(Bulli) [10.07]: I move:
That this House condemns the former Government for failing to provide bullet-resistant vests to the New South Wales Police Service.
The provision of bullet-resistant vests has become a contentious matter following the tragic deaths of Senior Constables Addison and Spears, of the Crescent Head police patrol, on 9 July this year. It was not only the family and friends of the two officers who mourned their sudden parting; that terrible and violent incident touched the lives of this nation. The officers' courage and commitment to duty that evening is a reminder of the risks that police face every day. The State Coroner in his findings stated:
I think it is timely for our society to be reminded that, despite the adverse publicity given recently about the alleged criminal activities of some police officers, the far greater majority of members of the NSW Police Service are dedicated, conscientious, honest hard working officers.
Officers of the New South Wales police force daily place their lives on the line in carrying out their duties and protecting the public. Some members of the public are far too quick to condemn the Police Service as a whole because of the actions of a few, yet they would be the first to call on the police if they were in trouble. Members of the Police Service are not given enough credit for their excellent work. Their efforts are not sufficiently recognised; more often they are criticised, on many occasions unjustifiably. It is terrible that such a tragic event had to occur before the issue of police safety was afforded the high priority it deserves. The previous Government had seven years in which to take appropriate action to provide bullet-resistant vests to New South Wales police. However, it failed to do so.
What have you done since the coronial inquiry?
I remind the honourable member for Northcott that in seven years the coalition Government did nothing - and he was one of its strategists. In seven months this Government has taken action to assist the police and the public of New South Wales. The honourable member for Northcott should remember that when he is tempted to interject. Prior to the Crescent Head incident 397 bullet-resistant vests were on issue across the State. The Government immediately recognised the inadequacy of that number. The Minister for Police acted quickly and requested the commissioner to set up an expert committee to review the needs of the Police Service for body armour and to determine the adequacy of practices relating to its use.
The working party, which included representation from the Police Association, determined that an additional 2,059 vests were required. That would effectively increase the number of vests available to police by more than 500 per cent. Previously vests were issued only to specialist policing groups. The new vests will be issued to primary response vehicles, whose crews are most likely to be the first to attend scenes of potential violence. The specifications for the vests are consistent with the recommendations of the National Police Research Unit in Adelaide. They are considered appropriate to police needs and protection and will be maintained as the minimum standard for future acquisitions. The Government has provided more than $2 million in this year's budget for the purchase of the vests.
Tenders were called on 19 September by the New South Wales Supply Service on behalf of the Police Service for the supply of 2,059 vests. The tender also calls for a two-year contract with two one-year options. Tenders have closed and are currently going through the usual evaluation process. It is not possible at this stage to say how quickly the additional vests will be provided throughout the State. In the event of a failure by the supplier to deliver, a prioritised implementation schedule has been developed in consultation with the Police Association. Honourable members can be sure that the acquisition of the new vests is the top priority of this Government.
I am sure many honourable members would be aware of the recommendations the State Coroner made recently following his inquiry into the Crescent Head incident. It is interesting to note that one of the recommendations was that bullet-resistant vests be available in police vehicles. I am pleased to say that the Carr Government had taken action on this matter well before the State Coroner handed down his recommendations. I understand that the other coronial recommendations are being addressed by the Police Service, and I am sure they will be given the serious consideration they deserve.
Whilst there is no guarantee that bullet-resistant vests will save the lives of officers, they will go some way towards reducing the risk of death or injury should officers be involved in violent incidents involving firearms. This Government will not neglect the safety of our police. Its quick action to purchase more than 2,000 bullet-resistant vests will go some way towards improving the safety of officers at the front line who put their lives at risk each day to protect the general public.
(Orange) [10.14]: It is incredible that the Labor Party found the issue of bullet-resistant vests so important only after the tragic deaths of two of fine police officers on the mid-north coast earlier this year. Why was this issue not included in the Labor Party policy documents for the last election? The Labor Party did not promise extra vests. Why did the shadow minister not raise the issue in estimates committees last year when I was Minister for Police? Why did he leave it to Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile in another place? Because it was not an issue to the ALP. Last year's estimates committee proceedings show that in answer to Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile I asked the commissioner to respond. He indicated that it was a matter of concern to him, that he had raised the matter for some time and had used his discretionary allocation to obtain, as a matter of urgency, $50,000 worth of vests. The coalition Government followed quickly with a selective tender for the supply of 300 ballistic tactical vests for the New South Wales Police Service at a cost of $308,808. That was the beginning. The coalition Government started it. The honourable member for Bulli is making cheap political capital of -
You did nothing in your time.
The previous Government started the process.
Why didn't they get them?
Mr Acting-Speaker, I did not interject when the honourable member for Bulli was speaking. I would like to make my contribution without interruption.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry):
Order! The honourable member for Bulli will have the opportunity to reply. The honourable member for Orange is entitled to be heard without interruption.
I am prepared to give some facts. I move:
That the motion be amended by leaving out all words after the word "House" with a view to inserting instead the words:
"condemns the ALP Government for downgrading the quality of bullet-resistant vests to the New South Wales Police Service."
I was interested to hear the honourable member for Bulli say that the Government was still evaluating contracts. I am sure honourable members would like to know the background to this matter. The standard required in the past for bullet-resistant vests was known as a PPAA standard - an industry-developed standard developed in Australia for conditions faced by Australian police officers. However the tender document specifies the American National Institute of Justice - NIJ - standard. The vests supplied under the former Government were far superior when tested for shotguns and .22 calibre rifles. The newer standard does not meet Australian condition
Honourable members must be a little concerned about the potential problems that may arise and must consider the probity of the conduct of the tender process. The honourable member did not indicate the name of the successful tenderer. However, it has come to my attention that although tenders closed on 20 October, the company likely to gain the contract to manufacture the bullet-resistant vests was not incorporated until 10 days after tenders closed. Under the Prohibited Weapons Act the company is required to have a permit to allow it to put samples before the State Contracts Control Board. The company did not have such a permit because it had not been incorporated. According to the National Institute of Justice, an office of the United States Department of Justice, the company was not entitled to, and did not have, the appropriate certificate of compliance.
It may be that the company ADI Services will be awarded the contract to supply the vests and that another company, known as ADA - Australian Defence Apparel Proprietary Limited - will be the manufacturer. The Government should be very careful because that company was not incorporated until 10 days after the date on which tenders closed; it does not have a certificate of compliance to the American standard; and it is not licensed to manufacture in this country. I draw to the attention of honourable members the fact that the vests to be used in New South Wales have what is described by the industry as a monolithic ceramic front plate, which is imported from the United Kingdom. If the vest is dropped and the plate shatters, the vest will not offer the wearer protection against high velocity rifle fire.
Will the men and women who work in the New South Wales Police Service really receive the protection they believe the vests will provide? The quality of the vests is lower than the required standard, in that the plate to which I earlier referred
is not effective if it receives multiple impacts from a semi-automatic weapon. The cloth that covers the plate - obviously the body section of the vest - will be manufactured by a Melbourne firm that has not manufactured or woven this type of cloth before. Do honourable members propose to approve a contract to suit the political advantage of the Government rather than one that meets the safety requirements of the men and women of the New South Wales Police Service? I will not stand by and let that happen.
The Opposition does not want merely a general-duty bulletproof vest; it wants something that will provide the protection that police officers deserve. The proposed vests are too heavy and too cumbersome. Those vests will be in the first line response vehicles and an officer who pulls the vest out of the vehicle in a hurry may drop it and shatter the plate. The Government should think seriously and carefully before proceeding in this direction. I also question the involvement of some of those associated with the contract. A firm in Melbourne - I think it was Australian Defence Force Industries - was closed down and sold off and a new company, known as Free and Easy, was formed. That company was offered $22 million worth of work by the Federal defence Minister, Senator Ray. No tender process was entered into; the firm was just promised the money. The principal of Free and Easy is a man called Brian Rush. He was also the head of the clothing section - [Time expired
(Gladesville) [10.24]: The contribution of the honourable member for Orange was extremely disappointing. For more than seven years police officers have patrolled the streets without protective vests and honourable members have heard only lame excuses from the Opposition. I wrote them down: the Opposition began the process; there has been a change in standards; the Opposition is questioning the probity of the tender; the vests are of poor quality; and there is a new company in the industry. For all those reasons the Opposition did nothing. The police remain unprotected. I know what police officers would think about the performance of the former Minister for Police; excuses will not wash with them any longer.
Playing games may be all right if one is talking about the delivery of desks to a school or towels to a hospital, but not when something as critical and important as protective vests is involved. I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of this motion condemning the former Government for its failure to provide bullet-resistant vests. I value that opportunity for several reasons: as a member of the police caucus committee I have an understanding of police issues; I have a relationship with the police in my electorate, and they have talked to me about these issues; a family member is a member of the Police Service.
Most moving for me was my attendance at a remembrance ceremony earlier this year at St Mary's Cathedral. The cathedral was filled with serving police officers and their families. They were brought together to honour police officers who had died in the course of their duties in the previous 12 months. That ceremony brought home to me the strong sense of duty of police officers, the real risks they face and the impact of those risks on their families. The wider community is worried about the safety of police officers. The Government has acted; members of the Government have not sat on their hands. The police are justified in agitating, and the Government has listened to them. The Government has begun the tender process for the supply of 2,000 vests; it has allocated money for that purpose; and it has allowed police officers to purchase their own vests.
This long-overdue safety measure is the result of action taken by the Government. The Labor Government values the morale of the Police Service; it values the safety of all workers in New South Wales and in particular police officers, who are willing to go into dangerous situations bravely and willingly. This Government does not just value them by words, as did the previous Government; it values them by deed. The Government takes action. The previous Government was told for seven long and hard years that the problem existed. The Police Association and serving police officers told the former Government's collection of forgettable and bizarre Ministers that they wanted this problem solved. I do not know why the former Government did nothing. I can only think that it did not care about police workers.
To have done nothing for seven long, dangerous years was craven penny-pinching; it was a breach of responsibility to the Police Service that put lives at risk and caused the families of police officers unacceptable concern. I have witnessed families farewell serving husbands and fathers after a tragedy such as occurred at Crescent Head and I know the pain and worry in the hearts of those family members. The Government's action will remove some of that pain and worry. The previous Government should be condemned for its handling of education, the environment and transport, but few of its other failures to accept responsibility have put lives at risk. The former Government stands condemned for putting the lives of police officers at risk. It will not be forgotten by police officers or by their families.
There are few more important issues for workers than safety at work. Protective garments have become part of the industrial relations landscape. The police have missed out for too long. The Government's decision to provide 2,059 vests and allow police to purchase their own vests fulfils its duty to workers in the Police Service. It is another demonstration of the Labor Government's cooperative and thoughtful relationship with the New South Wales Police Service. I have been amazed at how long-suffering, cooperative and
reasonable the police have been about this safety issue. Their very real concerns were ignored by the previous Government, but they have been heard by this Government. [Time expired
(Oxley) [10.29]: At the outset, I am disgusted by the cheap politics of the honourable member for Bulli and Government members in bringing forward this motion on a serious issue, following the death of two police officers at Crescent Head. As a local member I would not in any way play politics with the issue, and I am disgusted by what has occurred this morning. In September the Minister for Police announced that the New South Wales Police Service will equip its operational police with more than 2,000 new bullet-resistant vests to improve the safety of its officers and the public. I welcomed the decision at the time because I had been calling for that action to be taken for some time before the announcement was made.
For seven years.
It happened under the Wran and Unsworth governments so do not give us rot in here. Do not play politics with important issues because the protection of police officers is essential. I am concerned about the serious allegations made this morning by the honourable member for Orange. I hope that there is a full inquiry into the allegations. Front-line general duty police carry out their sometimes dangerous and difficult duties in an exemplary manner, and they deserve every protection possible. I also support the police call for replacement of the .38 Smith and Wesson revolver with semiautomatic pistols and the introduction of survival training courses for all officers. I call on the Minister to implement the recommendations and suggestions made.
As has been said, tragically this issue came to a head after the brutal murder of two police officers at Crescent Head on 9 July this year, a Sunday morning. I was there; I know what it was like. I praise the police for the way they carried out their duties. Senior Constable Bob Spears and Senior Constable Paul Addison of the Kempsey patrol were gunned down during an apparent routine call to a disturbance. The gunman was armed with a .223 50-round Ruger semiautomatic rifle, against the officers' six-shot .38 revolvers. It is essential that all first response police be equipped with bullet-resistant vests. I get emotional about this issue - I have called for the police to be equipped with new bulletproof vests - because I have a son in the police force. I am not simply talking about only armed officers. In most cases when officers attend domestic incidents the offenders are armed with knives, and bulletproof vests would assist in such situations. Police officers in first response vehicles should also be equipped with bulletproof vests. Sometimes police must travel at high speeds, and if there is an accident involving police cars bulletproof vests can protect their vital organs in a crash. That is of great assistance.
Many police officers had purchased their own bulletproof vests prior to this tragic incident. I want to move away from the politics of this issue and get back to what needs to be done. As I said, the death of the two officers at Crescent Head highlighted the dangers that police men and women face in the course of their duty, especially when dealing with potentially explosive situations of domestic violence and other difficult issues. It is essential that proper soft body armour be issued and worn by all first response police called to a domestic violence case or responding to other calls where their lives may be placed at risk. The coronial inquiry following the tragedy at Crescent Head supported better protection for police. Occupational health and safety legislation enshrines the need for all employees to be provided with whatever protective clothing may be required for them to do their job without being subjected to unnecessary risks.
New South Wales has some 16,000 police officers, the overwhelming majority of whom are honest, hardworking and diligent. It is the few bad apples brought to our attention by the police royal commission who get the media attention and, unfortunately, distort the real picture. We need to stand up for those fine police men and women and give them confidence that the community supports them, and weed out the ones who do the wrong thing, as happens in all occupations. With such a large police force, it is inevitable that some officers will do the wrong thing. We are fortunate that most police officers carry out their sometimes dangerous and difficult duties in a manner befitting the high expectation of the community. I support the amendment of the honourable member for Orange because we must take politics out of the issue. I am absolutely disgusted by what the honourable member for Bulli said this morning. [Time expired
(Ashfield - Minister for Police) [10.34]: The amendment of the honourable member for Orange, the previous Minister for Police, is interesting. While he was not the Minister for Police for seven years, he was a Minister for seven years. Essentially, the motion indicates that for the first time in the history of government capital equipment line items are shown in the budget. That demonstrates a definite government commitment to improve the safety of police officers by the provision of money - a line item in the budget for the purchase, in this instance, of bullet-resistant vests.
Are they any good though?
The purchase of bullet-resistant vests is subject to a tender process. If the honourable member has information that such vests are not of sufficient quality, his argument should not be against the resolution; it should be against those involved in the tender process. When the honourable member was Minister for Police he had nothing to do with tender processes. He, like me, ensured that the tendering process included the
involvement of experts, from bodies including the State Contracts Control Board, in this case in the field of ballistics and bullet-resistant vests. The honourable member knew that when he was a Minister and he would not interfere. I know him well enough, and he knows me well enough to realise that I will not interfere with any tender process.
The implication of the House accepting the amendment will be that something is wrong with the system. If there is something wrong with the system honourable members opposite should say so, but not in a veiled way. The honourable member for Orange knows as well as I do that Ministers are not involved in tendering processes. The amendment is nothing more than a political ploy to draw attention away from the Government's trenchant criticism that the coalition Government did nothing to assist the New South Wales Police Service. Much of what I have heard this morning was to the effect that the tragedy at Crescent Head prompted me to do something about bullet-resistant vests. That is untrue. I am concerned about the safety of police officers, such as the son of the honourable member for Oxley, in relation not only to bulletproof vests but to training, guns and all the issues that resulted from a succession of Liberal and National Ministers putting them in the too-hard basket.
If I had known about the amendment I would have dragged the file down and tabled it. I would have shown the honourable member what he knows in his own mind, and I would have let him read what a previous Minister for Police, Mr Pickering, said about their being no need for bulletproof vests. When I became the Minister for Police there were only 358 bulletproof vests for the 12,800 police officers in the New South Wales Police Service. That was disgraceful. The honourable member for Orange should hang his head in shame because when he was Minister for Police he did not do anything about the police. In this bogus amendment the Opposition is saying, without any proof, that this is a dicky tender and that the police will not get bullet-resistant vests.
The New South Wales Police Service will get the best quality bullet-resistant vests. We will not have a second-class police service with second-class equipment. I shall tell the House something else that the previous Government neglected. The honourable member for Oxley is the local member. Does he know what the coroner said about the Police Service communications system? The coroner said that it is a disaster. The previous Government spent $20 million on the government radio network. I shall get the file on that matter because someone - not the previous Minister for Police - had his grubby hands in the tender process for that. I will look at that tender because the radio network does not work. It does not work in the Port Macquarie area.
That is a revelation.
It is a revelation to the people of New South Wales because they spent $20 million on it. Ambulance people will not use the government radio network, fire brigades will not use it and the Police Service thinks that it is incompetent. The network does not even work at Wynyard railway station. If there is an emergency at Wynyard railway station people cannot use the government radio network. [Time expired
(Wakehurst) [10.39]: I oppose the motion of the honourable member for Bulli and support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Orange. I am sad that the honourable member for Bulli sought to trivialise the important issue of bulletproof vests for the young men and women in the Police Service by playing political games in raising this matter in the terms in which he did. I would have been happy to endorse a motion pointing to the need for bulletproof vests. I know a little about bulletproof vests. In my former position as Chairman of Staysafe -
Thank you. I see that the present Chairman of Staysafe is in the Chamber. I am sure he will carry on the proud traditions of Staysafe; he certainly has so far, from what I have seen in the media. In that capacity I was accompanied by well-intentioned coalition and Labor colleagues on a visit to North America. In speaking to a number of police about police pursuits, making the best use of our time, we also discussed with a number of police services in the United States and Canada the issue of bulletproof vests. Perhaps that is where the Government should have started: talking with the officers who will have to wear the vests. In Ontario officers are well equipped with bulletproof vests but they pointed out that the vests have to be of a good standard and usable. It is pointless for the vests to be available but not used. In summer months most police, even in Ontario, do not like to wear the vests.
A lot of work has been done on the issue. I do not disbelieve that the Minister for Police was well intentioned on the issue but, in the vein of the Government, I believe he responded to an urgent situation with a lot of urgency but not necessarily a lot of substance. I counsel the Minister that, although he believes he has distanced himself from the tender process, his comments and knee-jerk actions, together with those of the Premier, set the agenda for the purchase of bulletproof vests. Accordingly, the senior bureaucrats involved made crazy decisions. I understand that there was urgency because of the Minister's attitude, but the process should have been slowed down and a balanced approach adopted. I am informed that there were 29 tenders - I do not know whether the Minister knows that - and nothing in the process required ballistic tests: the tender required compliance with an international standard. But it is the manufacturers or suppliers who tell the Government whether the vests comply. That is
inherently illogical and dangerous. I understand that the tender process has been completed but there should be retrospective and urgent testing of the vests. A ballistic laboratory in Victoria which could have tested the vests closed down about two months ago but now nobody from New South Wales can test such vests. There should have been some allowance for that in the tendering process.
My purpose is not necessarily to give the Minister a hard time. The honourable member for Bulli should not have moved this silly motion. We should get it right. The police deserve that we get it right. The vests have to be usable and they have to be safe. Perhaps the Minister should not divorce himself completely from the tender process. After hearing the debate today he should ask a few questions. I spoke to a 21-year-old officer who had just left the Goulburn academy. He had heard all the rhetoric at Goulburn the other day and he said, "This whole issue with the vests is stupid. We will not wear them unless they are very comfortable." Minister, check it out. [Time expired
(Bulli) [10.44], in reply: I thank the Minister for Police and the honourable member for Gladesville for their support of the motion.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry):
Order! The honourable member for Wakehurst has already spoken in the debate.
The honourable member for Wakehurst continued to refer in his speech to bulletproof vests. No-one speaking in the debate except for the honourable member for Wakehurst referred to bulletproof vests. He does not know the difference between bulletproof and bullet-resistant. That shows how prepared he was in this debate. He claimed that my motion politicised the issue. The honourable member for Oxley is aware of my criticism of the previous Government failing in its duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Seven years ago the coalition should have been thinking about the health and safety of police officers but it did nothing on the issue. The coalition is being criticised for doing nothing on other issues and it did absolutely nothing for the New South Wales Police Service.
Every time a government member moves a motion to condemn the ridiculous actions of the coalition, Opposition members claim that it is politics. We are simply telling the people of New South Wales about the type of hapless and hopeless government under the coalition. The Government has taken action quickly and recently 43 vests costing about $50,000 were purchased from existing funds. They are being delivered to areas of greatest need. In my opening comments about the vests I said that they would not be a panacea for the problem but they will be a tool to protect police officers. The honourable member for Orange said that the vests would not suffice. Police would have to be put in a Sherman tank to be completely protected. Police have a duty and responsibility to protect the community and, in doing so, unfortunately they are placed at risk daily. So the Government has a responsibility to ensure that even though the vests do not provide complete life-saving protection for police they are the best we can do in the situation.
It is of no use for Opposition members to harp and whine about the Minister's actions. He acted in seven months yet the coalition did not act in seven years. He took urgent action to provide the vests. He knows full well that there are other considerations. The honourable member for Northcott mentioned revolvers. The Minister has taken action in that regard and is awaiting task force recommendations. He is taking responsible action, as the coalition should have when it was in government. Ministers are expected to have their finger on the pulse, as this Minister has. The coalition was hapless and hopeless in its actions. My motion is not motivated by politics but the response of the Opposition has been to propose a change of the motion to give the coalition a pat on the back. This Government and the people of New South Wales will not cop it.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry):
Order! I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order.
The people of New South Wales know from media reports and Hansard
that the coalition has done the wrong thing on this issue. Opposition members are embarrassed because the Minister has the files on them; he has got the goods on the lot of them. Believe me, this will not be the last motion of condemnation moved against the former Government and its Ministers that did the wrong thing over seven years. It has taken only seven months for Labor Ministers, including the Minister for Police, to tidy up the mess the coalition left.
Question - That the amendment be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mr Armstrong Mr O'Doherty
Mr Beck Mr O'Farrell
Mr Causley Mr D. L. Page
Mr Chappell Mr Peacocke
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Phillips
Mr Cochran Mr Photios
Mr Collins Mr Richardson
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rixon
Mr Debnam Mr Rozzoli
Mr Downy Mr Schipp
Mr Ellis Mrs Skinner
Mr Fahey Mr Slack-Smith
Ms Ficarra Mr Small
Mr Fraser Mr Smith
Mr Glachan Mr Souris
Mr Hartcher Mr Tink
Mr Hazzard Mr Turner
Mr Humpherson Mr West
Dr Kernohan Mr Windsor
Mr Kinross Mr Zammit
Mr Longley Tellers
Ms Machin Mr Jeffery
Mr Merton Mr Kerr
Ms Allan Mr Markham
Mr Amery Mr Martin
Mr Anderson Ms Meagher
Ms Andrews Mr Mills
Mr Aquilina Mr Moss
Mrs Beamer Mr Neilly
Mr Clough Ms Nori
Mr Crittenden Mr E. T. Page
Mr Debus Mr Price
Mr Face Dr Refshauge
Mr Gaudry Mr Rogan
Mr Gibson Mr Rumble
Mrs Grusovin Mr Scully
Ms Hall Mr Shedden
Mr Harrison Mr Stewart
Ms Harrison Mr Sullivan
Mr Hunter Mr Tripodi
Mr Iemma Mr Watkins
Mr Knight Mr Whelan
Mr Knowles Mr Yeadon
Mrs Lo Po'
Mr Lynch Tellers
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Blackmore Mr Carr
Mr Schultz Mr Langton
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion agreed to.