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The Chief Commissioner of Police

My life has fallen into a few stages.

As a child, I lived in Box Hill when it was village. I then became pastor to the slums of inner Melbourne for eight years. I was then a country parson and a teacher at a one teacher bush school out at Jackson Creek in Western Victoria and then for 13 years, I was a suburban minister in one of Australia’s largest suburban ministries.

And then, for more than 27 years I’ve been Superintendent in Sydney of Wesley Mission, Australia’s largest church ministry.

I’ve told you stories of people in each of these places.

Tonight I want you to come with me into the heart of the city.

In a strange way, Wesley Mission has had a close association with each of the Chief Commissioner’s of Police.

The Chief Commissioner is a very important public figure and has the responsibility of ensuring an incorruptible Police Force, a good public witness, and the fulfilment of all of the requirements of law and order within a community.

Christians are taught to pray for those who have this kind of authority, and so we have always prayed for the various senior and administrators within the Police Force.

After a long era of corruption in the NSW Police Force, we have had a series of outstanding police commissioners who have had to battle against entrenched corruption. This has been a difficult battle because the forces of darkness are much more tricky and powerful than the forces of light.

As I look back over a quarter of a century as Superintendent of Wesley Mission, I give thanks to God for Chief Commissioner Jim Lees and his wife Norma. Jim has been a most dedicated Christian. Apart from being foremost police officer serving in this state over a period of several years, while he was Chief Commissioner, he has always been an outstanding Christian leader in local churches. His leadership with his wife in the Hornsby Baptist Church and also at Wesley Mission at our 7 pm service and our Thursday Chapel in the City, has been of great encouragement to me. Their personal example and witness as Christians, has been one that has inspired many of us. Much of the work that he did had to be done in secret, as is always the case when rooting out corrupt officers. Probably the most amazing thing that was accomplished during his time as Chief Commissioner was not only that he continued the fight against corruption against entrenched forces, but that he managed to reach down through a bevy of corrupt officers and choose an outstanding Commissioner to follow him, one who had a strong Christian track record himself. That Commissioner was Cec Abbott. Jim Lees’ example inspired many good men within the force to be strong, to speak up, and try to rid the NSW Police Force of its’ corrupt officers. The task was never completed because the entrenched corruption was so great. But he left an enduring mark, not only because of the quality of his own leadership, but by the fact that he chose his successor to continue that good work. Former Chief Commissioner Jim Lees is an active member within two congregations of Wesley Mission and has always been to me a person in whom I can confide and get the finest of counsel. His children are likewise committed Christians and have supported the work of Wesley Mission.

Another Chief Commissioner of Police that had a close association with us was John Avery, and I will speak in detail more about him in a few moments. John made sure he was followed by a totally honest and decent policeman, Tony Lauer. Tony and his wife frequently attended activities at Wesley Mission and spoke during his term of office at one of our special Easter breakfasts. He also is a very committed Christian and one who was determined to clean up the corruption within Police Force, which by now had very much gone underground and was influencing officers in the most secretive and devastating manner.

After a Royal Commission, the Government appointed Peter Ryan from England to come in as an external authority and he instituted a number of moves to eradicate corruption. Hopefully that has now been achieved.

Tony Lauer said that his first choice for a new Chief Commissioner would be Ken Moroney, who now has been chosen for that position. Ken Moroney has taken on the role of being head of the largest Police Service in the country, with 17,000 employees. In this time, the Police Service has changed immensely. Ken Moroney told a story which he thought would show how the Police Service had changed for the better in 50 years.

“When John Avery joined the Police Service, the formal training consisted of two weeks. At the end of two weeks, he asked his Sergeant at Chatswood, “Where are we going to learn self defence?” and the Sergeants reply was, “Up at the Royal Hotel”.

John Avery, who became Chief Commissioner following Jim Lees in 1984, was the first Chief Commissioner to have completed postgraduate university studies. He was also the first to call the new Commissioner Ken Moroney when Police Commissioner Peter Ryan walked away. He wanted to ensure him of his own support. Like John Avery, Ken Moroney also holds a master degree, a Diploma in Justice Administration, and a Graduate Diploma in Management and a certificate in Personnel Management. He is well prepared for this new job of being the Chief Commissioner. But there is an interesting background to the man who was so much his mentor.

Probably the most qualified and community minded officer to have ever served as Police Commissioner, John Avery led the largest Police Force in Australia, one of the largest in the western world, in New South Wales in 1980’s.

With 10,432 police men and women under his control and a budget in excess of $400 million to administer, John clearly saw a very real responsibility to be accountable to the people of New South Wales during his term as Police Commissioner.

The author of “Police—Force or Service?”—a book published in 1981, he set out what he regarded as one of the inspirations of the Force’s community policing scheme, indicating his view that the support of our community is essential for the Police Force to be seen as meaningful and effective.

For more than 14 years, John served with Sydney Life Line at Wesley Mission both as a telephone counsellor and also as a member of the Referral Task Force for the organization—that service was then taking in excess of 70,000 telephone calls a year from people in crisis.

Giving up many hours of his own family and social life, here it was that John came face to face with the reality of life, the very personal problems and issues facing individuals and families, seeking to find for others a new hope and a new direction. His strong Christian faith and his absolute commitment to community service was carried to service at the highest level.

His career started back in 1948 with initial training at the Academy, and then in succession being appointed to Chatswood, Hornsby, Currabubula, Port Macquarie and Tenterfield Police Stations before again being transferred to Chatswood and then to the Licensing Branch where he operated from both Redfern and Petersham.

In 1971 he was appointed to the Senior Administration Division in Head Office, College Street, and in 1982 he became Executive Chief Superintendent.

During this decade he developed a unique concept for community service, a new emphasis for the NSW Police which has now been fully accepted by the NSW State Government and indeed, a plan that is operating in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Throughout his career, John Avery received 10 commendations and awards, including one for the part played in the search for Kevin Simmons and Leslie Newcombe, the infamous Long Bay escapees of 1959, in addition to twice receiving the highest award given by the NSW Police; the Peter Mitchell Trophy for Academic and Cultural achievements.

Under his leadership he established the Training Development and Examination Branch setting up the Community Justice Centres Coordinating Committee, Homeless and Handicapped Persons Task Force, Ethnic Affairs Liaison, Aboriginal Liaison, Sexual Assault Victims Task Force, and a Child Abuse Interdepartmental Committee together with a Domestic Violence Task Force.

These committees and task forces have formed the basis of many Government submissions directly influencing changes in Government policy and Acts of Parliament.

Other areas where his influence can be seen are in the Police Welfare Unit, Staff Development and Career Guidance, Development of Work Performance Appraisal Schemes, the introduction of a Child Mistreatment Unit, the Aboriginal Liaison Unit and the Juvenile Bureau. Further he has carried out external research on streets management, domestic violence, occupational socialisation of Police Inductees and Aboriginal and Ethnic Affairs.

It is a small wonder that his appointment as NSW Police Commissioner was a completely unanimous decision by the Police Board, which included such eminent people as Gordon Jackson, Sir Maurice Byers and his predecessor, Cec Abbott.

He said, “Any crime, organised or otherwise, is a serious matter to the Police Force and to police officers. Through the Government, we have taken steps to have police involved to deal with organised crime and to cooperate with others dealing with organised crime, if such becomes evident. The National Crimes Commission, with which NSW Police Force fully cooperates, is an example of how we are determined to bring about a safer State and a safer Australia.”

“In a materialistic age, we can always expect some element of corruption but, having that expectation, we should make every effort to deal with it. I certainly am with the vast, overwhelming percentage of decent, honest, hardworking police, who not only are not corrupt but fiercely resent any activity by corrupt police, because of the odour and bad reputation it brings,” he concluded.

The Daily Telegraph has described John Avery as ‘man of the present and the future’ and “a new style policeman—a man who believes that whole communities should be involved in crime fighting as allies of the Police, instead of standing on the sidelines.”

His appointment was a clear sign that the old traditional ways of policing in New South Wales had to make way for a new style of Police Force.

His term as Police Commissioner for New South Wales showed far greater personal contact between ordinary people and police at all levels, leading to a greater understanding and cooperation from the public.

In his first interview after being appointed Police Commissioner in answer to the question, “why did you want to be Commissioner?” John answered in three ways.

Firstly he said, “I am very honoured to have been chosen for this responsible and challenging task.”

His second response was, “My association with the Community Relations Branch will help us develop good liaison with the public, bringing a far wider cooperative police effort throughout the community.”

And finally, “This is the culmination of a career path of achievement and hope, not self-glorification; to be able to continue my service and play a part in contributing to the benefits of the working police of this State and its changing environment.”

You may not be surprised to learn that on the first evening after his appointment as Police Commissioner was announced, you would have found him at Parish Council Meeting of the Uniting Church in Willoughby, where he was an Elder.

In an interview with 2GB Newstalk, and in answer to a question on the relativity of his Christian faith to his chosen career, John gave a very clear and concise answer. He said, “It gave me the courage, motivation and confidence to put my name forward as one of the applicants for the position of Police Commissioner.”

Wesley Mission, being a major player in the welfare of countless thousands of people in Sydney and New South Wales, has always had a close relationship with those people who both make the laws and those who have to uphold them. The task of a Chief Police Commissioner is an extraordinarily, difficult one, and in these Christian Commissioners of Police that I have mentioned by name, New South Wales has been very well served by very dedicated, loyal and competent officers. We salute our Chief Commissioners, and we pray for Chief Commissioner Ken Moroney as he starts a new era in the New South Wales Police Force.

The city of Sydney would grow to be one of the world’s great cities and Wesley Mission would grow to be one of the world’s great churches and I was privileged to spend each day in the heart of both.

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