Thursday, May 27, 2010

Top cop was pressured to ignore faulty speed cameras to protect revenue

UPDATE 12.40pm: PREMIER John Brumby denies police were pressured to issue dodgy speed camera fines and protect revenue.

Speaking this morning at Melbourne Airport, Mr Brumby said: "It's never, ever been about revenue."

"In relation to the Western Ring Road, that was never about revenue either," he said.

"It was about different legal advice about whether it was appropriate in all the circumstances to refund the money, and what signal that might send to the community."

His comments come after one of Victoria's most senior police officers accused the State Government of using speed cameras to raise revenue.

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius claimed the Government tried to pressure him into fining motorists even though they were caught by faulty speed cameras.

In an affidavit seen by the Herald Sun, Mr Cornelius said the Government argued against dropping the fines because it feared losing revenue.

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Mr Brumby said in the big picture, the questionable batch of speeding fines mattered little.

"In a sense that was a drop in the ocean," he said.

"It was always about what was the right thing to do, legally.

"At the end of the day the Government made the decision, and that was to refund everyone's fines."

Deputy Commissioner (traffic) Ken Lay says he has never been pressured by the government to fine speeding motorists.

Mr Lay said in his two and a half years in his current role he had never once discussed speed camera revenue with the government.

"The Government would not speak to me about revenue, the Department of Justice would not speak to me about revenue," he told 3AW.

"They are very very clear in their understanding that my view of speed camers is that there's many thousands of people still alive today because of speed cameras."

Mr Lay said it was appropriate for senior members of police to speak to government about measures that affected road safety, but discussions about whether or not motorists should be fined were off limits.

"It is not appropriate to discuss operations issues about who should be prosecuted and who should not be prosecuted," he said.

"I am confident they (the government) would not (speak to me about that), if they did I would make it very very clear to them where the line in the sand is."

The Brumby Government aims to collect $437 million from speed cameras this year.

"The minister's office was not happy with my advice and they put pressure on me to adopt a different view," Mr Cornelius claimed in his affidavit.

Former Victoria Police assistant commissioner (traffic) Noel Ashby said Mr Cornelius's claim of being pressured to ensure a steady flow of cash went into Government coffers was similar to his own years of experience of dealing with politicians and public servants over speed and red light camera fines.

"As far as the Government was concerned it was always as much about revenue raising as it was about road safety,'' Mr Ashby said.

"I strongly suspect nothing has changed and ministers today are continuing to put inappropriate pressure on senior police, right up to the chief commissioner, over traffic camera revenue and other issues.''

Mr Ashby, who was acquitted of perjury charges in February, yesterday said when the decision was made to change the management of traffic cameras from Tennix to Serco in 2007 the Government's main concern was "whether revenue would reduce following the changeover.''

He also claimed that when Victoria Police decided in 2006 that motorists snapped by cameras more than once in the same day would only get one fine the Government lobbied very heavily to try to get the force to go back to issuing multiple fines in those circumstances.

"But we stood our ground,'' Mr Ashby said.

The revelation comes just weeks after Premier John Brumby was forced to defend new traffic camera measures in this month's State Budget.

Budget papers revealed the Government intends installing more fixed speed cameras, expanding enforcement of speed restrictions and greatly increasing use of new radar technology.

The State Government estimated the increased use of technology will see its coffers boosted by $476 million in speed and red light camera fines in the next financial year.

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said Mr Cornelius's affidavit showed the Government saw traffic cameras as revenue raisers.

"The Brumby Government has been caught out trying to bully police into fining drivers nabbed by cameras it knows are faulty so it can raise record revenue," he said.

A State Government spokesman denied traffic cameras were treated as revenue raisers.

"In 2006, the Auditor-General rejected the notion that cameras were aimed at revenue raising, citing the dramatic drop in the road toll since introduction," he said.

"It is a decision solely for Victoria Police whether to prosecute any traffic infringements. The Government would gladly collect no revenue from cameras if it meant that motorists were driving within the speed limit and reducing the risk of crashes."

Mr Cornelius's damaging claim that the Government wanted to profit from potentially inaccurate traffic camera fines is revealed in a previously secret affidavit sworn by him in 2007.

In the affidavit, which has been seen by the Herald Sun, Mr Cornelius accused the police minister's office of attempting to influence his decision-making on the faulty traffic camera issue.

He said when he was in charge of the police legal services department he had regular contact with then Police Minister Mr Haermeyer's office over camera issues. "I had discussions with the Solicitor-General in relation to the legal position, on how I should exercise my prosecutorial discretion in relation to traffic cameras, which was one of the matters that was raised as a result of concerns about camera accuracy," his affidavit said.

"The minister's office was not happy with my advice and they put pressure on me to adopt a different view.

"I did have some telephone contact with minister Haermeyer's chief of staff during the traffic camera issues, because obviously he was seeking a particular outcome and I was holding the line."

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