Northern Rivers District Policing
NORTHERN RIVERS DISTRICT POLICING
Mr D. L. PAGE (Ballina) [6.18]: I raise the issue of policing in my electorate and generally on the North Coast of New South Wales. I congratulate the Minister, the Government and senior officers of the New South Wales Police Service on their recent decision to conduct a review of policing numbers in the Northern Rivers district, which covers the electorates of Clarence, Lismore, Ballina and Murwillumbah. Honourable members would be aware of this Government's good record of increasing the number of police available to assist the public. There are 16,000 police in New South Wales at present, which is an increase of 1,600 since this Government came to office. That fulfils a promise that the Government made in 1988 in relation to increasing police numbers. Indeed, my electorate has had the benefit of increased police numbers. Police numbers at Ballina, for example, increased from 17 to 37 when Ballina was made a 24-hour police station, and at Byron Bay the number of police increased from 10 to 19 during that same period.
The growth rate on the North Coast is three times that of the statewide average and twice that of the average population growth rate for the Sydney metropolitan area. It is sufficiently high to warrant further investigation of the overall police needs within this rapidly growing area. I commend the Government and the officers involved for undertaking this serious review of police strength in the area. I commend them also for agreeing to report back to the new chief superintendent in charge of the Northern Rivers police district, Chief Superintendent Terry Collins, by the middle of December at the latest. The review will be in-depth and available within about three weeks. The situation that exists in Alstonville-Wollongbar is of considerable concern to me, as it would be to other members if they were aware of the situation. There is only one policeman in that area to look after 12,000 people. That is amazing.
Mr W. T. J. Murray: They are law-abiding people.
Mr D. L. PAGE: As the honourable member for Barwon said, my constituents are law-abiding people. Alstonville-Wollongbar is located between Ballina and Lismore. The community is well served by police from both districts. I would like to see an extra policeman placed at Alstonville. I attended a meeting about a week ago at which some 250 local residents indicated their concern and expressed their support for a second officer. I think we could achieve that goal by transferring Alstonville and Wollongbar, which are currently in the Lismore patrol area, into the Ballina patrol area. There are good reasons for doing that. The response time from Alstonville to Ballina is shorter than it is from Lismore. Alstonville and Wollongbar are also in the Ballina local government area. There is a community interest in relation to this issue.
I have made a number of other public statements in regard to Alstonville. I am pleased that the Alstonville community is taking the lead from Wollongbar in setting up its own Neighbourhood Watch. I encourage all communities to do that, instead of putting their hands out for funds to employ more police officers. Many communities in New South Wales have taken the initiative and set up Neighbourhood Watch. It is a good idea to reduce crime.
I would also like the review to consider seriously the situation at Byron Bay. I have spoken about this before. There is a real problem in Byron Bay because of the influx of people during holiday periods, such as New Year. During such times the population grows from 5,000 to 20,000. There are 19 police officers at Byron Bay, but we need to work towards having a 24-hour police station, which would involve probably 24 officers. In addition, there is a unique opportunity to look at the accommodation arrangements for police at Byron Bay. I am looking forward to taking that up with the Minister when he arrives in my electorate on 8th December to discuss these issues.
Mr PHILLIPS (Miranda - Minister for Health) [6.23]: I thank the honourable member for Ballina for raising this important issue. The Government can take great credit for its attitude to law enforcement, crime and corruption in this State. Those of us who were members of this House in the 1980s would remember quite clearly the veil that hung over New South Wales with respect to corruption. That had a demoralising impact on our community. At that time we had a rotating prison system and there were enormous pressures on the police force. Since that time great advances have been made in the way the police force has been structured and the way corruption has been tackled in this State. That veil has been lifted. Police numbers have increased.
The biggest advance that has been made in policing is the implementation of genuine community policing, through Neighbourhood Watch and Safety House programs. The community is taking a much greater role and responsibility. We should not be measuring the quality of our society by how many police officers we have; we should be measuring it by how safe we are in our daily lives. The community has a fundamental role to play because the police cannot do everything on their own. I commend the honourable member for Ballina for raising this
important issue. I am sure that the Minister for Police and Minister for Emergency Services will note the issues raised by the honourable member when he visits his electorate on 8th December. [Time expired.]