18 August 2023
Good morning all and welcome to the Northern Territory Police Association Annual Conference for 2023
I would like to welcome and acknowledge: Minister for Police, the Honourable Kate Worden MLA, Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Police Lia Finocchiaro MLA, Acting Police Commissioner Mr Michael Murphy APM, Police Federation of Australia Chief Executive Officer Mr Scott Weber APM. I would also like to acknowledge our interstate and overseas Delegates from across Australia and New Zealand who are also with us today.
Most importantly as always, I welcome our NTPA delegates, Executive Members and Staff at the NTPA who remain the heart and soul of our Association in what is our 84th year standing side by side with our members of the Northern Territory Police Force.
It would be a complete understatement when I say our members have faced what can only be described as some of the most turbulent and challenging years in the history of policing in the NT, and the effects of that are of course still being felt today.
I am not sure when we would have ever faced what we have over the past few years, and we take a lot of pride, and learnings from what we have been asked to do in that time. We have been challenged by COVID, crime, and Commissioners. But the thing that has always remained consistent, is the dedication and sacrifice of our members and the NTPA’s commitment to supporting our membership.
I acknowledge the hard work and commitment of the outgoing President Mr Paul McCue and the whole of the NTPA Executive for their leadership and stewardship of the NTPA over the previous eight years with Paul as President. I also acknowledge the Presidents, Executive members, and Life Members of the NTPA who have come before us, whilst also noting the hard work and commitment also by the NTPA Office Staff for their tireless support of our Association.
I look forward to growing the capabilities and capacity of the NTPA to better protect our members well into the future with support from all our members, Executive and full-time staff.
We remain strong at nearly 100 percent membership of all sworn members of the Police force, something we are very proud to have maintained as we continue to Respect, Protect and Prioritise the members in which we serve.
I’d now like to take you all through a few critical areas of focus for the NTPA over the past 12 months, and into the future.
Firstly, I want to address fundamental areas of frustration for our members, which is the NT Government’s ongoing policy failures that do little to support our frontline.
In November last year, the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility legislation was passed, raising the MACR from 10 to 12 years old. Our position has remained consistent: this won’t stop crimes being committed by youths, it simply means they won’t be held accountable.
When the legislation was introduced, the Attorney-General promised additional programs to deal with at risk youths, and promised they would be ‘measured as successful’ before the legislation came into effect.
We have been provided with zero evidence that this has actually happened. Perhaps the Police Minister can outline the extra programs, how long they have been running, and where we can find the so-called ‘success rates’ that government has relied on to enact this legislation.
Add to that, the rushed and bungled rollout of the legislation and our training package for our members – to be frank, it was an absolute mess. This is not a criticism of our hard-working members at the training College – but is levelled at the senior police executive that didn’t ensure our members were ready, or supported.
We were also promised a formal written assurance from the Attorney-General that members will not be prosecuted, and face up to 6 months imprisonment, for inadvertently disclosing information of a criminal record or past charges for children under 12. I wrote to the Attorney-General last week requesting that written assurance be forthcoming this week. I’m still waiting.
What can only be described as a complete missed opportunity is the Bail and Weapons Review. While the NTPA welcomes the inclusion of offences committed with a machetes and axes into the presumption against bail, which is something your Association lobbied Government for, it simply doesn’t go far enough.
As part of our submission to the Chief Minister, we put forward that:
- The presumption against bail should be extended to include any object used as a weapon to cause fear or harm;
- That there has been a significant increase in the concealing and carrying of edged weapons along with their use in offending. Items such as axes, machetes, and spears are readily available and commonly used – including against our members; and
- That the NTPA is concerned with the increased use of vehicles being driven in a manner which weaponizes the vehicle, and that this offending should be included in the new presumption against bail. The NTPA also wants to see new legislation which makes actions such as posting videos of offending on social media, an aggravation.
Last November there were blatant, violent attacks against our members when offenders deliberately drove stolen cars at police in Alice Springs, and in Katherine. It’s an absolute miracle none of our officers, or a member of the public, were seriously injured or killed. Yet, the Government hasn’t done ANYTHING to ensure our members are safe from this kind or offending, nor that offenders who assault police face tough punishment.
The lack of support for our members is also highlighted by the Acting Children’s Commissioner’s calls for the legislative ban on spit guards and emergency restraint chairs in police Watch Houses for youth offenders. Again, we maintain the position that these tools are crucial protective options for our members against offenders who are spitting or attempting to spit, or self-harming. It’s simple: if you don’t want a spit guard applied, don’t spit at or towards our officers, or bite.
A procedural ban on the use of spit guards on youth offenders is sufficient, however, the NTPA maintains the position that these protective options should be available to police for both youth and adult offenders. The onus should be on offenders not to initiate what is a disgusting and potentially dangerous assault.
Our members have told us the banning of spit guards is nothing more than political pandering to a portion of the community that places a higher value on the rights of criminals over the protection of our hard-working and committed police officers.
Minister, when will you and your Government start listening? When on earth will you start caring??! When will you actually protect the protectors, our brave men and women in blue, and stop protecting the criminals? You should be ashamed.
One of the other critical areas the Government has let our members down, is the lifting of alcohol restrictions in Alice Springs, despite repeated warnings from our Association. It was a reckless decision and ignored the voices of those organisation who were impacted the most. It led to a massive spike in the level of alcohol-related harm, violence and crime, and overwhelmed our already razor thin workforce.
We welcome the return of those restrictions and the total ban of alcohol on Mondays and Tuesday, but the feedback from our members is that instead of having a ‘breather’ on those alcohol-free days, they’re simply catching up on the crime from the rest of the week.
We want to see the 75 Police Auxiliary Liquor Inspector positions – a majority of which are located in Alice Springs, to be transitioned to Constable positions to bolster our frontline response capability and deal with the record levels of crime – particularly domestic violence – in our community.
Our message to the NT Government is: Implement Liquor Licensing Inspectors to undertake duties on takeaway liquor outlets, which was the recommendation of the Riley Review, and stop wasting our frontline on bottle shop security.
RESOURCE ALLOCATION REVIEW
The Association’s attention is squarely focused on the upcoming Resource Allocation Review. We have been telling the Government for years now, that the thin blue line is stretched beyond breaking point, with insufficient resources and staff, and an attrition rate that has reached record highs.
While we are pleased the Government has agreed to commence a Resource Review earlier than first scheduled, which follows consistent lobbing by your Association, this review should have been done years ago.
This should come as no surprise to anyone in this room – our police force is in crisis:
- Our agency is facing the largest call for service we’ve ever faced;
- There are at least 35,000 calls to the Joint Emergency Servuces Call Centre every month. That's more than doubled in the past decade. Yet our resourcing level has barely changed;
- Last Monday night, we had 1,670 calls to JESCC, which is the highest number ever. Of that, 900 plus were triple-0 calls and we could only answer just over 50 percent of them in time.
- Ignorant Labor Ministers encouraging the public to call police when they spot youths roaming the streets, doesn’t help our overwhelmed call centre. We can’t be everything for everyone, and its time other agencies started picking up the slack.
- Our police force needs an additional 200 members, which could fill 30 vans right across the Territory, every single day, just to cope with our core business. There are 29 frontline vacancies in the greater Darwin region alone.
Troubles within recruitment and retention are seeing areas of the NT Police Force unable to be managed or staffed sufficiently. That not only places our members at risk, but also the safety of the public, each and every day. This is not the fault of our hard-working members but the failure of the Northern Territory Government to adequately resource our Police Force, and the Executive of the Police Force for failing to fight for our members.
It's clear our members feel unsupported and not listened to which has been highlighted time and time again in surveys conducted not only by the NTPA but those also conducted on behalf of the Government.
It was encouraging to hear from the Senior Police Executive in our Q&A panel session yesterday acknowledge that our biggest issue is maintaining the frontline response. That is the harsh reality of why the public don’t see our members out on the beat regularly, why we can only manage ONE van on the road some nights while attempting to respond to up to 60 domestic violence incidents, and why some members of the public wait DAYS for a police response.
Because we simply don’t have enough police to deal with the escalating levels of crime, harm, and violence in our community. That then means our general duties members, who are committed to the frontline response for the agency, are regularly on the receiving end of the frustrations of Territorians who aren’t getting the police service they deserve.
The results of this review will be critical in developing fundamental support to our members, establishing minimum safe staffing numbers and a much need fatigue management policy, while addressing the greater need for frontline policing services right across the Northern Territory as crime continues to rise to unprecedented levels.
I want to turn now to a number of ongoing issues where the NTPA continues to face an uphill battle.
Policing in the Territory is tough enough in the major centres, but when you are stationed 500 kilometres from the nearest back up, working 34 days in a row and 60 hours of overtime in a fortnight just to keep up with the day-to-day demand or working out of dilapidated shipping containers left over from the Federal Intervention, it gets a whole lot tougher.
We support the Acting Commissioner’s aim to increase numbers at remote stations. To assist, our Field Officers continue to work hard with the agency, to identify suitable housing, where possible, in many locations to enable establishments to be increased on a permanent basis.
The NTPA has taken our housing issues to Tribunal with success which is directly related to the standards of remote housing being offered and what our members have endured, due to very little suitable police housing existing in remote localities. Importantly, however, we will not compromise on the standard of housing required to attract and retain our members in remote locations.
A significant lack of Northern Territory Government investment in remote infrastructure for many years places pressure on police management to consider substandard housing in certain locations. As a recent example: a member who successfully applied to transfer to Wurrumiyanga can’t take up the role because there is no appropriate housing.
We will remain steadfast in protecting housing standards for our members and ensuring that members are not forced into accepting sub-standard properties in these remote locations as “Members Choice”. We will always challenge that these should be not considered if they do not meet the required Government Employee Housing (GEH) standards.
Longer term, the only way additional police can work permanently in remote communities, is through investment in infrastructure by the Northern Territory Government, rather than relying almost solely on Federal funding.
Since last year’s conference, we have begun to see the implementation of recommendations from the independent review into the Support and Wellbeing section of Police, Fire & Emergency Services. Your Association lobbied hard for this to happen, it was our request leading into the 2020 NT General election which resulted in government agreeing to undertake the review, and we are pleased to now be seeing action from those recommendations.
Importantly, like all reviews, they are only as good as the results, and in this case particularly, actions to date have not yet matched the calls from our members for increased support.
They still see this as a critical area that needs more attention to ensure the health and well-being of our members both now and into the future. This will ensure our members can provide the best possible service to the community of the Northern Territory.
We appreciate gaps in services can be created due to recruitment challenges, however with a return of HR under the PFES banner we would have hoped a renewed focus was placed on permanent recruitment, retention of face to face professional help for our members, 24/7 which sadly has not yet happened.
Previous commitments by the Northern Territory Government to establish a working group to review sentencing options for cowardly offenders who assault frontline workers – was a positive step. Disappointingly though, calls from our members for tougher sentencing options appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
The working group has met once, since its inception in September 2021, and there is still no commitment for legislative change to see offenders who attack and assault our frontline officers being held to account for their actions, or given a punishment that is in line with the expectations of our members, and the community.
Little has progressed in this important area, despite continued acts of violence against our members. Imagine a workplace where, every single day, there is a risk you – or your colleague will be assaulted. That is life on the frontline, yesterday, today and every day, that is what our police are confronted with each shift.
Kicked, punched, spat at, knocked unconscious, or stabbed with sharp edged weapons, resulting in at times, lifelong injuries you that never recover from: both physically and mentally. Time for change is well overdue, we are not the governments and communities punching bags. The community expects better. Our members deserve better.
For too long, we have been waiting for a real change in approaches to discipline, less punitive, more educational. And still it hasn’t happened and the blurred lines between performance management and discipline remains. Sadly, the harm the discipline process causes members often outweighs the alleged breach, or in other words, the process is the punishment.
Take the unacceptable delays in appeal decisions. How does a member wait not months but years for a decision on an Appeal? Something is broken. Where is the concern for those members health and well-being? The system is failing those it is designed to help and protect, with so many performance and educational matters being labelled serious breaches of discipline.
It must be supported from the top and we cannot change the disciplinary action taken already but we sure can change the future and will continue to advocate for changes within the performance management versus disciplinary or formal intervention space.
Supervisors and Senior managers need to have the training, the tools and the confidence to have those ‘hard conversations’ around employee management. Instead, we’re seeing time and time again disciplinary action taken against members – for trivial issues that could have been sorted out with a closed-door conversation. We are working with the department to improve the system – but, again, it’s an uphill battle.
Before I invite the Police Minister the Honourable Kate Worden MLA to formally open our Conference, I just want to thank a few important people vital to the support of our members. To all our full-time staff, t hank you for your dedication to ensuring the interests of our members are maintained.
I would simply not be able to do what we do without the tenacity, sacrifice and dedication you show as evidenced in the work required to make conference week happen, let alone the not so normal volume of work that our day-to-day operations take on. To you all Tessa, Amanda, Kyrrie, Zoey and our Field Officers Ivana and Peter. To you all I say from the bottom of my heart a huge thank you and keep up the good work.
To our Executive who tirelessly volunteer their time to ensure our members are supported and protected in the workplace. But not just the current Executive but those who have gone before us to ensure that the NTPA is in the strong position it is in today... to you all I say a huge thank you.
Thank you also to our Regional Delegates. You continue to do your bit to look out for your mates, colleagues, and the members of our blue family by remaining the first point of contact for the NTPA in the workplace.
Last and definitely not least, thank you to our members of the Northern Territory Police Force who continue to perform above expectations day in day out in the face of adversity, you are the lifeblood of the NTPA and the protectors of the Northern Territory. Your sacrifice and commitment does not go unnoticed.
Thank you to our corporate partners: Police Credit Union, Police Health, Fleet Network, Australian Financial Advisors, Basso Newman Accountants. A big welcome also to our newest corporate partner Smith Real Estate, and not forgetting our legal partners Tindal Gask Bentley, Ray Murphy & Associates and Mr Rob Perry.
Thank you and I now welcome the Police Minister the Honourable Kate Worden MLA to formally open the 2023 NTPA Annual Conference.
Please direct all media enquiries to NTPA Communications Officer, Kyrrie Blenkinsop +61 (0) 499 017 654 or email@example.com
The Northern Territory Police Association (NTPA) is the industrial voice of all members of the Northern Territory Police Force. Read more via www.ntpa.com.au or join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NTPoliceAssociation