My father has been gone now for nearly 15 years but every now and again I can hear his voice. He was a man who rarely spoke loudly – not because he was shy but because he assumed others would fall silent when he wanted to be heard.
He spent his latter years pottering around the Gippsland Lakes, restlessly retired and feeling he had left business unfinished. I can still see him – sitting in his armchair reading a newspaper report on the latest expose on organised crime. “About bloody time!” he would say with a shake of the head, before finding a dog-eared police report he had written decades earlier that predicted just such an event.
It is hard to imagine, but for many years police not only didn’t have a strategy to combat organised crime but failed to admit it existed at all.
Fred was different. He saw organised crime as a major threat, predicted it would use dirty money to infiltrate legitimate business and declared police would fail to react to the challenge without a radical change of tactics.
Luckily for him his chief commissioner was Mick Miller – a good friend, a strong ally and an innovator who was not afraid to move in new directions. And that is how the 100-strong Bureau of Criminal Intelligence was established back in the late 1970s – with Fred as the boss.
Many thought such an allocation of resources was a waste and the BCI was soon dubbed “Freddie and the Dreamers”. Sometimes it takes a while for people to catch up, particularly in law enforcement, where some hide polyester brown suits at the back of the wardrobe, convinced they are about to come back into fashion.
But a state-only approach on organised crime would fail, Fred would say. With Miller driving the push, the BCI model went national in the form of the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence.
The plan was simple and effective. ABCI officers embedded in each state force and key overseas postings – intelligence shared between law enforcement bodies and the major syndicates targeted, regardless of geographic boundaries.
Key to the plan was to concentrate on money laundering – follow the cash and you get the crooks. In my father’s original briefing paper, he said organised crime flourished because of “splintered factions of law enforcement” and there was a need to concentrate on “investigative techniques in tracing financial transactions”.
And so in 1981 the ABCI was established, with Fred as its first director. It was doomed from the start because flat Earth, flat-footed senior police in many states saw it as a threat to their tinpot empires. But also because the dark side feared any external scrutiny would upset the rotten apple cart.
This was a time when NSW corrections minister Rex “Buckets” Jackson could get you out of jail for the right fee, their chief magistrate Murray Farquhar was bent and corrupt detectiveRoger Rogerson ran a gang of crooked cops that made the Dirty Dozen look like the Von Trapp Family Singers.
Across the border in Queensland they had a crooked politician named Russell Hinze, so they made him police minister. They sent a dishonest inspector named Terry Lewis to Charleville because they couldn’t find anywhere further from Brisbane to deposit the poisonous toad and guess what? They brought him back and made him commissioner – then knighted him.
Roger Rogerson in Oxford Street, Darlinghurst in 1982. His conviction results were impressive, aided by his habit of planting evidence if he couldn’t find the real thing. Photo: Peter Morris
There were many attempts to make the original concept work. We had the Costigan and Stewart royal commissions that morphed into the National Crime Commission that became the National Crime Authority, that became the Australian Crime Commission (merging with the ABCI) that last year became the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
Sounds like a Rob Sitch script from Utopia.
Forgive the cynicism, but what has changed other than the logos, T-shirts and stubby holders?
Plenty, it would seem. While many of the previous organisations struggled for relevance and direction, the ACIC has a set role: gather national and international criminal intelligence and follow the money.
And the results so far have been spectacular.
What began in 2012 as the Eligo Taskforce (in the ACC days) has now become the permanent Taskforce Vestigo – a group of investigators dedicated to tracing black money from around the world.
Now we have a truly global economy where billions slosh around every day.