Delegates, I stand before you with pride and a sense of awe that I am taking on the role of President of this Association.
For me, this is the culmination of a 32 year as an NSW police officer where – like all of you - I have confronted the best and worst of humanity.
I was born and grew up in Goulburn, which you all know is way too cold in winter and stupidly hot in summer.
I joined the cops because, like many young men in the area at that time, I could see two clear paths in front of me – one to prison and the other to the Academy.
I have never regretted the course I chose.
On graduation, I was assigned to King Cross and spent the next 14 years working the truck and the street.
This was when the Cross was the city’s only 24-hour precinct and later claiming fame as documented in an Underbelly series highlighting drugs, sex and so-called gangsters.
An average night was about being visible, which meant confronting the extremes of life: the brawls and overdoses, the violence and the manic energy that exists on the city limits. We policed hard, and we partied hard.
We learned how to manage our own trauma with alcohol, literally bottling it all away so we could confront the next day and do it all again.
I worked general duties at the cross when the Wood Royal Commission investigation took place, then the hearings. We changed for the better, but we also lost a lot of good cops to their own hands, which is shameful.
This was our profession’s reckoning.
It was a time of shame to be a member of the blue family.
But it was also the moment when many of us recommitted ourselves to the blue shirt to professionalise and look after each other. It was at this time I witnessed the great work the Police Association did and does.
The framing of a significant wage case that recognised that a corruption-resistant force was based on decent pay and conditions. It also showed a dogged defense of our membership, and to this day, I still have the bumper sticker: “support honest cops.”
We had a strong branch official network – the late sergeant Brian Kenny was our workplace leader at the Cross.
Brian gave us insights into the workings of policing that you couldn’t get from the street: how pay was determined, how we had workplace rights – and that we had a right to enforce them.
What Brian built-in that command through the Association was something that was way more fundamental: a sense of trust, a sense of belonging, it was a sense of family.
After leaving Kings Cross, meeting my partner, and moving to the Northern Beaches, I took on the role of Branch Chairperson and took great satisfaction in building that culture of family around the command.
As a cop, I was always lucky to live in the community I served; when transferred to the Northern Beaches, I was able to buy a house and raise a family there.
Today this is out of reach for young officers who can no longer, at least in Sydney, afford to live and work in the same community.
It is imperative to create new models of affordable housing for police officers and this must be a priority for this Association.
If we are to have police anchored to the communities we serve, then we need to be able to be part of and live in those communities.
Commissioner, today I ask you to join me to modernise First response policing. A policy developed in the 90’s is redundant today when it doesn’t reflect the complex requirements that our members encounter day in and day out
We need to be able answer calls for service in a timely manner. This means minimum resourcing, and minimum staffing which in itself helps to protect those officers ensuring they respond professionally to these urgent calls for assistance.
After nearly a decade on the Beaches, I reached a point that many of us reach when I realised, I had achieved my goal as a police officer as a General Duties Sergeant.
I had the chance to take on a more active role with the Police Association when an opening arose as a field organiser.
I grabbed it with both hands, not because I wanted out of the force, but because I saw this as my next contribution to the blue family.
As an organiser, I got the privilege of traveling the state, confronting head-on the disparities in resourcing that are embedded in the economic and political map.
With the battle to secure Death and Disability Insurance, I learned about the power in mobilising as a group - the unforgettable march down Macquarie Street where officers from across the state turned the city blue.
While the demonstration of support sent a tingle through the spine, I also learned the power of conversation and relationship building, both across the Force and across the political aisle.
While the march was iconic, the reality is that D&D or Police Blue Ribbon Insurance as it is now known, was secured through evidence and argument and negotiation.
Much like a smart police officer who thinks his way through a situation rather than confronting it head-on, this Association has learned to play the long game - and it is a game I look forward to playing with our esteemed guests today over the coming years.
We come together after two years where police have been called on to keep the community not just safe but also calm through a once in a century pandemic.
Through the second year of lockdowns – when tempers started to fray around the edges, we were asked to enforce state border lines and stay-at-home orders.
Many of us were asked to uproot our lives and embed ourselves in border communities.
When there were bushfires, and more recently, the floods hit Lismore, hundreds of officers were there again, at the drop of hat.
Whenever you, Commissioner, tell us we are needed, we will drop everything and uproot our family lives to be where we are required.
No questions asked.
No thanks demanded.
We were there.
That’s what being a cop is about – first in, last out. Whether it’s a DV, a car crash, a natural disaster or a pandemic. We were there because that’s who we are.
It is in our DNA but Deputy Premier and Leader of the Opposition don’t take this sense of duty as weakness. I assure you both we expect to be recognised through better pay, and proper resourcing but above all, the full funding of our safety net being death and disability.
This Conference is our chance, with our workplace leaders and representatives, to think through what support we need to keep doing the job.
Foremost in my mind is ensuring we can structure policing as a career that gives those who commit to this career real choices.
We need to maintain a promotion system with integrity. We need a Voluntary Disengagement Scheme that provides a door for members to leave prior to injury. Our members deserve these options rather than the inevitability of burn out, illness.
We need to find ways of tapping the wisdom of longer serving officers into our recruitment and training methods. Its time to get back to Police teaching Police.
We need to once again recruit people with life experience. The only way to do this is to pay as they learn. You shouldn’t have to choose between paying a mortgage and supporting a young family or joining our job.
We need to be serious about the way we support each other – building better resilience and well-being.
We need to ensure that officers confronted with trauma never again need to self-medicate with a schooner.
We need better return to work outcomes where the sacrifice and dignity of the officers is key and not the cost benefit analysis.
And we need to fully fund the Police Blue Ribbon Police Insurance Scheme – because the way you treat those who protect us who are damaged in the line of duty is a fundamental test of the civility of a society.
Every young police officer begins their career with a full tank of optimism, enthusiasm, and sense of duty.
But the tank gets drawn down every time we confront the worst of people, the car accidents, the family violence, the things that we take on so that the broader community doesn’t have to.
Policing is a wonderful and rewarding career, but it is also one that can be brutal to the body and to the soul.
The commitment of a NSW Police officer is absolute – and the costs of that commitment are high. That’s why it is so important we get this right.
I’m taking on this new role with real enthusiasm.
I’m here with the same approach that Brian Kenny had: I’ll tell it to you straight, my door is always open and both myself and my Executive will always put you first.
As we look towards the next two years, there are new challenges and opportunities.
First, we have a State Election next March and we will be unapologetic in putting forward the interests of police to all candidates.
This Conference is your chance to have input into framing exactly what that means.
Without pre-empting the substance of what we will ask of our leaders – I do want to place one marker down.
A resilient force is an immeasurable asset for the people of NSW.
A resilient force is one where young police officers have the benefits of wiser heads.
A resilient force means that when police put their lives on the line, they know we have their backs.
And a resilient force is an anchor of safe and thriving communities.
The question for our masters, whether they are in seated in the Police Executive Offices or Macquarie Street, should never be ‘are we spending too much on our police officers?’
It should be: ‘are we spending enough?’