a place where at this time, some people in the top positions of trust and respect, covet their jobs, and what those roles can do for them personally, rather than honour the roles and understand their centrality to the healthy functioning of our democracy, and society itself.
And that the roles are much bigger and more important than those who sit in the seat at the time.
They want to hold onto them like Gollum in Lord of the Rings: “We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious. It came to me. My own. My love. My own. My precious.”
See how the ring corrupted him.
But it is not just Mr Chalker. The Walker-Rolfe affair raises questions for some of the other police executive, as well as non-executive officers, some who are still in their roles, or have been promoted higher since.
It also raises questions for Chief Minister Michael Gunner, the Police Minister Nicole Manison who is also the Deputy Chief Minister, and the then-Attorney-General Natasha Fyles.
And as mentioned, for the Office of the DPP, whose then-director Jack Karczewski, and then-deputy director Matthew Nathan, were the ones who decided to charge Constable Rolfe with murder based on an unfinished brief of evidence, and after considering that evidence for a maximum 90 minutes.
The DPP has not publicly said it will co-operate with the ICAC, nor has it provided answers to questions from the NT Independent that seem to align with what actually happened, and what is normal process.
The problem with the ICAC investigation
As we said before, the ICAC’s office itself should be under investigation.
Two days after the shooting, Mr Chalker referred Constable Rolfe to the ICAC for suspected improper conduct, and then about the time of the officer’s arrest two days later, the ICAC received a request from local Aboriginal elders who sought independent oversight of the police investigation.
Then-ICAC Ken Fleming attended a rally in Alice Springs the day after the charge, in which he made comments about “corrupt conduct” that caused six complaints to be filed with the Office of the ICAC, that led ICAC Inspector Bruce McClintock to determine that due to the “possible perception of bias on the part of the [ICAC] Commissioner, he should not be involved in the ICAC’s continuing oversight of the police investigation”.
OICAC’s investigation and oversight into the incident was then supposed to be led by then-ICAC general manager Matthew Grant, however it appears the OICAC did not pursue the matter.
And to complicate things, in early December, 2021, the NT Independent revealed the current Commissioner Michael Riches allowed Mr Grant to take a six-month secondment to be the acting chief operating officer of NT Police – a role the NT Independent understands has recently been extended for him.
Sky News that morning had reported that NT Police had launched an investigation “into allegations of misconduct” within the Office of the ICAC generally. Mr Grant was appointed as general manager of the OICAC in February 2019 and oversaw all investigations the office conducted.
In a public statement last week, the current Commissioner Michael Riches said he would specifically investigate allegations of improper conduct relating to the arrest and charging of Constable Rolfe.
“My investigation will focus upon the period between the shooting incident and the presentation of Mr Rolfe for charging,” he said.
This presumably excludes looking at the role OICAC had in letting any potential wrongdoing happen.
But there are also other matters that need investigating.
An independent public inquiry is still needed
There will be a coronial inquiry into Mr Walker’s death, likely to start in September, presided over by Judge Elisabeth Armitage.
But according to the Coroners Act, any issues of illegal conduct around the charging of Constable Rolfe it might potentially find would also be sent to the Police Commissioner and the DPP – the very positions alleged to have been compromised by “political interference”.
It would also not be in the public report released by the coroner.
And the coroner only looks into matters ‘connected with the death’ being investigated, so it would be extraordinary for questions arising after the incident causing death – such as potential political interference in the decision to charge Constable Rolfe — to be investigated as part of a coronial.
Aboriginal Territorians, particularly those in Yuendumu, feel like they have been denied justice as a result of the murder trial. And while Mr Walker was violent, and stabbing a police officer obviously contributed to his own death, there are numerous valid questions about failings in police procedures leading up to the attempted arrest. These have the potential for dramatic implications for remote policing across the Territory, maybe across Australia.
At the minute, this is not being given much weight, and it seems NT Police have no interest in investigating its own potential failures. The spotlight has been taken over by possible wrongdoing with the Constable Rolfe charges.
An independent review into any and all failures is needed and not just from a coronial that could be filed away like all others into police process failures. When was the last time police actually reformed their processes based on the findings of a coronial?
Once again, Aboriginal people might be left to question where justice is for them? And how a seeming lack of justice for one white man takes all the oxygen, and attention away from considerations of how they are being treated.
There is also the serious matter of the so-called Pollock report or reports, with questions about this, about as serious as any that could be raised in the whole affair.
The Police Commissioner allegedly hid the existence of the reports undertaken by Coronial Senior Investigating Officer Detective Superintendent Scott Pollock, from the court, to the point upon the discovery of their existence, Constable Rolfe’s defence team had to subpoena them, after he had already been committed to stand trial, and not long before the actual trial was due to start.
Mr Chalker’s lawyer refuted claims he had intentionally withheld the reports, but seemingly failed to explain why they were not presented, suggesting they needed to be redacted due to legal professional privilege.
The defence were only given a redacted version, and the Rolfe defence maintain that Det Supt Pollock’s investigation was suspended by Assistant Commissioner Nick Anticich in November 2020, saying they were “seized”, “edited”, and “buried”.
Police sources have told the NT Independent Mr Chalker directly asked Pollock to change his reports, and when the officer refused, moved him to COVID-19 duties, and brought in another officer to change or finish the work, because the original was inconsistent with the case the police prosecution wanted.
And still we need to find out why NT Police Association president Paul McCue is not condemning Mr Chalker on behalf of his members, considering he was highly critical of the man, and the Rolfe charge in a February 2020 interview with The Australian.
He said Mr Chalker was, “out of touch with our troops if he can’t see the irreparable damage the swift charging of Constable Rolfe” had done to police morale. But then went silent.
Those people who need to stand aside for the investigation
The ICAC obviously will conduct its investigation, and those who are the focus, will maintain the presumption of innocence while that happens.
However, with the seriousness of what is being investigated, and what is known so far, for the sake of the reputation of the offices they hold, and the public confidence in its key institutions, some of those people need to stand aside, at the very least, while this is being investigated.
Mr Chalker started his job two days after the shooting but contemporaneous investigating detectives’ diary notes identify him as being involved in an official capacity on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, including being in a private meeting with senior executives sandwiched between another meeting where the Director of Public Prosecutions recommended the murder charge, and one between other top brass which led to detectives being told to charge Constable Rolfe with murder.
Yet, in the week after the not guilty verdict, Mr Chalker told a press conference that he was “as shocked as anyone” about the charges being laid, despite the evidence of that meeting, with one detective specifically mentioning him as being part of the decision to charge with murder.
We face an only-in-the Territory situation, where a Police Commissioner comes out and says he has no involvement, as if it was a good thing.
It is entirely appropriate for a Police Commissioner to have some oversight over an investigation of this magnitude, especially seeing it was one of his officers killing an Indigenous man. People would expect that he would be a leader of his force and of the community.
And in fact, in that February 2020 newspaper article, he said he’d be doing exactly that, stating that his “focus was always on making sure that this investigation of that whole incident will withstand all the rigour of every oversight that we will have.”
There would be legitimate calls for his resignation if he didn’t have some sort of oversight because he would be seen as incompetent.
Unfortunately for Mr Chalker Google exists, and a quick search shows what he told The Australian: he was all over the investigation like a fat kid on a cup cake.
But what made him change his story?
He’s an intelligent man. Why change your story to something that makes you look incompetent, when you are on the public record saying the opposite?
The answer to why he so dramatically changed his story, is only in the possession of Mr Chalker’s own mind for the time being, but the spotlight on the reasonableness of the murder charge, and murmurings, and outright public allegations of political interference increased after the missing Pollock report became public, and then again when Constable Rolfe was found not guilty.
Mr Chalker has been exposed as lying about his complete non-involvement in the investigation into the death – either that or five of his detectives who were investigating the death are lying, or wrong when they detailed how Mr Chalker was involved almost from the start, and was responsible, along with his police executives, for the decision to arrest Constable Rolfe and charge him with murder.
As several police sources have told the NT Independent, the detectives would have specifically put that information in their notes as a ‘AC’: an arse covering exercise.
Since then he, and Mr Gunner have became like ants under a magnifying glass, and it moved as they moved, or shimmied or shook.
And perhaps saying he was not involved at all, was his way of blocking any idea he could have conspired with, or been influenced by anyone.
In any other jurisdiction outside of this isolated northern Clown Town, Mr Chalker would have stood aside from being top cop, and probably would have resigned, especially considering his reputation with his own members.
Now that those police diary notes from November 2019 have been revealed, they also show those same detectives raised concerns about what they said was the highly unusual involvement of the DPP before an investigation was finished, the speed at which the charges were being considered, and the handing-over of an unfinished brief of evidence as the basis for a decision on potential charges.
Although Mr Riches has named no one, if there is alleged political interference, Mr Gunner, Ms Manison, and Ms Fyles, as the then-minister responsible for the DPP, could reasonably be considered in the sights of any investigation.
A premier in Mr Gunner’s position, with the ICAC considering political interference leading to that murder charge, could well have considered standing aside.
While he tried to distance himself in Parliament last week by saying he was not a witness in the ICAC investigation, he cannot truthfully claim that, as Mr Riches pointed out publicly.
“Whether or not someone will be required as a witness is ultimately a matter for me to determine as my investigation progresses,” he said.
“No one should assume they will or will not be required as a witness.”
There is no smoking political interference gun found so far, but there are issues that require investigation.
Mr Gunner and Mr Manison flew to Yuendumu with Mr Chalker in a private jet on the day before the charge. This was also a day that a detective’s diary notes state Mr Chalker and other police executives decided that if charges were to go ahead, Constable Rolfe should be charged in Darwin.
A day where Mr Gunner made his infamous “consequences will flow” speech in reference to a coronial inquiry.
What did they talk about on that trip?
The Opposition also questioned why Mr Gunner met with Mr Chalker the day before Mr Chalker was sworn in as police commissioner, the day after Mr Walker was shot.
Mr Gunner dismissed the question and said he “meets with police all the time”. And he has also said he didn’t meet with any DPP representatives before the charge.
On questioning in Parliament last week, and while rejecting a call for an independent inquiry, Mr Gunner said there were checks and balances which should give people confidence in the criminal justice system.
“We have solid, strong, solid systems and processes and that’s why this is an appalling line of questioning that calls into doubt the integrity of our police, prosecutions and courts, and that’s what the CLP are doing.”
Unfortunately his argument just highlighted the problem, that the integrity of all of those institutions are in grave doubt, along with other issues, the small amount of evidence already revealed shows there is reason to question the integrity of the system.
It seems the system, in this instance, is actually more defined by a lack of integrity, than being a system of integrity, because almost anyone who can make meaningful decisions to resolve the crisis, is potentially part of the investigation, or part of an organisation that has deep conflicts of interest because of it, and could potentially be doing their own ‘AC’.
In any respectable jurisdiction, it would be more than reasonable that Mr Chalker, Mr Gunner, and Ms Manison, Assistant Commissioner Michael White, Assistant Commissioner Martin Dole, and Mr Grant, stand aside from their roles. Maybe even Ms Fyles, and Deputy Commissioner Michael Murphy, the latter who was in the meeting when Rolfe’s arrest was decided upon and agreed to it.
But you would need to convince them, the role is not theirs, and that their personal desire to cling onto those honourable positions they are caretakers of, and the benefits these positions bring them, do not override the fundamental obligations of those roles to be transparent and accountable, to serve the community, and to work for the best interests of the community as a whole.