FORMER Victorian police chief Simon Overland's appointment yesterday to head Tasmania's Justice Department has stunned political and police circles on both sides of Bass Strait.It comes despite a probe by the Victorian Office of Police Integrity into the circumstances of the departure of Mr Overland's deputy, Ken Jones.
Tasmania's Liberal opposition expressed concern the appointment was controversial and potentially politicised a key agency. "This is a controversial appointment given Mr Overland resigned his previous position in unusual circumstances and has been the subject of two separate investigations by the Victorian Ombudsman regarding his conduct," said opposition justice spokeswoman Vanessa Goodwin.
"The position of secretary of the Department of Justice . . . should be beyond controversy of political bias."
The Tasmanian Police Association was flabbergasted. "Mr Overland certainly left an impression on Victoria. You could describe this decision as courageous," said association president Rudolph Wierenga.
Even within elements of Tasmania's Labor-Green government yesterday there was disbelief that a man with more baggage than the Spirit of Tasmania had been appointed to the post, irrespective of his ability.
However, other sources defended the appointment, saying the government faced controversy whatever it did after the independent job selection panel unanimously backed him.
Mr Overland resigned as Victorian police chief last June after an inquiry found police released misleading crime statistics in the lead-up to the 2010 state election.
His appointment to the $285,000-a-year post in Tasmania was approved by cabinet this week. Premier Lara Giddings said he had been the unanimous recommendation of the selection panel. "I acknowledge that this may be seen as a controversial appointment given the intense media scrutiny surrounding Mr Overland's former role as chief commissioner," she said. "This appointment has been given careful consideration and I do not believe that anything has occurred which should preclude Mr Overland from taking up this position."
Mr Overland will take up his the post, believed to be for five years, on July 23. He declined to be interviewed yesterday.
He is a former adviser to Keating government justice minister and current Federal Court judge Duncan Kerr, who held the Hobart seat of Denison for 23 years until 2010.
Mr Overland, who has repeatedly denied any political bias, was seconded from the Australian Federal Police to be Mr Kerr's senior adviser on law enforcement in the early 1990s.
Former Victorian Police Association secretary Paul Mullett questioned the selection process by which he was chosen for the job. He said he and former assistant commissioner Noel Ashby would continue to pursue Mr Overland after they were subjected to failed prosecutions.
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