The Queensland police: with honour we serve?

Media Release, Peter Pyke: 13 October 2010

In 1994 I told then-Queensland Premier Wayne Goss that ‘politicians thought they were pretty powerful but – in our system – it was the police who had all the power’. Goss, a former-lawyer, looked blankly at me. He just didn’t understand what I was on about. As a first-time MP I had just told him that I was about to be charged by police with a number of criminal charges which I have always maintained were false, and the jury who acquitted me later seemed to agree. But I was a mere backbencher in his government and he had a huge majority so why should he care? It seemed to me he didn’t.

When Goss lost office in the next election by just one electorate – the ALP now understands that was my seat of Mount Ommaney which I had lost by a handful of votes after the coppers had smeared me beautifully in the media for fifteen months as only they can do – he may have better understood what I had told him.

The Queensland police – whose campaign slogan is the ironical ‘with honour we serve’ – changed the outcome of the 1995 Queensland election in favour of a Borbidge-led government which – happily for some – let convicted and disgraced police commissioner and junior Rat Pack member Terry Lewis out of gaol four years early. But who’s counting?

This week we have seen more of the handiwork of the Queensland coppers with the release of heavily censored CCTV footage of the bashing of handcuffed prisoners in the custody of that outstanding example of one of Queensland’s ‘finest’, former-senior constable Benjamin Thomas Price, who is shown bashing a tourist and a barmaid at the Airlie Beach police station in the state’s north.

The ex-policeman, 34, was sentenced to 27 months’ jail on 11 October 2010 after pleading guilty to four counts of assault. Steele, a plasterer from NSW, suffered a broken nose, black eyes, a head wound, hearing problems, memory loss and lack of sensation in his arms and hands after his arrest in the popular Whitsundays tourist town. He told the court he was trying to break-up a fight between two mates when he was capsicum sprayed by police. It is alleged Price led the handcuffed Steele to a police car before saying “watch your head” and smashing his face into the vehicle, knocking him unconscious.

Price allegedly dragged Steele from the car outside Airlie Beach watch-house, repeatedly punched him and “kicked him with his boots” in the face, breaking his nose.

CCTV video footage from the police station shows a dazed, heavily bleeding Steele being dragged into an alley beside the watch-house. It shows the handcuffed man being punched in the head before having a fire hose jammed into his mouth, where it was held for up to 90 seconds as another officer watches.

Steele screams and groans in agony and blood can be seen sheeting down the concrete path as the policeman stands on the handcuffs, pressing his hand into the back of the man’s neck, forcing his head into his lap in a brutal spine lock.

“I felt like I was going to drown,” Steele told the court. “He jammed the hose into my mouth. I couldn’t breathe. I was coughing and spluttering blood. It was pretty scary. It went on for a long time. I called him a pussy. He knocked me about. I was pretty dazed, I’d had a boot to my face, my nose was broken. I was choking on my own blood, I felt like I was drowning.”

The vision shows other police officers standing by as Price stuffs a fire hose into his victim’s mouth, nearly drowning him. The CCTV footage also shows Price hitting slightly-built barmaid Renee Tom, 21, slamming her to the floor inside the watch-house in January 2008 and pulling her to her feet by her hair.

As a former police officer who saw service as an operational trainer and academy law lecturer, I know full well that any one of the other police who observed Price’s actions could have stopped Price and even arrested him on the spot for each of his savage bashings. So what happened? Only one of the police shown in the censored footage with their faces blurred did something; it was left to courageous female trainee constable Bree Sonter to do the right thing and to complain about the incidents.

Queensland police deputy commissioner Ian Stewart told reporters on 11 October 2010 that five other officers had resigned and three more were facing potential disciplinary actions over the incidents. All of the other officers who did nothing were complicit in the offences in my opinion.

It was my honour to be sworn in under Commissioner Ray Whitrod in 1976 – Whitrod was a real police commissioner. I immediately saw service in North Queensland and soon discovered that police bashings of Aboriginal and homosexual citizens were everyday sport for far too many Queensland police. It’s easy to say, but individual police have the power to control the behaviour of their peers by stepping in and stopping offences like those committed by Price. I know, I was bashed several times in the Townsville watch-house and once out on the street by my police colleagues for intervening to stop other officers from assaulting prisoners.

As I said at the outset, each individual police officer has the power to arrest anyone, the premier, the prime minister, or another officer. With such power comes enormous responsibility.

That’s the job and that is what is required. Don’t like it? Coppers who aren’t up to it should get out of the kitchen.

Prisoners were being bashed in the custody of Queensland police in the 1970s and we now have incontrovertible evidence they are still being bashed, even under the watchful eye of CCTV. Too many police thugs are protected by their peers and deaths in police custody will continue to occur while other officers fail to serve with real honour.

Is it all bad? As someone who will bleed a little bit blue until the day I die, I like to listen to the police radio on the scanner when I am writing, or driving around. While the Queensland police are badly led by their most senior officers whom I wouldn’t feed, I can report that many of the uniformed officers who undertake first-response operational duties do an excellent job. It is with pride that I can report hearing more often than not in the voices of police on the scanner their obvious humanity and concern for children, young people, battered women, the homeless and the elderly, and I commonly hear police going to great lengths to ensure that everything possible is done for people who need police assistance.

No, it’s not all bad.

If there is a hero in this sad story it is Constable Bree Sonter who did serve Queenslanders with honour.

I call on the Queensland Government to appropriately honour this young woman with the highest police award.

Author: Peter Pyke, 0427 388 598,

4 thoughts on “The Queensland police: with honour we serve?

  1. Good cop, bad cop? says:

    Editor’s Note — Received these comments from Ray Jackson. I think they fit here — even though they are about another article by Chris Graham All for one and one for all: police fail the attitude test— they are on the same subject as Peter Pyke’s media release The Queensland police: with honour we serve? Please note the title to Ray’s comments is mine. Thanks Uncle Ray for your insight.


    an excellent excellent article from chris graham, ex editor of the indigenous times, on the pervasive and corrupt attitude and culture of the police forces of this country and how we, the general populace, cope, or not, with those two police attributes.

    i must agree with chris that there are indeed good cops and bad cops and i would even go so far as to say that there are more of the former than the latter. but, and it is a big but, the culture dictates that the good must cover for the bad and that is where the troubles begin.

    of the 9 cops involved to varying degrees in the kevin spratt assault, the culture would have dictated that they remain as a loyal group of coppers, each to the other. had an individual copper spoken up against the treatment being meted out to kevin or even attempted to withdraw from the scene, they would have been instantly targeted as the weak link in the brother/sister-hood chain.

    during 1995, whilst working at the aboriginal deaths in custody watch committee, i was approached by 2 young white men who wished to pass on their support on the work of the watch committee. they explained that they had just left the police college at goulburn and withdrew their applications. they showed me the appropriate paperwork.

    they explained that they had joined for what they considered to be all the right reasons. what they found was racism, misogyny,homophobia and the all-enveloping culture of the protection of fellow officers regardless of the act performed. this was not part of the classroom training.

    this training was performed in the bar every night where attendance was silently mandatory. every night the sergeants would continue to expound the rules of the culture that was never to be broken. they would tell that the life of a copper was far far superior to any crim and they must never allow themselves to be put into a dangerous situation.

    always shoot to kill. use whatever was required to get the crim on the floor and hand-cuffed, sleeper holds, knee drops, any force at all but always remember to protect yourself and your fellow officers at all costs.

    is it any wonder that now the cops have not only their batons and their capsicum spray but also tasers that they will use them. when capsicum spray was introduced the use of it as a compliance tool skyrocketed. so too the use of tasers as a compliance tool. what other new weapon of compliance will they seek next? one report suggests a heat-ray to make victims comply whilst hand-cuffed to a chair.

    it is well known that power corrupts and because of their position in the forces used to protect the establishment, they continue to get away with it.

    of the circa-200 aboriginal deaths nationally since 1980 whilst under police care there are quite a few cases that scream out for justice against the police perpetrators but a/i chris hurley is the closest we ever came to a just resolution but there is still a way to go yet in that struggle for real justice.

    that is being held up by the corrupt practices of the bligh government re-appointment of commissioner bob atkinson outside of the required processes. this is also slowing down the legal arguments of what punishment, if any, should be meted out to the coppers who allegedly “investigated” the facts of the mulrunji death and deliberately began the cover-up and whitewash, culturally.

    police unions in every state and territory rabidly protect their members from any misdeeds (unless your a black copper and then your on your own) and use their power with the governments, especially the police ministers, and the media to argue the innocence of their members.

    police lie all the time in protecting their own. they lie to the courts by presentation of a corrupt brief of evidence and also whilst on oath, they lie to their police ministers and they lie to their superiors. but that is part of the game. but we as a society allow the police corruption to continue also. we must all demand more not only of our police forces but also our governments. long gone is the time when society got the governments and police forces we deserve.

    we deserve much better.

    though somewhat long i have included the vox populi that is basically a slanging match by some citizens and by quite a few who identify as past or present coppers. i must admit to only getting half-way through before the eyes gave out but there are many interesting points made by both sides.

    happy reading


    Reference: Article by Chris Graham All for one and one for all: police fail the attitude testAll for one and one for all: police fail the attitude test
    © Copyright Chris Graham 08 October 2010

  2. '... organised, systematic, non-violent and absolutely massive'? says:

    Hello John,

    I vaguely remember the footage but remember clearly the day that the video was shot .

    The “Phantom Civil Liberties Marches – Queensland University 1978-79″ video shows a march from the University of Qld on 7 September 1977.

    The opening shot is of us marching across the Great Court at the University of Queensland three days after Bjelke-Petersen had said that the day of the political street was over.

    As I walked across the great court on that day a young Maxine McKew, wearing a pink jumpsuit, came up to me followed by an ABC cameraperson, Mick Fanning, and shoved a microphone in my face and asked:

    “Do you think there will be violence today?”

    Expecting facile questions from the media I retorted:

    “We (the marchers) will be firm but fair with the police.”

    “Phantom Civil Liberties Marches – Queensland University 1978-79″

    Non violent politics in action at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia (1978 – 1979). Part of the Queensland Campaign for Civil Liberties. This campaign’s street marches aimed to restore the basic rights to peaceful protest denied to citizens for over a decade by the repressive Joh Bjelke-Petersen State Government. In effect a police state existed in which democratic rights to effective free speech and meaningful citizen opposition to such abuses of power were dead.


    The description of this video (above) is said to be written by advocates of non-violence during the struggle for democratic rights in Qld from 1977-1979.

    The main advocates of non-violence were Ralph Summy, D O’N and PW who are shown in the video you posted. Of course the police had different ideas. I remember them arresting PW when he pleaded with them to refuse to obey orders at the top of the stairs of KGSq. They took him away as if to say, silly old fool.

    Interestingly both O’N and W put a motion in opposition to the march videoed on this day in favour of building a bigger march on 22 October 1977.

    Their motion failed and there were marches held on 7 and 22 September 1977 and 12 October 1977. It was these marches and other actions that built up the rally on 22 October 1977.

    The largest number of mass arrests in Australian history occurred on that day.

    The phrase used by DO’N in a speech made on the steps of King George Square prior to the march on that day was to build a movement that was ‘organised, systematic, non-violent, and absolutely massive’.

    5,000 people repeatedly attempted to march over the next two hours even though the Campaign against Nuclear Power (CANP) led by Bob Phelps and Ian Henderson (deceased) made pleas for the 5,000 to walk in two or threes along the footpath in Adelaide Street.

    On the day shown in the video (7 September 1977) both O’N and W participated in the short march that was halted by police.

    My recollection of what happened differs from the text description to the video. The text suggests that we had no intention of marching into the city on that day. That is incorrect. We put it in a motion to the marchers, it was passsed and we did walk to the city to attend a union rally for a jailed organiser, Ted Zaphir. So the folowing text is inaccurate and fanciful, although well intentioned. Perhaps he did not hear the motion, he may have even opposed it and may not have marched with us into the Roma Street Forum.

    The text is taken from a paper written by Ralph Summy in 2005. It states:

    The students came up with three innovative types of marches: ‘No-March,’ the ‘Guerrilla March,’ and the ‘Border March.’ … The first of these, the No March entailed making an announcement that the students were marching from the campus into the heart of the city, three miles away, but when the students gathered and then marched to the edge of the campus where the police were lined up ready to arrest them, the nonviolent leadership abruptly called off the march, telling the students to reassemble two hours later. Two hours later,with the police still waiting, the march was again called off. This procedure would be repeated about three or four times every day. The students would carry their banners to the entrance of theUniversity, face the police, and then disband. On a few occasions, when the police failed to appear, a march would commence and only disperse when the police arrived

    The description makes out that defiance of Bjelke Petersen’s edict that ‘the day of the political street march is over’ was not pre-planned and that the intention was to withdraw until police left. Ralph Summy does not recollect accurately what took place. The placing of his text as a caption to the old footage misrepresents what happenened and what the intention of the organisers expressed in the motions passed that day. It is wishful thinking written by people who did not participate regularly in the organising committee, the CLCC.

    Ralph Summy leaves out altogether the intentions of the marchers. It was to go to a trade union rally in the city. Summy’s gaze and that of his Ghandian group of students seems not to stretch beyond the University. On that day we marched along the footpath all the way to the Roma street forum where we attended a rally in support of a trade union organiser, Ted Zaphir, who was charged by Bjelke-Petersen for doing union work. it was a large rally in the Roma Street forum. My response to the makers of the video is what about the 200 wharfies who marched to the Ted Zaphir rally and what about the 2,000 odd people who were arrested marching over the next two years. Yes we did march over the border and we did conduct successful guerilla marchers but where were they? In their classrooms? In their ‘ghost-who-walks’ suits? Did they have their heads in their Phantom comics when the CLCC was organising these actions and when people were arrested by police, locked up and charged, taken to court and fined.

    One of the participants on this particular march got dressed up as the Phantom – the Ghost who walks. The prankster was believed to be Wayne Goss who later became Labor Premier of Qld. His involvement as a participant in the marches was minimal although he did appear in a white lab coat with Terry O’Gorman to act as a civil liberties observer.

    Goss played no role in the organisation of the defiance of the ban on street marches. The ALP, at the time, was opposed to challenging the ban by marching. Matt Foley, later one of Goss’s ministers, was arrested on 12 November 1977.Foley argued inside the Watchouse that 393 people arrested desist from civil disobedience and pay bail.

    The CLCC was opposed to this tactic because we had to raise up to $30,000 for bail for the mass arrests that occurred at each march. We tried several tactics to keep down the amount of money paid on bail and fines. As you know we showed marchers how to fight the charges in the small booklet ‘Not Guilty’. We advocated that people, once arrested, not pay anything and fight the charges.

    We argued against even getting arrested or at least to minimise them. We tried different tactics on several occasions to march long distances without being arrested. One such action is shown in the video in my article above.

    All of this contradicts the impression given in the video and the claim by Ralph Summy that we would not attempt to march when confronted by police but simply wait until they went away and play ‘a trick’ on them by doing this ‘no march’ thing? Perhaps people only remember what they want to. But the facts are important. How can Summy’s narrative be taken seriously if he can’t get the facts right?

    To illustrate this I tried to attach a video of another street march from University of Qld yet no video response was permitted on their ‘Ghosts that walks’ YouTube video? My video The struggle for democratic rights in Queensland (1977-1979) shows a guerrilla march but none of video makers or RS participated in the organisation of that march. We bought walkie-talkies so that we could communicate the location of the police to the body of the march. Once the position of the police blockade was established we would change the direction of march to avoid police. The aim was not Ghandian non-violence it was to march without being arrested. By this stage many of us had been arrested several times, we were in the courts fighting those charges, a lot of money had been paid out in fines and there was a lot of argument in our meetings against marching and going off and doing more creative things. We were confronted by our own idealism, our own opportunism, our own desire for change and we were desperate to get rid of Bjelke-Petersen and his rotten government.

    I disagree with Ralph Summy’s narrative thatbthe marches were student led and with the following statement:

    “The opinion polls indicated that the Premier was gaining in popularity, because he was prepared to take a “firm stand” against a group of “long-haired troublemakers” who were making the streets unsafe for ordinary law-abiding citizens.
    Faced with these depressing results, the protesters became dispirited and some were prepared to admit defeat.”

    In fact there was a shift against the government in the metropolitan areas at the 11 Nov 1977 state election. There had been a summer campaign against the government in the country areas. People in small towns had turned up. The Labor party machine refused to help but their own members were participating in the street march campaign.

    The credits to the video also claim that Bruce Dickson is the cameraperson yet the opening footage shows Bruce himself in the frame? Mark Plunkett is also shown so neither could have shot the opening footage (at least).] Do you know who howling dingo is?

    Thanks for drawing the video to my attention. The makers of the video, Mark Plunkett and Bruce Dickson, only represent one perspective of a larger movement — a sustained resistance that lasted two years. They are entitled to their view but they came to the movement from that of alternative media and Labor lawyer. Their perspective may have even been a dominat view but there were other views, that is all I am saying.

    The Goss Labor government came to power years later on the back of this movement. And Plunkett was later employed by the Goss and subsequent Labor governments to act as an adviser and lawyer. I remember Mark Plunkett coming up to me in the street one day after the Hawke Labor Government and telling me that we had fought the good fight and had won.

    What he had forgotten was that the fight that brought us to the ban on street marches was our opposition to uranium mining and export and that the Hawke government approved Uranium mining and export. We got back the right to march. But in the long haul what have we won? Was Plunkett’s claim that we had won simply delusion or opportunism or a bit of both.

    Others can decide.

    One thing is certain, the struggles in Queensland over the past 30 years was not a campaign for civil liberties — the rights of the individual. The claims by the Courier Mail in their article “The making of civil liberties” are factually incorrect and misleading — what a great defender of democratic rights was the Courier Mail exclaiming violent demonstrators at every sensation whipped up by police and government. Some people in Queensland have all kinds of individual rights including the right to exploit others as a boss or as a capitalist, big and small. One policeman even has the right to kill a blackfella.

    It is democratic rights that have been wanting — the rights of the worker, indigenous, women and their organisations that are under attack by business and government.

    The struggles that came out of this were political struggles against the state — the police, courts, media and parliament that props it up.

    Ian Curr
    October 2010

    Published in Ahimsa Nonviolence, Vol 1, No 4, July-August 2005, 319-326
    Ralph Summy

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