Matthew Condon’s new book, All Fall Down, ends Queensland Police Commissioner Terry Lewis’ story amid the demise of the Rat Pack and their corrupt system of graft payments known as “The Joke”. As layer upon layer of bribes and deception ricochet throughout the state, the nature of complicity in prostitution, illegal gambling, drugs and paedophilia escalates to a whole new level, leading to the all-encompassing Fitzgerald Inquiry. Here is an extract.
Commissioner Terence Lewis remained flabbergasted by all the fuss and bother over the Courier-Mail stories, and the Four Corners investigation. Why would you call for a royal commission into some grubby little gambling joints that had been operating in the shadows of Fortitude Valley since time immemorial?
“Everybody knew, everybody including [Phil] Dickie … I mean, the number of people who told me that Dickie and other journalists used to go to 142 Wickham Street … it was no secret thing if you’re like from the public, the press, the police,” Lewis says.
“And contrary to what they thought or suggested in some of the articles, there was more to it than the police just rolling up to the gaming places … and walking in and saying, "Hey, you’re all pinched”. They have to get in there, firstly, and then they have to prove who the keeper is. They have to prove he’s getting money from the clients, and the same with the prostitution.“
Lewis says that at the time his force had a handle on the containment of vice. To prosecute prostitutes, he said, police would had to have "gone in, taken their pants off and had sex with the female”.
“Instead of harassing them, for want of a better word, I suppose, [the police would] go around every so often … oh, I don’t know how often, whether it was every fortnight or every whatever … and say, "It’s your turn”,“ says Lewis.
"Strictly speaking, the girls could have just pleaded not guilty and it would have been up to the police … well, it was a shocking waste of police time and the court’s time and everybody’s time. As it was the government [who] were getting a licence from them … there’s big fines every, say with every fortnight, so … everybody was happy to some considerable degree.”
He says to call the gambling joints “casinos” was a farce. “One was a little one mainly to look after Chinese, another little one was to look after Italians, and I think another one looked after the Greeks,” recalls Lewis.
“And it wasn’t anybody being exploited, nobody. I’ve never heard anybody ever in the Lebanese [community] saying they were robbed there or they were forced to go there or they were threatened.”
“It was the same with the SP bookies, you know. These were three areas that I really didn’t see as our prime interest. My prime interests were murders, rape, armed robberies, serious home invasion, break-and-enters, the road toll, young missing persons and a whole heap of other things. These other three really hardly ever exercised my mind. And I thought I had a good fellow running it, particularly for the four years that Ron Redmond was there.”
“I thought he had it by the throat because he’d come along to our morning conferences [or ‘prayers’ as they were known] at nine o’clock and say, "Oh, you know, things are going well. They are charging X number of girls from yesterday or last night”. And it all looked good.“
Meanwhile, Geraldo Bellino, mentioned in the terms of reference of the inquiry, issued a statement through his lawyer, Noel Barbi, that he welcomed the forthcoming inquiry so he could clear his and his family’s name. "I have sat back and been the subject of innuendo, inference and suggestions,” Bellino said of the “intolerable atmosphere” that he’d been subjected to since the terms were published.
“It is the unhappy situation in this country that the media are permitted to make baseless and unfounded allegations without the benefit of facts. I emphatically deny that I have been in any way involved in any bribery or corruption of any police officer in this state or anywhere else. Much has been made of the fact that I have not been prosecuted and the inferences that this is because of my being responsible for the bribery and corruption of police officers.”
“It may occur to any thinking person that I might also not have committed any offences. I say the latter is the truth.”
As the possibilities of a royal commission were being canvassed, government members were being quizzed back in their own electorates about the inquiry and the extent of corruption. Mike Ahern, the member for Landsborough on the Sunshine Coast, told a local newspaper that he was pleased that there appeared to be no corruption in his neck of the woods.
But, after that quote was published, Ahern says he got an urgent phone call from a senior Sunshine Coast police officer who he knew well. The officer asked Ahern not to repeat that there was no corruption in the region. “He said there was a [local] sergeant here, whose … duty on a Friday afternoon was to go around the brothels and the other places that were being tolerated and collect the money.”
“At three o’clock in the afternoon he’d poke it in an envelope through the wall up at [12 Garfield Drive], the home of Commissioner Lewis. He said that was his duty, that he took a police car, he drove around the whole Sunshine Coast and did the collections, and then at three o’clock it was his duty to drop the envelope through the wall up there.”
“So he said, don’t be misled into thinking it wasn’t going on here.”