Working together to protect our future

Valuing the Thin Blue Line

As we look out here today at the thin blue line before us, to a group of dedicated and brave people who give their time to not only keep the community safe, but look out for their mates, we say thank you for doing a very difficult job, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The demands on policing across the Territory are ever increasing, and more recently than ever, our members are being asked to meet these demands with the do more with less messaging. I personally find this term a cop out, because doing more with less actually comes at a cost, and it is coming at a cost of the health and wellbeing of our members.

Today, I will address some of these key points, as well as touch on several key outcomes of our recent full member survey, including how our Association is looking to positively impact our members via increased services.

But first, lets look at what is being asked of our thin blue line. Minister, your government have seemingly committed our officers to cleaning up much of the burden of our communitys problems, and it is quite evident from feedback in our survey we are now& at breaking point. Following our survey results, our Association more than anyone knows the stress our officers are under, and it is time to start Valuing the Thin Blue Line.

Government policy will always play a part in allocation of police resourcing; however, it must be done in a planned & long term sustainable way, including full and proper consultation. It should not be done with what at times appears day to day interference and overnight knee jerk policy on the run which is crippling your police force, as expectation to satisfy the community outpaces available resources.

Announcing Police Auxiliaries to undertake Point of Sale Intervention duties without as much as a phone call to this Association upset many of your officers. This is not what your government promised leading into the 2016 election, you promised to rebuild trust through consultation.

Trust is built in many ways, and at the heart of it is communicating key changes and proposals to relevant stakeholders. I am not normally a fan of too many quotes Ive got to say, but this jumped out at me, from Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

Our Association was under no such illusion, and further examples since then have done nothing to change this view. Minister, the burden our members are being placed under through decisions such as ongoing bottle shop duties, Royal Commission recommendations and now School Based Policing, has pushed our members beyond what is achievable. The Commissioner has finite resourcing at his disposal, and your expectations are exceeding the deployable capability.

Your assurance to maximise recruiting was welcome, but how do you do this, and return to budget, a budget which was, among other reasons, exceeded last year on the back of unfunded government policy, such as Point of Sale duties.

You must surely take some of the blame for overtime expenditure, given community expectation quite clearly came at a cost to the police budget. With most Point of Sale duties being done on overtime, at the direction at times of full

lock downs, this costs money, money your government did not provide for in the budget. Remember it was the goodwill of our members who worked considerable Point of Sale shifts on their days off, which enabled you to ease community oncerns.Minister I know you are aware of this, our members genuinely care, they volunteer to put themselves in harms way every day to protect you and our community. Other departments, however, must contribute financially, and with resourcing, outside of normal business hours.

To give you an indication of the care our members feel, one of our own Executive members recently replied emailed me in response to a night of relentless violence and youth crime in Alice Springs, where he simply said it makes me sad to know we have such clear knowledge of what is going to happen, but lack the physical bodies to prevent it.

This is a common theme with our members.

Commissioner, I want to touch on some positive outcomes that have been achieved in recent years by working together with you. We have seen the reintroduction of the Chaplaincy service in both Darwin and Alice Springs. We have a Peer Support Program up and running with many people trained across the Tri Service, we have three sworn welfare officers across the agency, and we have seen initiatives such as presentations by Dr Kevin Gilmartin, the introduction of the mobile App, Equipt, and the delivery of Mental Health First Aid to many of our members. Bear in mind delegates, none of this was in place just three years ago and much of this resulted on the back of strong advocacy of this Association and a commitment from the Commissioner to improve welfare services for our members.

Our recent full member survey,only finalised last month, received over 760 responses, the most of any of the 4 x full member surveys conducted since 2009.

Pleasingly this year, over two thirds indicated they had received information or training regarding mental health. This form of commitment is required to break down barriers and we congratulate the department on this.

Sadly, however, despite all this positive work, we are seeing more of our members suffering burn out, mental fatigue and workplace stress. So why is this the case? In part, ongoing change and instability by the Senior Police Executive have a direct correlation to this problem, and I say this with absolute confidence based on feedback in our survey. I go back to a presentation by Dr Amanda Allisey at our 2016 conference, where she said,

In many instances, organisational stress, such as paperwork, new and everchanging processes and rules were found to be more stressful than that of the jobs operational duties.

More recently, obvious budget saving measures are already impacting on the mental wellbeing of our members. Commissioner I cannot, fail to express my absolute disappointment with several recent decisions you must take responsibility for. Just a few short weeks ago, a direction was given to cancel a promotional examination for Senior Constables. This was made just days out from the due date.

While acknowledging our workload for the Police College is extremely high, it was clear this decision was made purely in an effort to save money, and not to appease the College workload. Plain and simple. Not a thought for the members taking that exam, nor the study they committed to, and how this made them feel, completely undervalued. One officer I spoke with said, it certainly did not make me feel like a valued employee.

Not really to my surprise, this decision, while reversed, reverberated through the entire membership.

I congratulate this government on taking positive steps in attempting to tackle alcohol related harm in our community. It must also be said much of this change has come with bipartisan support, a positive sign for the future in tackling this ssue head on.

The Riley Review and subsequent minor amendments to the Liquor Act are a positive step in what I hope to be generational change for all Territorians. The impact on policing as a result of alcohol related harm is well known, but the heavy lifting has to be shared. This is not just a police issue. Disappointingly, the ineffectiveness of Licencing to monitor compliance is glaring, and those responsible should be held to account, because our members are left to clean up their mess every day, often resulting assaults occurring on the thin blue line.

Recent survey results demonstrated 25 percent of our members reported being assaulted between 1-3 times per year. Worryingly though, were the number of times an assault was not reported, with those figures placing our assaults on police at in excess of one per day.

This worrying trend has already been discussed with the Attorney General, who has demonstrated a willingness to discuss improved provisions in the Sentencing Act for anyone who assaults police, and we will continue to advocate for higher penalties in this area in recognition of the tough job our frontline workers do.

Commissioner, it is appalling, that we still see an acceptance to allow our officers to be left alone on the frontline. A police officer on the frontline should Never Work Alone, and despite a recognised significant risk to their safety, you still allow this to occur. Our lives matter, our wellbeing matters, and our families want us home at the end of each and every shift. We should Never Work Alone, and it is still happening.

Today we seek a commitment to urgently commence work with our Association on a fully funded and sustainable model of policing which negates our frontline being forced to work alone.

Finally, I look internally within our organisation, which in 2019 will proudly celebrate its 80th year protecting and improving working conditions for police in the NT.