Top cop confronts underbelly of corruption


Christine Nixon When you think of what Easter is about, you don't think first of cops but of the people, like Jesus, they arrest. But in the lead-up to this Easter, I've been thinking of Victoria Police's Chief Commissioner, Christine Nixon.

Who'd take on the top cop job? Nixon has been having quite the time of it of late. Sure, she was always in a bit of a tight spot. She started on the beat in Sydney, and rose through the ranks to Assistant Commissioner in New South Wales. So she was something of an outsider when she was appointed to Victoria Police's top spot in 2001.

Since then she's faced (with considerable pizzazz and a certain indefatigable perseverance) some of Victoria's thorniest policing issues — from Melbourne's organised crime 'underbelly', to reforming the drug squad. But just recently she's hit a higher-order snag within her own organisation: alleged corruption and systematic undermining from very senior officers.

And it really hit the fan, and the papers. It was one of those 'damned if you do or don't' kind of dilemmas. As soon as she followed the protocol and stood people aside, outraged voices piped up that she must be incompetent if there's such alleged corruption within her ranks. But keeping things quiet would hardly be welcomed as a more appropriate response from a betrayed Chief Commissioner.

So what's Nixon actually done wrong? Hard to know, but in part it looks as if she was fast-tracked to unpopularity by trying to be a thoughtful, discerning leader. She's taken on some cultural change in Victoria Police, aimed at improving its effectiveness. And she's tried to do the whole thing with integrity. But the media coverage of bitterness from those she's locked horns with is testament to the danger of reforming a powerful institution.

To go against the grain inevitably means being held to a higher standard. Sometimes ludicrously so. Being bombarded with questions. Constantly watched for the slightest mistake. Some would argue that this is the fate of any woman in a powerful position, especially if she's in a male-dominated area.

It's hardly news that reformers are unpopular within the systems they undertake to improve. That's where the trials of Christine Nixon might throw light on the death of Jesus that is the core of Easter. It is easy to imagine Jesus died because he was in dispute with members of a different religious group. But that's not the case. He and his opponents were members of the same religious group he was trying to reform. He tried to lead them to engage faithfully with God and to base their religious practices on this engagement.

So how did it go for him? He got up people's noses. He uncovered ways in which religious practices had been distorted to exclude people. Like the prophets before him, he pointed out the dangers of following the external trappings of discipleship but not allowing the prayer, fasting and almsgiving to transform how one engages with others and with God. Eventually the leaders of his own people colluded and had him killed.

We know unveiling corruption is pretty unpopular. Who wants to be confronted by misuse of power, or challenges to traditional ways of doing things that no longer meet their objectives?

But there were plenty with whom Jesus' reform was extremely popular. Those who had been excluded, who needed healing, who were brought back into social and religious connection by his radical reform program. Therein lies the motivation for reform — it's not about how those who wield power react, but how it affects those who are not powerful.

Back in Victoria, negative reaction to Christine Nixon seems pretty focused within her own mob. In stark contrast, she enjoys unprecedented popularity with the average punter. She's seen as talking good sense and providing an approachable human face to help us understand a powerful, historically inscrutable, institution in our society.

Of course, no-one's suggesting Christine Nixon is Jesus. But there is a similarity in the human reaction to reform. It's a different kind of tall poppy thing. One of our knee-jerk reactions is to cut down leaders who try to change us. But we sorely need leadership which tries to speak the truth about change where it is needed. It might set the cat among the pigeons, but it makes us better people.

Kylie CrabbeKylie Crabbe lives in Northcote and is preparing for ministry in the Uniting Church.



submit a comment

Existing comments

Loved the comparison and up-to-date analogy ... great help in looking at life and its vagaries. go you good thing.

Judy George | 20 March 2008  

A thoughtful and timely piece from Kylie. Excellent. As I read, I also thought of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson where she had the courageous Christine Nixon. May they both prosper in the face of powerful vested interests.

Richard Flynn | 20 March 2008  

I was impressed by your article and the connection between Jesus and Christine Nixon. Reformers are dangerous people for good, they provoke strong reactions, always will.

Gary Walker | 20 March 2008  

Thanks Kylie. Like Richard Flynn I admire the courage and persistence with which Ms Nixon has pursued the cause of right within the police force. I like Richard's reference to Geoffrey Robinson, both he and Ms Nixon pillaged for speaking out about the truth. The analogy with Jesus at this time is particularly apt. May the Spirit of truth prevail and may all whistle blowers who speak the truth be protected.

Paul Rummery | 20 March 2008  

Congratulations on this perceptive article. I couldn't agree more. Some time ago I wrote to Christine Nixon to congratulate her on her efforts, and received a gracious reply. The loud protests from members of the Police Force speak volumes for needed reform. Thank you for this article.

Margaret M Brown | 20 March 2008  

Kylie - No better time for true reflection than Easter. Congratulations on a well written article. We are all the richer for Christine`s leadership and your affirmation.

W Justin Halpin | 21 March 2008  

Similar Articles

Nonconformist Aussie anticipates traditional Greek Easter

  • Gillian Bouras
  • 17 March 2008

In the Orthodox Church, Lent is a fairly strict period of austerity, which is one reason for Carnival: traditional societies have long understood that sessions of high spirits are needed before and after difficult times. They are also undisturbed by the blurring of the sacred and the secular.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up