Both sides of politics have sung the praises of Australia\’s soon-to-retire top cop, but Mick Keelty\’s critics are crowing his early departure is the result of his bungling the Haneef terror case.
Mr Keelty will step down as Australian Federal Police commissioner on September 2, two years before his contract expires.
He weathered numerous controversies during his eight years in the top job, but the botched investigation of Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef in 2007 was the most damaging.
Nevertheless, the prime minister insists the commissioner wasn\’t pushed.
Mr Keelty was leaving of his own accord and the government “would have been delighted if he had chosen to stay on”, Kevin Rudd told reporters in Sydney.
“Mick Keelty has provided enormous service to Australia and to the AFP,” the PM said.
“I would like to publicly acknowledge the work he did in response to the Bali bombing where we lost nearly 100 of our own.”
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said mistakes had been made in the Haneef case but overall Mr Keelty had proven an outstanding leader, who would soon complete “a truly outstanding tour of duty”.
Mr Keelty, 54, joined the ACT police on September 2, 1974 – meaning he\’ll have exactly 35 years service when he retires.
He was appointed commissioner in 2001, becoming the first person from within the AFP\’s ranks to fill the role.
Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull says Mr Keelty oversaw the transformation of the AFP into a modern agency focused on counter-terrorism and national security.
“Plots have been uncovered and important arrests have been made,” Mr Turnbull said in a statement.
“On his watch, no terrorist attack has occurred on Australian soil.”
Former Liberal attorney-general Philip Ruddock said he hoped Mr Keelty hadn\’t been pressured into resigning.
“He\’s given outstanding leadership,” Mr Ruddock said.
But others were less forgiving of Mr Keelty\’s role in the Haneef affair.
Dr Haneef was arrested in Brisbane in 2007 over suspected links to terrorism attacks in Britain.
The case against him later collapsed and the AFP was criticised by a government-ordered inquiry which found charges should never have been laid.
Former National Crime Authority chairman Peter Faris QC says Mr Keelty should have resigned straight after the Haneef debacle.
“He was the prime mover in it all and it went terribly, terribly wrong,” Mr Faris told ABC TV.
“He should have accepted responsibility and resigned, but he didn\’t.”
Mr Keelty\’s decision to stand down now was “absolutely” linked to the case, he said.
“He\’s just waited for a reasonable time after the inquiry before resigning.”
Barrister Stephen Keim, who represented Dr Haneef, believes the AFP commissioner\’s resignation should be seized upon by Labor.
“The news that Mr Keelty is stepping down provides an important opportunity for the commonwealth government to correct the built-up mistakes from the past,” Mr Keim told AAP.
The inquiry into the case exposed specific flaws with the AFP, but also revealed “much deeper” problems which showed the organisation was “a shemozzle”, he said.
The high-point of Mr Keelty\’s career came after the first Bali bombings, in which 88 Australians were killed.
He was widely praised for embedding AFP experts with the Indonesian police investigation.
As a result he gained a much-higher public profile.
Australian Federal Police Association chief executive Jim Torr says Mr Keelty\’s greatest achievement was developing contacts with Indonesian police chiefs several years before the 2002 bombings.
But subsequently his media profile detracted from other achievements, he said.
“His presence went way beyond that of a police commissioner and I think he was pushing for that.”