Recommendation 40: community-based sworn police officers

First posted on 30 May 2008 under Mullighan Inquiry.
This article has been updated and archived.
Tags: policing

Summary

For many years, Anangu urged South Australia Police to base sworn police officers in their communities. The Mullighan Inquiry strongly supported those requests, concluding that a significant proportion of the sworn officers stationed on the Lands should reside in local communities and not in administrative centres like Umuwa. In July 2008, SA Police advised the Paper Tracker that it would base 12 sworn officers at Amata, Mimili and Pukatja (i.e. four in each community).[i]

As of November 2011, all of these positions were filled.[ii]

The Paper Trail

Policing on the Lands

Although South Australia Police (SA Police) has had “a permanent and continual presence on the APY Lands since 1986,” no sworn police officers were based there between 1996 and 2003.[iii] For those seven years, Anangu community constables were the only police staff resident on the Lands.[iv]

Towards the end of that period, the State Coroner observed that the presence of sworn officers “would have a positive effect” and speculated that they would be “much more effective … if they lived in or near the communities, had a personal relationship with the young people and their families, and were helping and supporting community development projects.”[v]

In September 2002, the Coroner concluded that the recommendations of a 1998 police review should be implemented “forthwith”, particularly those dealing with the “establishment of a permanent, sworn [police] presence” on the APY Lands.[vi]

At the time of the Coroner’s recommendation, SA Police was “in possession of accommodation facilities at Pipalyatjara, Amata and Ernabella [Pukatja].” Despite this, it “was reluctant to base staff in those communities because of the constancy of requests for assistance and thus of the inability of its officers to obtain any time out from their official duties.”[vii]

In March 2004, SA Police agreed to establish seven sworn officer positions on the Lands.[viii]

By the time the Mullighan Inquiry conducted its field trips (in the second half of 2007) this number had increased to eight.[ix] However, none of those positions were based in APY communities. Rather, all of the sworn officers were posted to the administrative centres of Umuwa and Murputja.

In late 2004, the Commissioner of Police explained the rationale for these postings as follows:

Umuwa and … Murputja were selected as accommodation sites for the police officers, and their families, because they were not within specific communities. This is seen as essential, as it permits the officers to be away from the work place when not on duty … when present within a community, police officers are continually approached by community members demanding that their particular problems be attended to, irrespective of its nature, urgency or time of the day or night. Locating officers and their families to Umuwa … would provide respite from these demands, and would also encourage communities to resolve their own, immediate, social problems.[x]

Two years later SA Police remained reluctant to base staff in APY communities. In December 2006, a federally-funded review of policing in remote indigenous communities was told:

SA [Police] has not required its members to reside permanently within communities … Members are universal in their opposition to residing permanently within communities knowing that they would have little opportunity for respite from their duties.[xi]

Calls for community-based policing

For a number of years, many Anangu organisations questioned the consequences of SA Police’s decision not to post sworn officers to APY communities. Summarising evidence received in late 2002, a State Parliamentary Committee reported:

A number of submissions and evidence … called for sworn police officers to be stationed in all of the major communities on the APY Lands or, at least, in much closer proximity to communities in the far west of the state.[xii]

The same Committee concluded:

Police responses to incidences of family violence remain inadequate, with the lack of a permanent police presence on the [APY] Lands making it difficult for victims to seek protection in times of attack and/or to press charges. Many incidents of family violence go unreported.[xiii]

In 2005, on at least two occasions, Iwantja community members wrote directly to the then Minister for Police (Hon Kevin Foley MP) to push the case for sworn officers to be based in their community:

People in Indulkana [Iwantja] have the right to feel safe in their own community … Why does this community have to beg to have a response to a safety matter? … We are the gateway to the APY Lands and have many problems from other communities coming here drunk and causing problems.[xiv]

We need police stationed here to control these problems. Marla [police station] is often too busy and many problems happen at night when patrols are off-duty. This is a real problem for us and we need help immediately.[xv]

Iwantja community members spoke strongly of their desire for sworn police to be based in their community when the Paper Tracker met with them on 23 May 2007.[xvi]

In September 2007, the Paper Tracker provided some assistance to community representatives who travelled to Adelaide to put forward their case for a permanent police presence. On that occasion, SA Police informed the Iwantja community representatives that it had no plans to base sworn police officers in their community on a full-time basis.[xvii]

Findings of the Mullighan Inquiry into child sexual abuse

The pressing need for sworn police officers to be located in Anangu communities was clearly and repeatedly presented to the Mullighan Inquiry.[xviii]

The report of the Inquiry states:

The safety of Anangu in the communities is of critical importance. Until the people are safe from violence and intimidation there can be no effective measure to reduce the incidence of child sexual abuse and to protect and assist people who have been sexually abused as children … At present there are eight sworn police officers resident on the Lands but they do not live in communities. They are placed at Murputja and Umuwa and are a considerable distance from the communities. It is often difficult to contact them after hours, and telephone calls are often directed to SA Police at Port Augusta. Anangu want a permanent police presence in the communities. … There should be a permanent police presence in all of the major communities. [xix][xvii]

The report also comments:

Police facilities and personnel on the Lands are inadequate to provide basic safety and security for the communities and therefore do not contribute significantly to the prevention of sexual abuse of children.[xx]

The police presence on the Lands must be readily available to each of the communities. The remote services provided by the police stationed at Murputja and Umuwa cannot provide a prompt response.[xxi]

It is essential that the permanent police presence in the communities be established without further delay.[xxii]

On that basis of those conclusions, Commissioner Mullighan recommended (Recommendation 40):

That at least four sworn police officers be placed in each of the new police stations to be established on the Lands.

That the police officers be selected not only because of experience and ability but also because of suitability of personality and attitude.

That all police officers positioned in the permanent placements on the Lands, or otherwise working on the Lands, undertake cultural training specifically designed to facilitate their working with Anangu people of the Western Desert.[xxiii]

Government Response to Recommendation 40 of the Mullighan Inquiry

On 6 May 2008, the Premier of South Australia (Hon Mike Rann MP) tabled the Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry report in the South Australian Parliament.

In doing so, the Premier commented specifically on Recommendation 40, saying:

The report also recommends significant extra police resources should be provided (recommendation 40). Today I can also inform the Parliament that we will post eight extra police on the APY Lands … The injection of extra police recognises the need to make the community safe, both for Anangu and for the workers … Commissioner Mullighan recommends that we investigate ways to recruit and retain the very best police suitable for the lands. Providing adequate housing is a critical part of this. It costs almost $500,000 for each police house. Additionally, they must be made secure. Today I can inform Parliament that, with the Rudd Government’s assistance, we will build extra houses for police based on the lands.[xxiv]

While the Paper Tracker welcomed the Commonwealth funding commitment, we were concerned that the Premier, in tabling the report, saw no need to distinguish between policing on the APY Lands and policing in APY communities.

On 28 May 2008, these concerns increased when the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Hon Jenny Macklin MP) announced that her government would, as a matter of some urgency, provide temporary police accommodation to the APY Lands in the form of demountables and that these dwellings would:

be placed adjacent to existing facilities in Murputja and Umuwa to provide additional accommodation and office space, enabling an extra two police to be stationed on the Lands as soon as possible.[xxv]

The Federal Minister offered no explanation as to why this temporary accommodation could not be placed in Amata, Pukatja and other APY communities.

The Paper Tracker recognises the challenges SA Police faces in recruiting and retaining staff on the APY Lands. However, these challenges are not unique and are generally well-managed by other service providers many of whom base the majority of their staff within Anangu communities.[xxvi]

On 7 July 2008, the Paper Tracker asked SA Police for some additional information on its response to Recommendation 40.

In a reply dated 18 July 2008, SA Police confirmed that as well as building new police stations at Amata, Pukatja and Mimili, it would construct “two three-bedroom and two two-bedroom houses for police officers and their families at each of those communities.”[xxvii]

SA Police also advised us that in each of the three communities, the new police complexes would include some “motel style accommodation for visiting officers, such as investigators, Crime Scene or other specialists.”[xxviii]

The new police complexes in Mimili, Amata and Pukatja were completed and open for business in December 2009, February 2010 and April 2010 respectively.[xxix]

Police rosters

In early October 2009, SA Police advised the Paper Tracker that the “rosters/shifts” for the new police complexes were “currently being developed” and would be “signed off after a meeting to be conducted in the next few weeks.” SA Police noted that there would “be an emphasis on flexibility and working at the right time in the right place.”[xxx]

In August 2010, the Paper Tracker asked SA Police for an update on its roster/shifts system, including “the frequency with which sworn police officers are rostered on evening and weekend shifts” in Amata, Mimili and Pukatja.[xxxi]

In a reply dated 24 September 2010, SA Police advised that a “formalised roster” had been designed and in use since March 2010, adding:

Features of the roster include police working afternoon and day shifts, with regular changes to meet absences and changing priorities. The roster is also flexible to enable members to attend regular training, court and other commitments…

The roster requires each officer to work eight afternoon shifts in a four-week period. In saying that, the frequency with which members work afternoon or evening shifts is often dependant upon activities occurring at the time. They are also subject to recall.[xxxii]

SA Police further advised that:

  • as of 1 August 2010 all but one of the 12 sworn officer positions had been filled,
  • a selection for the vacant position – in Pukatja – had recently been made, and
  • this officer would “soon move into that position.”[xxxiii]

Additional information (added 10 May 2012)

In November 2011, the South Australian Government advised State Parliament that the “increased police presence” in APY communities had led to a rise in “crime reporting.”[xxxiv]

This statement was not correct.

On 3 May 2012, SA Police advised a State Parliamentary Committee that the total number of crimes reported to SA Police on the APY Lands had in fact fallen from 550 in 2008 to 516 in 2011 (a decrease of approximately 6%).[xxxv]

This article was last updated in May 2012. It has been archived and will no longer be updated. It will, however, remain accessible online as a source of background information for anyone wishing to undertake further research on this issue. Information included in the article was current at the time it was archived. Keep in mind, however, that Ministerial changes and names of departments, among other things, may have since changed.


[i] Barton, G. 18 July 2008, Letter to Rev P McDonald.

[ii] Government of South Australia. November 2011.Third Annual Report by the Minister for Education and Child Development to the Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry – A Report into Sexual Abuse, p19.

[iii] Osborn, T. 11 March 2004, “Delivery of Police Services, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands,” Project Report, South Australia Police, p4-5.

[iv] The community constables were ostensibly supported by sworn officers located at Marla, outside of the APY Lands.

[v] Chivell, W. 6 September 2002. Findings of Inquest into the death of Kunmanara Thompson, Section 11.57.

[vi] Chivell, W. 6 September 2002. Findings of Inquest into the death of Kunmanara Thompson, Section 13 (Recommendation 8.12).

[vii] See evidence presented to a State Parliamentary Committee in 2002 (Parliament of South Australia, 2004, Report of the Select Committee on Pitjantjatjara Land Rights, pp218, p41). Instead of locating officers to the Lands, in August 2003, SAPOL commenced what was known as the “Marla Support Plan.” This plan aimed to ensure four sworn officers from Marla were “on the lands at all times” (Hyde, M. 30 November 2004, Letter to T. Roberts).

[viii] “South Australia Police Briefing Paper,” December 2006, p2. (Attached as Annexure 2 to Valentin, J. March 2007, An Independent Assessment of Policing in Remote Indigenous Communities for the Government of Australia). The decision to establish those positions was made in the context of the South Australian Government’s decision to intervene in the management of the APY Lands (for two accounts of this intervention see: Reynolds, K. 20 September 2005, Hansard, Legislative Council, Parliament of South Australia, p2617-2618; and Rann, M. 15 January 2008, “Pooled resources to benefit Aborigines,” The Advertiser, p12).

[ix] Government of South Australia, November 2007, “Progress on the APY Lands” report, p8.

[x] Hyde, M. 30 November 2004, Letter to T. Roberts.

[xi] “South Australia Police Briefing Paper,” December 2006, p6. (Attached as Annexure 2 to Valentin, J. March 2007, An Independent Assessment of Policing in Remote Indigenous Communities for the Government of Australia).

[xii] Parliament of South Australia, 2004, Report of the Select Committee on Pitjantjatjara Land Rights, pp218, p42.

[xiii] Parliament of South Australia, 2004, Report of the Select Committee on Pitjantjatjara Land Rights, pp218, p12.

[xiv] Iwantja Community Inc. 17 August 2005, Letter to Hon Kevin Foley MP, Minister for Police.

[xv] Iwantja Community Inc. 23 December 2005, Letter to Hon Kevin Foley MP, Minister for Police.

[xvi] UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide, 2007, “Visit to APY Lands: 18 to 24 May 2007, Record of Main Activities and Discussions,” p11.

[xvii] This information was conveyed by Mr Graeme Barton, Assistant Commissioner, Northern Operations Service, SAPOL, during a meeting held in the office of the Executive Director, Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division, Department of the Premier and Cabinet on 21 September 2007.

[xviii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p244-245.

[xix] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxvii.

[xx] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p236.

[xxi] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p244.

[xxii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, p245.

[xxiii] Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry – a report into sexual abuse, pxxviii.

[xxiv] Rann. M. 6 May 2008, “APY Lands Inquiry,” Ministerial Statement, Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia, p3148 & 3149.

[xxv] Macklin, J. 28 May 2008, “Temporary police accommodation for APY Lands,” Media Release. Available at: http://www.facs.gov.au/internet/jennymacklin.nsf/print/temp_police_accom__28may08.htm. Accessed 29 May 2008.

[xxvi] For example, the bulk of the Lands-based staff of the Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS), the Department for Families and Communities (DFC) and Nganampa Health Council live and work in APY communities.

[xxvii] Barton, G. 18 July 2008, Letter to Rev P McDonald.

[xxviii] Barton, G. 18 July 2008, Letter to Rev P McDonald.

[xxix] Humby, I. (SAPOL). 23 February 2010. Email to J. Nicholls; also Humby, I (SAPOL). 27 April 2010. Email to J. Nicholls.

[xxx] Barton, G. (SAPOL). 2 October 2009. Letter to Rev P McDonald.

[xxxi] McDonald, P. 27 August 2010. Letter to G. Barton (SAPOL).

[xxxii] Barton, G (SAPOL). 24 September 2010. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xxxiii] Barton, G (SAPOL). 24 September 2010. Letter to Rev. P. McDonald.

[xxxiv] Government of South Australia. November 2011.Third Annual Report by the Minister for Education and Child Development to the Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission of Inquiry – A Report into Sexual Abuse, p19.

[xxxv] Hyde, M (SAPOL). 3 May 2012. Letter to G. Dickson, Budget and Finance Committee, Parliament of South Australia, p6.

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