Page 2185 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 22 June 2005

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Earlier this year, ACT Policing was forced to issue a memo to ensure all stations were, and remained, manned across the ACT, again highlighting a lack of manpower for ACT Policing. The memo, signed off by Deputy Chief Police Officer Steve Lancaster, issued a directive saying, “No police station will be closed or left unattended in the ACT.” That was after a spate of reported police station closures, not to mention the fact that Gungahlin police station has been closed after midnight for a long time now.

I was pleased that the issue of police station closures was being addressed. However, I was deeply concerned then, and remain so, that the cause was being ignored. While the directive stated that the closure problem was a management issue, I would now vehemently dispute the claims made that the problem had nothing to do with police numbers. It was definitely all about police numbers.

If a police station is forced to close or if its officers cannot sit at the front desk, it effectively means that there are not enough officers to share the workload. I know of a number of officers who are constantly asked to work double shifts to make up numbers. I have it on very good authority that over a two-week period in May 2005 at both Civic and Woden police stations the rosters and shifts had to be made up with large proportions of officers acting on overtime. That is unacceptable; that is scandalous.

It is no secret that the ACT simply does not have enough police. The 2005 Productivity Commission report backs that up, with figures showing that total police staffing in Australia in 2003-04 was 289 per 100,000 people, but for the ACT the result was 251 per 100,000 people. That result is consistent with the ACT Policing annual report of 2003-04, which revealed a reduction in the number of sworn police officers in the territory from 603 in 2002-03 to 600 in 2003-04. The minister’s claim that the national benchmark is irrelevant and that ACT Policing can operate well below it because of our special conditions is bunkum. The supplementary role that the ACT police service must undertake in supporting the AFP on counterterrorism alone is very demanding.

In response to a recent question without notice, Mr Hargreaves insisted that the ACT government had effectively increased police numbers since 2001. The true definition of “increased police numbers” would be increases in effective strength that bypass attrition rates and ensure additional sworn police numbers on our streets. The sworn police number is the key to how effective ACT Policing is operating. A growing strength would mean the public seeing additional police on the streets, on the beat, in a community policing role. One could not argue with that definition. In fact, what has happened, despite the denials, the misleading of the community and the misrepresentation in this place of the facts, is that there has been a decline in the effective strength. I will say more about that shortly.

The minister stated in response to the question without notice that “the attrition rate is covered by such things as lateral recruitment and recovery”. That would be a logical management strategy if it were true. The minister has crowed that police numbers will increase to 849 full-time equivalents in 2008 under the latest budget initiatives and that, by 1 July 2005, the government will have increased ACT Policing by a total of 48 FTEs since 2001. That was his claim in answer to the question without notice.

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