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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1553


Senator REID(5.15) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The annual report about National Common Police Services deals with the Australian Police Ministers Council, which was set up following the recommendations some years ago of Sir Robert Mark. I think that this group has done a great deal to co-ordinate police activities. The report refers in part to the efficient use of police resources. The Senate will, of course, appreciate that the Australian Capital Territory is not specifically in its own right a member of the Australian Police Ministers Council. It is, of course, represented on the Council through the Commonwealth representative and, hopefully, the interests of the Australian Capital Territory are noted. Consideration will have to be given to the important role that will be played by police when the Australian Capital Territory gains self-government, which has been promised to us. In a sense the question of whether the Australian Capital Territory will have its own police force, whether some arrangement will be made with the Australian Federal Police or whether there will be some third alternative is perhaps one of the most difficult and sensitive aspects of the development of self-government. However, this is something that needs to be addressed.

I am sure that you, Mr Deputy President, and other honourable senators will have seen recent newspaper reports about the very high rate of crime in the Australian Capital Territory, particularly in respect of house burglaries, and the fact that there is a significant drug problem in the Australian Capital Territory. One of the difficulties that our police officers are faced with is that they do not have the resources, particularly in terms of manpower, to meet the problems with which they are faced. I think it is quite inappropriate for government funding cutbacks to be made in this area. The community is entitled to a police force which is able to meet its needs. The Australian Capital Territory has had cutbacks in traffic and other patrols. There have been significant cutbacks in overtime. An officer who is on duty outside normal day time hours is switched to a day time shift and not replaced if he is required to attend court.

A program called Neighbourhood Watch is operating in Canberra in a number of areas. This program has already been shown to be very worthwhile in terms of protecting the community in those areas and co-operating with the police. Many suburban areas in the Australian Capital Territory have indicated that they would like to participate in Neighbourhood Watch. However, the shortage of staff in the police force at present is such that the community groups have been told that there is about a seven months delay. This has caused a great deal of concern among community groups which want to be involved and participate in Neighbourhood Watch.

We are told that the drug squad cannot operate after 4 o'clock in the afternoon because of a shortage of funds. That seems to be perhaps the most ludicrous situation of all. While I have no doubt that one can buy hard drugs in the Australian Capital Territory during the day, I think it is probably much more likely that these substances are traded after dark and consequently the police need to be out and about at that time. The scientific squad also is restricted in that it can only be called out after 4 o'clock if consent is given. Members of the squad normally do not go to house breakings which are detected after 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

Complaints have been received about the state of police motor vehicles. Just recently seven of our officers were transferred to Australian Federal Police duty in Sydney to guard Family Court of Australia judges. I am not for one minute suggesting that Family Court judges do not need to be guarded, but I am suggesting that it is inappropriate to withdraw officers from the Australian Capital Territory for this purpose. Attention needs to be given to seeing that our officers are able to do their job. They are certainly willing and we have an excellent force in Canberra. However, there is a need for the force to be of the right strength so that it can do the job it is faced with.