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5000 protesting police march through Sydney

Anna Patty
November 22, 2011

Up to 5000 uniformed police officers rallied outside NSW Parliament in Macquarie Street today in protest against the government’s plans to slash compensation payments to officers who are injured or disabled in the line of duty.

The officers are furious at planned changes to the state’s Death and Disability Scheme, which would restrict some compensation payouts and place a greater emphasis on rehabilitating injured officers back to work.

The officers endorsed a statewide vote on escalating action, threatening a massive reduction in services, which would mean they attend only life-threatening incidents and ignore day-to-day crimes, including burglaries and theft.

Police defied orders from Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione against wearing their blue uniforms during the protest.

The president of the NSW Police Association, Scott Weber, told the rally Barry O’Farrell’s government had failed to negotiate a fair deal for police officers injured on duty and called on it to withdraw its death and disability bill from Parliament.

If the bill is not withdrawn from the upper house, police will vote to take further industrial action.

“What we would see is a massive reduction in police services where we would only be attending life-threatening or urgent jobs. It would mean normal day-to-day jobs would not be attended by police,” Mr Weber said.

“We would be attending to the armed hold-ups, the domestic violence incidents, those serious motor vehicle accidents. But in regards to the day-to-day functioning [of the] NSW Police, such as shoplifting, minor stealing, break and enters, no police officers would be attending.”

Police marched from Hyde Park at 11.10am before rallying in front of a line of applauding Labor Party MPs, including Opposition Leader John Robertson, on the steps of Parliament House.

A man playing the bagpipe led the protest along Macquarie Street.
Police, chanting “shame Barry shame” and carrying placards with slogans including “Cops deserve better” and

“Protect our police”, dispersed about 12.30pm after listening to personal testimonies from injured police officers who had struggled financially, unable to return to work.

Total payments for police with psychological injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, for example, will be cut from $569,292 to $76,787 under the proposed new scheme, which would be provided by a private insurer.

Vice-president of the Police Association, Pat Gooley, described the turnout as “momentous”.
“I am so proud to see this sea of blue,” he told the protesters. “There are people from all over the state.”

Inspector Ross Wilkinson, from Bathurst, accused the Coalition government of betrayal and said the changes to the scheme were “plain wrong”.

He said police realised the system needed to be reformed, “but not without consultation”.

In a statement, Greens NSW police spokesman David Shoebridge called on the government to withdraw its “half-baked legislation”.

“Re-enter good faith negotiations with the Police Association,” he said.

“The legislation appears to have been stitched together at the last minute and will have extreme negative impact on injured police, particularly those suffering mental injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Sergeant Allanah Anson, who has been in the force for 21 years and is stationed in the Blue Mountains, said Mr O’Farrell was a “sham”.

“This government should hang its head in shame,” she told the rally.

“You can’t discard us when we are broken.

“I tell you what, Barry; you’re mistaking us for a group of people who don’t have any fight in them.”

Police Minister Mike Gallacher said the spiralling costs of the existing death and disability scheme for police officers were unsustainable and had delivered lump-sum payments of $400,000 to $500,000, which had discouraged officers from returning to work.

Mr Gallacher said the government had rejected an alternative scheme proposed by the police association after having it assessed by KPMG actuaries.

“This assessment of the police association proposal indicates that it would still represent a vastly expensive scheme and that it will not encourage officers to return to the workforce,” he said.

“The NSW government’s priority is getting police back to work, while the police association proposal, which functions much as the current scheme, does not do this.”

Mr Gallacher said the government had increased its original offer to police by committing an extra $10 million into the new insurance scheme for 12 months, bringing benefit levels up to 75 per cent of salaries over five years.

This would depend on the private insurers’ agreement to the proposal.

The government would also invest a further one-off $70 million in extending benefits to 302 officers already booked in for independent medical assessments under the existing scheme.

The police commissioner would also be given discretion to provide additional support – including the top-up of workers’ compensation payments to officers injured in “extraordinary circumstances”.

The government has already said it would spend $15 million on creating a new injury management investment fund to trial new ways of getting injured officers back to work.

The Industrial Relations Commission is also hearing a case lodged by the police association over the death and disability scheme.

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