While not one to brag, he had a truckload of self-belief and backed himself no matter what the circumstances. This was the bloke with no trade experience who constructed the family home in Mount Waverley after reading a book called How to Build a House. Sixty years later the book has long gone but the house is still there.
In an organisation that rewarded mediocrity, where promotion was based on seniority rather than merit, Mick was identified early as one to watch, not always for the right reasons.
In the early days, more experienced cops saw that Mick wouldn’t play the game – simply because be was too naive to know the game was fixed. As a young uniformed policeman who loved working on the streets, he couldn’t work out why he was restricted to station duty at Richmond on Saturdays.
What was also frustrating was that, when let off the leash, he found plenty of SP bookmakers in pubs and lanes who were easy to charge. Here was the problem: Like most in the state they were paying the police for protection and didn’t expect some squeaky-keen cop to upset the system.
He only understood when a local detective told him: ‘‘Do you know you are being used?’’ It finally dawned on him he was let out not to make a mark against the illegal industry but to drive up the protection price.
It was a tactic that backfired spectacularly. When he returned to the station as a senior constable following a stint at homicide, he began to organise his own raids using a few trusted colleagues. ‘‘I thought: ‘It’s my game plan now’.’’
The chief commissioner of the day was an outsider who wasn’t part of the protection system. Major-General Selwyn Porter decided he would set up a taskforce with junior men who hadn’t been corrupted.
Local inspector Colin McPherson recommended Miller – a view supported by The Herald’s chief reporter Alan Dower, who knew Porter from their military days. As a senior constable Miller was appointed head of the Special Duties Gaming Squad and given freedom to select his own staff.
Miller took his Richmond team and a squadmate who had run a baccarat school in the army to Russell Street, but McPherson insisted on one outsider – a senior constable from Wangaratta who also knocked over SPs.
His name was Fred Silvester – my father – and they became lifelong friends. Mick spoke at his funeral at the Police Academy 17 years ago. Some time ago he asked me to do the same at his. He was always a meticulous planner.
Dubbed ‘‘The Incorruptibles’’, they carried out daring raids on fortified gambling dens and phone rooms leading to the Royal Commission into Off-Course Betting that found the SP network was worth $500 million, employed 100,000 people and had corrupted 60 per cent of general duties police.
As a direct result of Miller’s team’s work, the Royal Commission recommended the establishment of the TAB to destroy the illegal industry’s monopoly.
Wherever he worked Mick was considered a star and in 1967 he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel through Europe, Asia and the US looking at the latest law enforcement techniques. This was a time when police didn’t even look interstate, let alone overseas, for better ways, preferring the known to the new, but this was never the Miller way. An open mind, a thirst for knowledge and a desire to innovate were his trademarks.
In 1971 he was appointed Assistant Commissioner (Operations) and had to grapple with violence at anti-Vietnam war and anti-apartheid protests. The conventional wisdom was to use the most experienced uniformed police on the front line, but Miller saw the conflict was inflamed as many of the police were ex-military and pro-conscription. He removed them and sent in his youngest police, cops who weren’t personally offended by the demonstrators. The violence was reduced.
Not that Mick would not use force when required. Asked why he authorised the use of horses at a demonstration he replied that he would have used elephants if they were available ‘‘and called it Operation Hannibal’’.
He worked closely with education minister Lindsay Thompson when kidnapper Edwin John Eastwood abducted children and teachers from Faraday (1972) and Wooreen (1977). The children were rescued unharmed.
Asked what action would be taken with regard to the policeman who shot Eastwood in the leg during his arrest over Wooreen, he said he would ‘‘give him target practice’’.
He was appointed Chief Commissioner in 1977 and although he was the outstanding candidate he was initially the long shot, as the retiring chief, Reg Jackson, lobbied heavily for his reliable but unremarkable deputy.
Then premier Sir Rupert Hamer was frustrated with a cycle of scandal involving police and wanted a new broom. Thompson suggested Miller, who had impressed him during the kidnap investigations.
For 10 years Mick was chief. He was always there first, believing a 6am start was a sleep-in, and was usually the last of his command team to leave. Yet every week he found time to slip away from work and visit every patient at the police hospital. Sometimes it is the little things that matter.
He introduced taskforce policing, the air wing, pushed for a national body to investigate organised crime (a move many of his wooden-headed, and in some cases corrupt, interstate peers tried to sabotage) and was the first senior policeman to advocate external anti-corruption bodies. He rotated police in corruption-prone areas – a practice abandoned by those who refused to learn the lessons of history.
One of his first initiatives was to place women on the general seniority list and promote equal career opportunities. Under him, Victoria had the greatest percentage of women of any force nationwide – an innovation not forgotten by those who lived through it. Former deputy commissioner Lucinda Nolan had two framed photos in her office. One was of the Hawthorn team (she is now a club director) and the other of Mick Miller.
Mick fiercely protected the independence of the Office of Constable from political interference. When a heavy-handed police minister mentioned that his lead-footed driver had been booked for speeding, Miller provided the politician with the officer’s details and suggested he ring him personally to congratulate him on his outstanding work. That was the last time the minister tried to pull a string, realising it would end up around his own neck.
He established the elite Special Operations Group – a decision he would later admit was made on the spot. Appointed a few months earlier, he was called to a meeting with then police minister Pat Dickie and asked if we were prepared for a terror attack. Mick said he was planning a specialist squad of 15. Suitably impressed, the minister promised the appropriate funding.
Back in his office he told Chief Inspector Harry “Chippy” Norton – a former British Royal Marine commando – that he was in charge of a Counter-Terrorism Squad that actually didn’t exist.
That weekend, while mowing the lawns, Mick decided counter-terror was a frightening name and changed it to the Special Operations Group. Later Norton, a religious man, complained they had been dubbed the ‘‘Sons of God’’.
Mick said the name was perfect and told Chippy to open his Bible to Matthew 5:9 – ‘‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.’’ It remains their motto today.
Retiring in 1987, he spent the next 30 years working for the community through Meals on Wheels, the Reclink Football League for socially dysfunctional unemployed, the Football Integration Development Association for intellectually disabled and Bereavement Assistance, a group dedicated to providing dignified funerals for those who would otherwise end up in a pauper’s grave.
Sinclair Imrie Miller was given the nickname Mick after champion featherweight boxer Mickey Miller. But in all respects he was a true heavyweight. He will never be forgotten.
John Silvester is a Walkley-award winning crime writer and columnist. A co-author of the best-selling books that formed the basis of the hit Australian TV series Underbelly, Silvester is also a regular guest on 3AW with his “Sly of the Underworld” segment.