Kate Pausina ‘bared her soul’ by revealing the harassment and bullying she suffered to the inquiry into QPS. She wants to see change
Former officer Kate Pausina has detailed the sexual harassment she endured at the Queensland police service, none of which applies to the senior officer on her right
The final report of the inquiry into the Queensland police service is scattered with stories – but not names – of people like former Det Snr Sgt Kate Pausina.
Pausina spent 23 years in the QPS. She was the principal investigator – and found critical new evidence – for the inquest that decades later overturned findings about the 1991 deaths of north Queensland friends Julie-Anne Leahy and Vikki Arnold.
She is also the whistleblowing officer behind a submission to the Queensland inquiry into police responses to domestic and family violence – detailed by Guardian Australia in July – that outlined the horrific scope of sexual harassment and misogyny in the workplace; raised alarm about alleged police failures to adequately investigate the deaths of First Nations women; and detailed the way police failed to pursue credible domestic violence allegations against officers.
Pausina says a senior officer sent a photograph of her cleavage – cropped from a photograph taken at a past International Women’s Day conference – to other commissioned officers.
Another commissioned officer made a “revolting, slimy” sexual joke when asking her to relieve for him while he took recreational leave: “Have you ever relieved someone for that long?” The same officer, when Pausina injured her knees, told her there were “other ways to get promoted”.
“I went to four separate assistant commissioners, over a period of four years, and no one did anything to stop the bullying,” she says. “For months of sick leave, I had no contact from anyone in the QPS.”
During the period, she attempted suicide, she says. She formally separated from the QPS in April.
The inquiry heard significant evidence from people like Pausina about the QPS: how the organisation tasked with enforcing laws was run in a way that victimised vulnerable people – whistleblowers, victims of domestic violence and First Nations people – and enabled their abusers.
The state government is expected to announce a response when it releases the final report on Monday. Much of the attention is on the commissioner, Katarina Carroll, and whether she keeps her job. Pausina and others who have been badly affected by the policing culture are clear what they think should happen.
“As a victim of it all, I feel I have bared my soul, been retraumatised by every day of inquiry evidence and every news report,” Pausina says.
“I’m privileged to have family support to feel safe but those women in unsafe environments need a system they feel confident will support them.
“The commissioner of police is responsible for that system and if she doesn’t go, then it sends the message that what has occurred is excusable.”
Report under lock and key
As soon as the inquiry delivered its final report to the Queensland government on 14 November, staff assisting had their laptops removed and access to information cut off. Ministers were given a single hard copy of the document and told to keep it locked in an office safe. It is set to be released on Monday.
Multiple people familiar with the content say the findings are withering. Some flecks of detail were leaked to the Australian this week, but people who have seen the report say what has been made public barely scratches the surface of the deep and scathing criticism of the police leadership.
A draft was sent to the QPS earlier this month and the content – even before a string of new revelations this week about serious racism and cultural issues – had sent the QPS upper ranks into damage control.
Anticipating the report would be released last week, all officers ranked superintendent or higher were called to a retreat on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Queensland Cricketers’ Club, the exclusive members’ area at the Gabba. The session was cancelled when the report was delayed.
What upsets me most is the entire system lets people downKate Pausina
And while Carroll currently has the public backing of the police minister, Mark Ryan, and the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, both left themselves some wriggle room this week by saying they had not yet finished reading the report. The future of Queensland’s first female police commissioner remains a subject of active discussion within the state government, particularly after a week of revelations, apologies and missteps.
Labor MPs have told Guardian Australia they expect Carroll will be safe; that the thinking remained that she could still lead necessary reform of the QPS. The default government plan would be to acknowledge issues, agree to act and frame Carroll as the reformer. A public relations campaign suggesting as much has already started.
Kerry Carrington, a leading domestic violence criminologist, says sacking Carroll would send a bad message, following evidence that largely highlighted problems with men in uniform.
“I’m in two minds, but I err on the side of no. I was very disappointed in her evidence, her denial and deflection. I think the DV response has been white-anted. But I just can’t get over the idea that the first female commissioner should be made responsible for the misogyny and racism she inherited.”
Over the course of the inquiry, the notion the commissioner might be asked to resign has gained traction.
Carroll had declined to appear when first asked. When she did agree to take part, Carroll stumbled badly while giving evidence – senior police acknowledged her first appearance was “a disaster” that amplified the inquiry and inadvertently encouraged hundreds more police officers to come forward with stories of assaults, sexism, misogyny and racism perpetrated by colleagues. The blue wall of silence – the culture of police protecting police – came crashing down.
Another significant shift has occurred in the past week, since the publication by Guardian Australia of the watch house tapes, which revealed racist and violent language used by officers in the Brisbane city holding cells. The conversations included officers joking about beating and burying black people.
What followed has been a horror week to precede the release of the inquiry report. There is a petition to sack Carroll.
Carroll sent a deputy commissioner out on Monday to apologise, but on Tuesday, as coverage continued, she made a last-minute decision to appear alongside Ryan at a press conference. They spoke and took questions for almost an hour.
Carroll addressed concerns about QPS racism by pointing to the work of the organisation’s First Nations and multicultural affairs unit. She praised the boss of the unit, Kerry Johnson, who she said was handpicked because he would “understand the history and the issues” related to First Nations people.
On Thursday, Guardian Australia revealed Johnson is under investigation for racism and bullying, and that the formal Indigenous advisory body for the QPS had described him as “incomprehensibly incompetent” in meeting notes tendered to the commission of inquiry.
The QPS responded to questions about Carroll’s praise of Johnson by saying the commissioner only learned about the investigation on Wednesday, after the Guardian sent questions.
A ‘sprinkle of pink’ no solution
On Saturday, in a pre-emptive strike of sorts, Carroll told the Courier-Mail she “takes responsibility” for the issues raised and announced the hiring of a diversity expert to help reform the police culture. More DV specialists would be hired and discipline would be reformed. The subtext is that police have this situation in hand.
In a response to Guardian Australia questions, a QPS spokesperson said the service “is committed to learning from the commission of inquiry and implementing significant reform to improve its response to inappropriate workplace behaviour across the organisation”.
“The commissioner has made it very clear to all staff that any inappropriate workplace behaviour will be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately,” they said.
This will include the establishment of a central case management team, led by a superintendent, to oversee complaints involving sexist, misogynistic, racist, homophobic or bullying behaviour.
During her career, Pausina worked in the coronial support unit, including looking at domestic violence homicides.
She says there’s a clear pattern when police failures are established at an inquest. Before an adverse finding, the QPS gets on the front foot and implements reforms, sometimes new training courses or procedures, and criticism is ultimately toned down. Until the next woman dies.
“What upsets me most is the entire system lets people down,” Pausina says. “Officers go to their bosses about being poorly treated and nothing changes, so they suffer in silence. Victims make complaints and nothing changes.
“Reforms that include quick-fix inclusion strategies and diversity presentations – a sprinkle of pink in the ranks – won’t work. Women have been empowered to speak up and guaranteed support before. I spoke up, more than once. And it cost me my career.”
About four years ago, Pausina reached out to a high-ranking officer. In the email missive, she wrote about the patterns threaded through the cases that came across her desk while working in the police ethical standards command.
Incidents were routinely – and wrongly – written off because officers simply did not believe women, she said. Police frequently used victim-blaming language. The situation would ultimately cause a reckoning for police, Pausina warned.
She never got a response.