National Police Remembrance Day | SPEECH


The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (11:45): It is my pleasure to stand to speak on behalf of the people of Stuart in support of this motion by the member for Heysen, and I appreciate the words of the shadow minister on this. This is a day I have spoken about many times, most often when I used to be the shadow minister for police, and I want to acknowledge the member for Elizabeth as a former police officer himself. While he found that work was not right for him from a lifelong, ongoing career perspective, he has certainly remained focused with regard to what we can do in this place for police officers.

One of the things we in this parliament can do for police officers right now is support the Minister for Police, the member for Gibson, who is doing an outstanding job in that area. He is a truly focused, genuine and hardworking minister doing everything he possibly can to support police as an organisation, SAPOL, support individual officers and, of course, support the public of South Australia who are the beneficiaries of the work police officers do.

I am ashamed to say that I do not remember all the 61, I think, officers who have lost their lives in the course of their duty, as I was quite familiar with that list a few years ago. However, it should not be forgotten that, while different from a serving military man or woman going into a conflict zone, police officers still have their lives at risk. I often think about how hard it must be mentally to leave your house in the morning for a day’s work or in the afternoon for a night’s work knowing that it might be a fairly routine, mundane day at work or it might be incredibly confronting or it might be incredibly dangerous.

Most of us can plan what is ahead in the day, but police officers have no idea. It is possible that any day they go to work they might be confronted with a situation in which their life is genuinely at risk. Then you add to that exactly the same issue understood by their husbands or wives or partners, children or parents thinking, ‘Let’s hope not, but today might be the day that my son or daughter,’ or husband or wife or whoever it is, ‘faces a genuinely life-threatening situation’. I thank police from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of the people of Stuart for the work they put in.

I am blessed in my electorate office to have a former serving police officer of 37 years’ standing—who is, by the way, a truly outstanding electorate officer. She has been with us for just over a year, but she is extremely well known around our electorate for her work as a police officer. In fact, around 12 or 15 years ago she was the South Australian Police Officer of the Year. Michele Smith still contributes to our community in many, many ways. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the memorial service in Port Augusta on Monday, but I could think of absolutely no-one better than former police officer Michele Smith to represent me at that event, as she will do.

A few months ago, I was very grateful to be invited by the Port Augusta Police Station to come to watch, with serving officers from the district, the movie Dark Blue. There was a premiere, as I understand it, in Adelaide, Port Augusta and Mount Gambier. (I apologise if it happened anywhere else that I am not aware of.) The movie was shown for the first time, simultaneously, in those three places. It was outstanding of police officer Russell Morgan to invite me along, as local MP and friend, to see that movie. It was especially touching to be invited to see it at the same time as serving police officers and their families who were seeing it for the first time.

It had an impact on me and it had an impact on those officers I know. Most likely, thousands of the approximately 4,500 serving police officers we have in South Australia have seen that movie since. In a very helpful way, it does describe the type of mental health pressure police officers and their families can be placed under. It really was a tremendous initiative. I acknowledge Mark Carroll, the president of both the South Australian and the federal police associations, for being one of the key people who made that happen.

In our electorate of Stuart, we have a wide range of communities. Some are very, very small and remote communities, the largest being Port Augusta. It is fair to say that people in these different communities view policing in different ways. If you are in a very small remote town, or even just a small country town, your police officer becomes a friend and a member of the community, as well as the person who is enforcing the law, and it is exactly the same for his or her family. They are almost always incredibly valuable members of the community and are made very welcome. They contribute in many ways, just like everybody else in the community does.

At the other end of the spectrum, population wise, in Port Augusta police officers are valued incredibly highly as well, but they have a different type of work to do. Policing in a regional centre, such as Port Augusta, is different work from what it would be in a small place like Oodnadatta or Maree or Booleroo, for example. So it is tremendous that throughout their careers so many officers are able to move from place to place.

I have known officers, and have had good friends who have been officers, who, over 20 and 30 years, have worked in various parts of metropolitan Adelaide and in various parts of regional South Australia. I think that has been outstanding for their careers and for their families, but it has also been outstanding for their communities, who have had the benefit of police officers with a different range of experience coming into the different communities.

I know that Commissioner Grant Stevens has a real focus on diversity at the moment. He is a person who has worked incredibly hard as a deputy commissioner, and now as the commissioner, to increase the diversity of SAPOL across the state. As I said before, there are about 4,500—I think it might be about 4,700—sworn police officers in South Australia. He has a real focus on ensuring that there are more and more women in the force and more and more men and women from diverse ethnic backgrounds—and, in fact, from a broader age range as well.

I remember going to the Police Academy for a graduation. There was a 50-year-old man who had just graduated from the academy, so presumably he had been accepted when he was 49, and about to go out to the work world officially as one of the lowest ranking officers around. I am sure that with the experience that comes with being 50 years old, that person would move through the ranks very quickly. Policing these days is not about the traditional, young or middle-aged white male dealing with crime.

The world has moved on, and there are so many high-tech, intuitive, digitally-based ways of fighting crime these days. It is not just about people on foot or in patrol vehicles. It is a whole new world these days, compared to what it was 20, 30, 40 years ago, and a whole new SAPOL enforcing laws, doing everything they can to prevent crimes from happening, but when they do, to do everything they can to apprehend the perpetrators. I honour SAPOL-serving active officers and I support this motion wholeheartedly.