Secretary's Report: Sentinel and Tidewatch operations credit to all members

By Wayne Gatt

From the eve of Christmas to the end of January, our members have been working around the clock at our state’s northern border on an operation that arrived with little warning and on a scale that tested our capabilities.

It involved 700 members at any one time being away from home at a time we all want to be close to our loved ones.

The sudden discovery of Covid transmissions in New South Wales prompted the Victorian Government to shut our border with NSW for an indefinite period, such is the unpredictability of the spread and containment of this virus.

It was our members that had the unenviable task of protecting what we had worked so hard to contain, starting in the week leading to Christmas.

 Can I say that for Police and PSOs that have been at    the coalface since last year’s bushfire crisis, this was no small ask.

This operation has displaced families, seen leave cancelled and members recalled to duty when they least expected or wanted it.

Still, they came.

To say I’ve been impressed by your commitment would be an understatement.

For as many members that were told they must go, others put up their hand for the first deployment knowing others had plans for Christmas, younger kids, or arrangements that would be hard to break.

It’s the kind of teamwork you would see at a suburban or regional/rural station where members routinely help each other out.

Upon arriving at the border, members were forced to contend with rudimentary conditions, many housed in sub-standard accommodation (including tents) due to the remoteness of their deployment and task, and the fact accommodation was scarce due to thousands of other Victorians enjoying a Christmas holiday by the river.

Arrangements were not perfect, and some locations certainly had more issues than others.

The Association spent most of its time over the Christmas break supporting hundreds of you, either through the face to-face presence of TPAV representatives at various checkpoints, at the other end of the phone or on our TPAV Members’ Group on Facebook.

I hope that our intervention helped you, as I know that it led to incremental improvements to entitlements, conditions, meals, accommodation and most importantly, safety arrangements that made the experience of our colleagues deployed thereafter, better.

I credit all of our members who took the time to inform us at TPAV of situations that needed to be fixed, because doing so has helped many others.

Contacting us is never the wrong thing to do and it’s often the first step in making sure members are actively supported.

Simultaneously, about 700 members have been deployed to operation Tidewatch, a containment operation with a difference.

The state’s hotel quarantine program has for some time now relied on Police and PSOs to ‘right the ship’ that was so problematic for the community last year.

I have spoken to many of you at your inductions and training, and our TPAV team has regularly visited members during their 30-day hotel deployment.

We know none of these tasks are fun or easy. None of them have come at a good time and all of them are impacting our capacity to support business-as-usual policing at your regular work locations.

We know that these operations combined have impacted on those members left behind.

Reports of station closures and reduced response units abound and while I hate to say it in my role – we have had no choice.

If you have not been deployed to one of these operations, we say, thank you for `holding the line’.

It’s certainly been difficult at workplaces where those remaining have had to do far more with much less.

As they say, you can’t be in two places at once.

Without the collective effort and maximum commitment from our general duties, highway patrol, our detectives, crime command, surveillance operatives, and members from almost every area of policing, this would not have been possible.

The can-do attitude of our members is commendable, and when we have visited the border to help and to say thank you, it’s been pleasing to see the community’s gratitude expressed as well.

I think the whole community understands and appreciates just how taxing this 12-month period has been on our state’s police and PSOs. In the form of mince tarts, scones with jam, even lunch and dinner when police arrangements were found wanting, their appreciation and support was certainly evident. It might not have been the vaccine for COVID-19, but it was certainly the shot in the arm our members needed to keep going.

However, while the work of our members on the border was important and the deployment indefinite, it was important that it wrapped up not a day later than absolutely necessary.

And, as January drew to a close, we felt that that time had arrived.

We said publicly that a withdrawal of resources from the border needed to be considered, and a return to business-as-usual community policing prioritised.

While there was a broad community focus behind our call, the health and wellbeing of our members was an important factor in us going public.

The toll on many of our members and their families had graduated from inconvenient, to unsustainable and given the reduction in community transmission within NSW, we felt it was time to pull back.

To its credit, the Government heeded these calls.

Our New Year’s resolution

Death and Disability Insurance for members 55+ One of our New Year’s resolutions is to finally fix the gap in our Super scheme that sees members older than 55 years without death or disability insurance.

At the time of our last EBA the Government committed to resolve this matter with TPAV, a process we are happy to announce will commence this month.

As part of a working group to deliver necessary change, TPAV will work hard to reach consensus by mid-year on a way to plug the gap that presently exists.

In a country and job in which more and more people are working to age 60, no member should be without death or disability cover until they can retire.

We commend the Government for establishing this working group, following sustained advocacy by your union.

The only thing left now, is to reach agreement with Government, and we hope by mid-year to have positive news on this front that we can share with you all.