It's a great pity that Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reese Kershaw told the National Press Club Brittany Higgins' investigation was with the Director of Public Prosecutions, when the DPP says it's actually with the AFP.
Although extremely unfortunate - the commissioner should have anticipated a question about an issue that still galvanises the country - his mistake can, perhaps, be put down to timing. Procedural errors. Unsurprisingly, what Kershaw focused on instead was one simple, but triumphal, investigation: Operation Ironside.
He's right to revel in this highly successful underworld sting operation that's been ripping into the distribution network of outlaw motorcycle gangs both here and overseas. His chilling warning, that "a patched [bikie's] ideology is unadulterated greed through the relentless trafficking of illicit drugs", along with his statement that this is "killing more Australians than terrorism", offers a glimpse into the scale of the challenge we face from such crime syndicates. And that's why we should be worried.
As might be expected, the commissioner thinks he's winning the fight. Although the invaluable intelligence provided by Ironside has now (and inevitably) dried up, Kershaw asserted that he will soon be striking these groups again. There were no details, of course, of what we might expect - simply that we can rest assured the war on drugs is continuing and the AFP will continue winning its battles.
What there was no news about, however, was the progress of the war.
This is the issue that should really trouble us. Nobody can possibly doubt the urgent need to tackle both drugs and criminal gangs, but the issue is a bit like the "'war on terror". When we declare war on inanimate objects (drugs) or concepts (terror), it's an admission that we've got no real understanding of exactly who the enemy is. This confusion quickly leads to further problems. If the danger is thought of as existential, it's only natural to keep escalating the weapons being used in this fight. Winning the battle becomes the only goal; other issues are pushed out until they sink beyond the horizon.
Kershaw noted that when police discovered they'd (twice) inadvertently breached the law, they immediately stopped. He insisted this should be seen as proof of the integrity of the system, which seems reasonable. The issue, though, is that we are being offered the "trust us" model - and that's the overall framework that needs to be used to interpret Kershaw's speech.
This victory over the crime syndicates is more than welcome, and the commissioner has promised he will soon be announcing further successes in his quest to stop drug crime. That's great. There is, however, little transparency about how the information that incriminated the accused was collected, or the detail of arrangements with the FBI that allowed this to occur. Far more importantly, we need to see a path to victory outlined.
Until that happens, all these successes will be just as transient as a lunchtime speech.
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.