The mooted appointment of the NSW Police Commissioner, Mick Fuller, to the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) has been touted as “a coup” in some quarters but described as a conflict of interest in others.
The Commissioner himself says any conflict is “for somebody else to judge” and “it’s a little bit of a storm in a teacup”, but says he is well qualified for the job.
He told the Sydney Morning Herald: “I’m an expert in employment, people management, brand management and setting behavioural expectations”.
He clearly has the support of rugby league’s big end of town.
ARLC Chairman Peter V’Landys made the initial approach while NRL commentator and game influencer Phil Gould has credited the Commissioner with “virtually saving the NRL from financial disaster” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gould did not explain how.
One of those who say that remaining Police Chief and becoming an ARLC commissioner is problematic is the criminal lawyer who represented NRL player Curtis Scott last year after he was found by police drunk and asleep under a tree.
Police pepper-sprayed and tasered Scott before charging him with resisting arrest, as well as a number of other charges which were all withdrawn or dismissed.
A Sydney magistrate ordered NSW Police pay the player’s $100,000 legal bill, saying police allegations of Scott “thrashing” and “lunging” were inconsistent with the police’s own body-cam video footage.
Scott is yet to confirm whether he will sue.
The player’s lawyer, Sam Macedone, told The Ticket if presented with such a situation, even if the Commissioner wasn’t conflicted, others may perceive him to be.
“I don’t think it’s a very enviable position at all that he would be on both that board (the ARLC) and the Commissioner of Police,” Macedone said.
“He would have to wear two hats, really … even if a conflict position didn’t arise, perception is everything.”
When Scott was initially charged, he was stood down by the NRL’s integrity commission until Macedone had the decision reversed.
“I had to fight tooth and nail to get the police to let me show the rugby league video of the incident so I could establish with them, hopefully, that this was a police charge that was never going to succeed, it was just a shoring-up set of allegations that I didn’t think would ever get past the mark,” he said
“But I had to get past the police first to allow me to show that video to the NRL.
“Now can you imagine if the Police Commissioner is on the board there?
“He’s got to make a decision about whether I can go in there and complain about the actions of his police.
“If he accepts and says ‘the suspension should stay’, he’s supporting the police … if he says ‘no, he can play’, then he’s going against his very own police force.
“He’d be playing two games.
The current members of the ARLC may decide before next Friday’s AGM to appoint Fuller to the role for an initial term of three years with remuneration of $75,000 per year.
The Commissioner has under a year remaining as one of the highest-paid public servants in the state, with an annual salary of $649,500.
He says he will donate his ARLC payment to Police Legacy, a charity supporting families of police who may require compassionate or financial assistance.
The Commissioner was said to be unavailable to consider further requests when The Ticket put a series of questions to him including:
- Will he donate the ARLC remuneration each year he is on the board or only for the year he has remaining on his Police Commissioner contract?
- He’s previously described policing in NSW as “different to anywhere else in the world”, what did he mean by that?
- Does the Commissioner think the NRL has a problem that is worse than the community generally?
- Given rugby league players are bound by a code of conduct, with penalties handed down if the code is broken, why does the Commissioner think more needs to be done?
Given elite athletes’ status as role models, they are held to a higher standard and in situations where they may not be charged, or are found not guilty, they can still be heavily penalised for bringing the game into disrepute.
In two recent cases, Payne Haas was fined $50,000 for his involvement in a drunken brawl and Kotoni Staggs fined $10,000 for a homophobic slur.
Should the Police Commissioner accept a seat on the ARLC, he will be asked to separate his duty to the law and his responsibilities to the game.