(12.23pm 25 November 2011, Parliament House Sydney)
I speak in support of the police, particularly inner-city police, and oppose the Police Amendment (Death and Disability) Bill 2011, which will cut workers' compensation benefits to police officers injured at work as part of a restructure of the police death and disability scheme. Currently, police officers injured at work are entitled to their full wages until they return to work or leave the force. Under the bill, this full payment will only be paid for the first six months, after which entitlement will drop to 75 per cent and then 65 per cent for the rest of a five-year benefit period.
The police do a difficult job in an extremely stressful environment. In the inner city they are at particular risk of violence on weekends and late at night, and when dealing with massive crowds of intoxicated people. They are subject to violence, assaults and abuseâ€”I know of one young police officer who had her teeth knocked out by a drunken patronâ€”yet our police never hesitate to break up brawls or intervene in violent situations. Police officers are the ones who attend scenes that most of us do not even want to hear aboutâ€”gruesome, distressing scenes of neglect and cruelty that show human nature's darkest and ugliest side. They are there when people experience unbearable pain and suffering. Examples of stressful situations that police officers in my electorate have recently been exposed to include attending and informing the family of a 16-year-old boy who had hanged himself and then, within days, attending a 72-year-old woman who had also hanged herself.
Another incident involved attending to a woman who had accidentally run over her young child. I understand that this was very traumatic for officers, particularly those with young children. I remind the House of the Kings Cross police officer who was brutally bashed while walking to work in the early hours. After two years of treatment and rehabilitation, she returned to work. Some years ago, in Surry Hills, a public housing tenant got a gun and shot four of his neighbours at close quarters. I was there when the police had to enter the premises and deal with the bodies, and I watched them being carried out in body bags. This regular exposure to violence and stress creates serious risk, over and above most other occupations, of injury at work, be it physical or psychological. We also need to be very aware of the stress on families. The only other areas in the same league are the work of firefighters, ambulance workers and our armed forces. We ask these people to go far beyond what most people in the community are asked to do in terms of earning a living or making a contribution.
Police officers know the risks that they will face when they join the Police Force. They also know that their work is not particularly highly paid when compared with other areas. They do their job because they want to protect the community, and this work can be really rewarding. They carry out extraordinary public service and I have great admiration for them. I have worked with the police in my electorate and in the City of Sydney for many years, and I admire what they do. We ask them to take risks that we do not ask other people to take in their working day. It is therefore only fair that we guarantee that if something goes wrong in this high-risk environment and it prevents them from working, they and their families will be looked after.
Our police agree that the compensation scheme must be financially viable, but they want it to be fair and they would like to work with the Government to achieve that. The NSW Police Association reports that under this bill New South Wales police will have the least protection in the country. I think that is shameful. I understand that the Government hopes that a reduction in benefits will encourage more police officers currently on disability benefits to return to work. Police officers and their families consider this a cynical approach, and I share their concern that before reducing benefits the Government should improve support, prevention and rehabilitation programs. I also point out that firefighters and ambulance workers who have similar income protection benefits in their compensation schemesâ€”and deservedly soâ€”are quite concerned that this change in policy will soon be extended to their schemes as well. I oppose the bill.