The art of grabbing headlines

NSW Police Minister and former CEO of the Australian Hotels Association (NSW), David Elliott, is a master at getting his name in the media.  Today he is attempting to use the same formula to support his ambition to become Premier. Why isn’t it working?

Police Minister David Elliott is Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s law’n’order specialist. Whatever the cops want, they get.

If their trade union, the police association, asked for tanks and missiles, they would get them. No expense is spared when it comes to equipping police with legal powers and equipment associated with dictatorships across the First, Second, Third and Fourth World. Dressed in black from head to toe and wearing helmets and face masks they are unidentifiable when filmed. Their names and identification numbers are hidden. They carry side arms, semi-automatic rifles, batons, pepper sprays and Tasers. And for back-up they have police horses, water cannon and dogs. If this lot fails, they have handcuffs but they seem superfluous.

Elliott recently announced amendments to the Tattoo Parlours Act of 2012 “to strengthen the crackdown on organised criminals infiltrating the tattoo body and art industry”.

Thirty years ago, a top-level police team sent a report to the State Government and the Police Commissioner warning that organised crime had infiltrated the tattoo industry and were using parlours to disguise drug distribution networks.

Reporting for Sydney’s Sun-Herald, I asked what steps were being taken to put suspected parlours under surveillance and to charge the criminals involved.

I was told that the tattoo industry, like the gun lobby and the grog industry, was well-financed and politically protected. At election time, they all gave donations to “friendly” MPs. Elliott has never accepted a cent from any of these sources.

In his press release Elliott said: “The NSW Government and police have worked in lock-step to crackdown on outlaw motorcycle gangs and other organised criminals using tattoo parlours for criminal activity. We’ve seen a significant reduction in offences in tattoo parlours, going from over 100 offences in 2010-11 to just 16 in 2019-20.”

And you know why? Tattoo parlours are no longer used as drug distribution centres. They are “shopfronts” for money-laundering and tax evasion on a colossal scale. Drug money is “washed” through the parlours and then used to make “legit” investments in real estate, apartments, shopping malls, restaurants and cafes.

Elliott’s new Tattoo Industry Act proposed reallocating responsibilities to Police Commissioner Mick Fuller. Since his dramatic announcement months ago, nothing has been heard. Deputy Premier and Nationals leader Troy Grant, a former senior police officer, introduced the Tattoo Parlours Amendment Bill in 2017, so why is David Elliott re-visiting the same issue?

On 19 June 2020 Elliott masterminded another headline by stage-managing a “private” swearing-in ceremony for new recruits.

“These recruits join the strong police family of more than 17,000 officers at a significant time as the State continues to face a global pandemic,” Elliott said. “I wish every single recruit my best wishes as they are taking their oath to proudly serve the community in what will be a rewarding, yet challenging, career. We owe each one of them the greatest amount of respect and gratitude for their commitment to put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe.”

Many are signing up to be cops because 1) they want a job; 2) they want holiday entitlements, health cover, overtime and regular pay; 3) they want police training to move onto better paid work in the private security industry as bouncers and guards at nightclubs, sporting stadiums, pubs, casinos and clubs.

Media reports of the carefully orchestrated ceremony noted: “Social distancing and mass gathering directions have been applied to the attestation of Class 341, with no members of the public or media able to attend.”

Police Commissioner Fuller said: “All 159 men and women who attest today are a welcome addition to the Force. They will take their positions at the police area commands and police districts as of next week and will play a significant part in driving down crime and ensuring communities are kept safe.”

But the official crime statistics show the crime rate is falling – fewer murders, assaults, rapes and thefts. Fuller’s recruits have no training whatsoever in tackling money laundering, tax evasion, identity theft, organised crime or domestic violence. They are trained to beat the hell out of “Black Lives Matter” demonstrators and opponents of the mining, booze and gambling industries.

Before the government orders an expensive consultant’s report into policing, I should mention that up where I live in Northern NSW, some local officers call indigenous Australians “boongs” or “black c..ts”.

Like many politicians, Elliott is consumed by political ambition. While it is a commendable attribute in all spheres of life, ambition is nothing without purpose. As Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali (1904 – 1989) remarked: “At the age of six, I wanted to be a cook. At seven, I wanted to be Napoleon, and my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”

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Alex Mitchell is a former Sydney Sun-Herald State Political Editor whose commentary appears every Friday. His latest book is Murder in Melbourne – The Untold Story of Palestinian exchange student Aiia Maasarwe.

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