The following is the text of the address given by Tony King, President of the Police Association of NSW, to Delegates at the Association's 2020.1 Biennial Conference held in Wollongong between 22-25 March 2021. .
It is my honour today, as your President, to lead the official opening of this, the reconvened 2020 Conference of the Police Association of New South Wales.
Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon APM who is representing the Commissioner of Police, Michael Fuller APM, joins me on the stage along with Deputy Commissioner Jeff Loy.
I welcome all of NSWPF senior officers, external guests and VIPs. I offer a special welcome to our Life members for joining our Delegates and staff today. Without you paving the way, we would not be the strong and respected association we are today.
Our Police Association Conferences have a proud history of being an occasion for straight talking, and for bringing widely and deeply felt issues to the fore.
Before I speak to those issues I want to highlight to the extraordinary times we have been living and working in.
In the words of the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, the police officers of New South Wales have managed the rolling crises between 2018 and this year, with “confidence and consistency”.
At the special Attestation event held at the SCG in December the Premier plainly stated that New South Wales would not have made it through “the last 12 to 18 months if it was not for every single man and woman of the NSW Police Force”.
And I’ll add the message of the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, at that same event, that those representatives of the blue uniform gathered here today should hold your heads up, because you are the: “Gold-standard of police forces, not just here in Australia, but all around the world”.
This is deserved praise from the leader of our State, and the leader of our country.
In the early wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2020 I wrote a widely published opinion piece that was a reminder to the wider public that the serving police officers of this state are the Universal Disaster Responders. The headline was, that ‘There is always a thin blue line at the frontline’.
You the Police Officers of NSW are that line for everything that affects the safety of our communities.
While the community was isolating at home, police were on the street, as always, maintaining law and order.
While the community were being advised to stay away from high-risk situations and potential exposures, police were walking into them.
As the organisation representing you, the Police Association is well aware of how frequently the contribution of that work is subject to being under-estimated... and under-recognised.
I believe the actions of the NSW Police Force by securing the gateway to Australia in the way we did... has in fact saved the rest of the country.
Despite this there is no other profession that is so constantly in the full glare of a critical public eye.
The stories that appear in our papers and on our screens however, only ever scratch the surface of what you in the blue uniform are achieving, each and every day, to make a difference in New South Wales. Too often the positive relationship building you do in your communities is outweighed by easier, more sensational headlines and clickbait.
Often that means that the balanced story of the impacts of the human side of policing are under-reported. Instead for the majority of media, the focus is to keep crime reporting on the front page for the way that it keeps their wheels turning.
When police recruits are about to leave the Academy at Goulburn to start their chosen careers, our Organisers tell them about some of the home truths of what they are walking into.
We at the Police Association understand the highs and lows they will encounter and the toll involved - not just for them... but also their families and loved ones.
We tell them that policing is one of the most over-scrutinised professions going. You will be called a hero one minute, and be abused the next by the haters.
It will be taken for granted that in their careers they will be overstretched and overburdened - UNLIKE ANY OTHER JOB. Let me repeat that, UNLIKE ANY OTHER JOB.
If you are in the Defence Force you prepare for battles that may never come... whereas in the Police Force you’re facing real-life battles every day... as well as every known form of human tragedy.
The public don’t call us to tell us they’re having a nice day.
Every officer knows they will be tested in ways that are unique to policing.
Cops ARE stoic. It comes with the job - just take the 30% increase in workload during Covid as an example. Let me repeat, a 30% increase in workload.
Thankfully on many of the issues to do with the essential work the Police Officers of NSW do there is bipartisan political agreement.
And as recent surveys show, police have a 80% (eighty percent) approval rating from the public.
But there is a big problem that we are not talking about.
It affects, I believe, both a lack of respect for police AND under-values your police work.
Put simply the problem is that lumping POLICE under the generic or ordinary term of ‘public servant’ doesn’t really wash.
It doesn’t add up. In fact it is just down right insulting to the work police do, and our "Oath of Office".
Police work... as I said earlier, is UNLIKE ANY OTHER JOB.
How many of the average public servants we are lumped in with, are put into the life and death situations that Police are?
My confident guess is NONE.
Do any other public servants carry a greater responsibility than keeping the peace and protecting lives that are under direct threat?
That is a BIG NO.
Yet apart from being thrown under the bus on other issues, we are being put on the same bus as other professions that bear no resemblance to ours, not even near to it. AND we are given a back seat on that bus.
In this light the only word I can think of to describe the detrimental way our current industrial Award and pay case has been treated is utter CONTEMPT.
For every officer in this room there are another 150 out on the job who are all being told they are worth Zero and that their future financial security will be further short-changed under a sinking wage cap.
I was present to hear the discussions on the final day of our grossly delayed and yet-to-be-decided Industrial Relations Commission hearing on pay.
The Government’s doom and gloom economic arguments were not well received. Indeed compared to their doom and gloom, we currently have the OECD predicting the Australian economy will achieve its fastest rate of growth in a decade.
Or as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in the Federal Parliament last week, the recovery is on.
And the Reserve Bank has made it known it won’t be a good recovery if pay is squashed.
That’s a simple and widely accepted fact.
The evidence is clear that the economic return on successful police work is being completely ignored.
This is supported by our own State Treasurer Dominic Perrottet who has been very proud to say that the bullet we dodged in suppressing Covid in this state during Victoria’s second wave saved this State the equivalent of $1 billion a week.
To my mind that’s ample demonstration that NSW police officers have been saving more than lives - they’ve also been saving the economy.
On behalf of the members I say to... the Premier... the Treasurer... the Minister for Police, and all politicians who say that they support the unique role of Police, that NOW is the time to give us a FAIR GO.
Let’s have a resolution NOW to our pay and conditions.
The Police Association was founded in 1920 on that basis of seeking a sorely needed FAIR GO.
Today we will be launching a book and screening a short video to celebrate those 100 years.
They have certainly been a roller coaster ride.
I’m a big fan of history and the lessons we can take from those who came before us, and the practical lessons for present times that can then benefit those who come after us.
In our Centenary book - Unity and Strength – one of our chapter headings is Protecting the Protectors.
Protecting the Protectors sits at the heart of what we, the Police Association of New South Wales, do.
To the Delegates at this Conference I pledge that 'We Will Have Your Back' whenever the going is toughest, and whenever and wherever assistance or support is needed.
Speaking as a fellow Police officer I am proud that this Association will go to every length possible to do the right thing by each and everyone who has pulled on the blue uniform.
One of the enduring bonds we share in this room is seen on the cover of this year’s Conference Report, namely the recognition and remembrance of the sacrifice made by fallen police officers.
We were able to honour the common pledge of "We Will Remember" when the sails of the Opera House were lit up with the Remembrance ribbon on 29 September - made possible by Minister David Elliott and the One Nation MP Rod Roberts.
It shouldn’t have been so hard to achieve, and it should be a yearly occurrence.
It is the RESPECT that is deserved for the profession, and the risk and sacrifice it calls for.
There are a lot of empty words in this world... but RESPECT should never be in that category.
Indeed whenever we receive large amounts of praise from our community leaders, we must continue to demand that those words are backed with ACTION!