HON MARTIN ALDRIDGE (Agricultural) [10.32 am] — without notice: I move —
That this house —
(a) condemns assaults on police officers and other public officers in the strongest terms;
(b) expresses deep concern at the increasing number of assaults on police officers in Western Australia;
(c) calls on the state government to immediately respond to this growing issue, including ensuring that our police officers can access a compensation scheme for work-related physical or mental injury; and
(d) calls on the Premier to immediately resolve the pay dispute with police officers to restore confidence among officers and recognise the challenges of their role.
Comments and speeches from various members
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [11.37 am]: I want to speak to this motion. Members know that worker safety and protection are issues that I care very deeply about. Police work is inherently dangerous and it can have, and does have for many people, a significant impact on both physical and mental health. Therefore, obviously, I would support any measures that serve to enhance the health and wellbeing of officers, and I think everyone in this place would. I understand that even in the last financial year, we had almost 1 000 reports of assaults on police officers, so we are talking about a very significant number. As has already been mentioned, physical assaults are not the only impacts of the job. I have referred to it before, but it is a pretty good report—that is, the Community Development and Justice Standing Committee’s report “How did they manage? An Investigation of the Measures WA Police has in place to Evaluate Management of Personnel”. It was a significant report because it found that more police officers are medically retired because of psychological illness, rather than physical ailments or injuries, and PTSD, which has already been spoken about, is the most common psychological illness.
We have already debated in this place the first tranche of reform that has been proposed by the government around medically retired police officers, which was passed unanimously in this place. We talked about the problems with the previous process in that it was profoundly unfair that police officers who had experienced a workplace injury were lumped in with police officers who were dishonest, criminal, corrupt or incompetent. But, as I say, it was agreed by the house, as a whole, that that needed to be reformed and I am pleased that has occurred. As members have already said, and as was said during the passage of that piece of legislation, although it is good that those gaps have been addressed, we need an adequate compensation scheme for police officers who can no longer work on the front line. The current situation is grossly unfair; the compensation that is currently available is inadequate and inconsistent, and Western Australia lags behind other states. This issue has dragged on for too long and needs to be addressed. We have had commitments that it will be addressed, and I commend the Western Australian Police Union for its advocacy. No-one denies that police officers do a difficult and challenging job, and deserve appropriate compensation and support.
During the course of this debate, members have talked about various measures that have been or need to be employed in order to ensure a higher degree of safety for our frontline police officers. Some members have spoken about legal reforms. I am deadset opposed to mandatory sentencing for assaults on public officers. I think mandatory sentencing is terrible and can capture people whose circumstances demand that discretion be applied— most notably, those who are mentally impaired at the time of committing an offence.
Other issues have been raised as well, but one thing I wanted to put out there is a terrific initiative that I think needs to be remembered and expanded—that is, the police co-response mental health initiative, which was begun as a trial by the previous government. It was found to be enormously successful, so this government has chosen to begin its expansion. It needs to be expanded statewide. Police are very often the first people who are called when someone is experiencing a psychotic episode or may be drug affected. The situation is often very unclear. Those people can be violent, but are not culpable for their behaviour. This program enables mental health professionals to attend scenes in parts of the metropolitan area with police officers to try to de-escalate situations. It is a fantastic initiative and has been highly successful. Police officers are less likely to be assaulted because people are getting mental health support immediately and the officers are also trained in de-escalation techniques. The program has resulted in better outcomes for people with mental illness themselves. We need to look at that sort of initiative and the sorts of things that can lead to assaults against police officers.
There are always going to be some awful people who just want to hit cops. That needs to be addressed and those people need to be held to account. But we also have to remember that the nature of the job we expect from our frontline police officers is that they have to deal with very vulnerable people. Therefore, we need to look at appropriate ways to assist police officers to best do their job, because they are trying to keep the community safe, which includes the vulnerable people themselves. I could talk about things such as body armour and cameras, but they have been canvassed by other members. I wanted to draw members’ attention to other initiatives that we need to expand.
Comments and speeches from various members
Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.