The NSW Police continue to exert power over the government and opposition as both parties fight to be seen the as the “toughest on crime” with an election imminent. Both sides of politics are now beholden to its police force, political opponents say, giving officers more power but less responsibility.
“What we see now is a level of increased power and reduced accountability of police that we’ve never seen before,” said Cameron Murphy, president of NSW Council for Civil Liberties. “It seems the police come along to the government and no matter how bizarre, ineffective, or expensive their proposals are, or how intrusive they are to peoples’ personal privacy, they are all granted.”
The Police Association’s 2011 pre-election submission outlines over 40 recommendations for the government to consider — ranging from increased salaries, to improved working conditions for officers. And as history demonstrates, more than just a few police recommendations are likely to be taken on board.
In budget estimates last year, Police Minister Michael Daley — who along with his shadow Michael Gallacher did not respond to requests for comment by Crikey — said: “In the last 15 years of this government there is not a piece of legislation, or power, or piece of equipment … that the police have asked for and have not received from this government.”
Greens MP David Shoebridge labels the government’s relationship with the police as an endless desire to keep the police “onside”, saying “what the police want, they get, no strings attached and no questions asked”.
“The Labor government and the Coalition have adopted a craven attitude to the NSW Police in an attempt to steal from each other the title of ‘toughest on crime’ and ‘most strident on law and order’ — it has been unedifying to watch,” he told Crikey.
But president of the NSW Police Association Scott Weber denies the allegations. Police in NSW, he says, have “fought long and hard for everything they have achieved”.
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“To suggest that police have received everything they have asked for in the last 15 years is in the nature of political hyperbole rather than a statement of fact,” he told Crikey. “Not everything police in NSW have asked for over the last 15 years have been provided for by the state government.”
Police still have an extensive wish-list, Weber says: from an overhaul of the Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders system, replacing bullet-resistant vests, a boost to superannuation above 9% and a single oversight body.
Shoebridge questions why the police are favoured over other state departments: “What other portfolio in the cash-strapped NSW state government could be guaranteed funding for every request made by a NSW State Authority or Department? The answer is none.”
Murphy says it’s a ploy to be seen as doing as much on crime as possible. “A very cheap way of doing that is to grant police extra powers,” he said. New legislation and approval for new resources is often “thoughtlessly” rushed through parliament, according to Murphy, often with equipment not being used.
An exchange between Shoebridge and NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione in budget estimates last year revealed a police water cannon — purchased over two years ago for about $1 million — had never been used. Shoebridge branded it a waste of taxpayers’ money and “a white elephant, soaking up police resources”. But Scipione defended the purchase, saying it’s “always good to have one”.
But Weber says it is the state government’s responsibility to provide the police with appropriate resources to do their job properly.