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Motion: Police Security Response Section

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I move:

That this council notes the significant concerns of many South Australians regarding the arrangements of the new SAPOL Security Response Section (SRS) and calls for a public community consultation process on this matter.

I rise today to call for a community consultation on the SRS. 'What is the SRS?', you may wonder. Those of you who were on the streets of Rundle Mall in early July this year would have seen them launched with a somewhat paramilitary-looking Special Response Section, a new police unit, walking down Rundle Mall looking every bit like they were out of the set of a dystopian film rather than the streets of downtown Adelaide.

I draw members' attention to Sir Robert Peel's nine principles of policing. Indeed, they may or may not actually have been developed by Sir Robert Peel, but they certainly were the principles formulated in 1829 by the first two commissioners of London's metropolitan police department.

Principle 1 is obvious: 'The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder'.

However, Principle 2, 'The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions', is most relevant to this particular debate.

Principle 3: 'Police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public'.

Principle 4: 'The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force'.

And on to Principle 7: 'Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence'.

And finally, skipping to Principle 9: 'The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it'.

These are front of mind when I raise this motion today because back during the state budget, on 18 June 2019, the then Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services, the Hon. Corey Wingard MP, made a statement with the somewhat incendiary headline 'Rapid response locked and loaded'. This was the first announcement we had of this specialist SA Police rapid response section, which it was touted 'will help build a safer future for South Australians by training and equipping its officers with cutting-edge technology, following a Marshall Liberal Government commitment of more than $9 million in the 2019-20 State Budget.' It goes on to say:

The South Australia Police Security Response will deploy highly-visible, specially trained officers across the Adelaide metropolitan area targeting at-risk crowded places and responding to violent incidents, such as a terrorist attack, in support of first responders.

The specialist section has enhanced tactical skills and operational equipment including longarm-weapons such as semi-automatic rifles.

To provide an enhanced operational capability, members will receive advanced training in some tactics traditionally only provided to Special Tasks and Rescue Group (STAR) operatives.

The section will also consist of bomb appraisal officers who will undertake a rapid initial assessment of suspect IEDs and tactical flight officers to enhance situational awareness for responders on the ground in open area events and crowded places.

It further states:

The new officers will form a second-tier response, able to support both first responders and STAR Operations to better manage violent incidents.

The then police minister said that this new section will help build a safer, more secure state for all South Australians. It describes it as a 'rapid response capability' and goes on to note the Marshall election promise, which was:

We promised to South Australians we would build them a safer state and this funding is delivering on this pledge.

The new section does not replace either STAR Operations members or first responders.

It also notes that part of that funding was a particular fixated threat mental health service, and certainly that is not the topic of this particular motion.

Some nine months on from that announcement in June 2019, we are back at the beginning of the incarnation of this SRS. Police minister Corey Wingard and the CEO of Australia's market leading security and crisis management services went on talkback radio and stated that these militarised police would be 'low profile', 'only deployed on the basis of intelligence', and that 'we would not see teams of them up and down Rundle Mall'—a literal quote from those two gentlemen on talkback radio back in 2019.

But what did we see this year? Literally, SRS officers being launched with a walk up and down Rundle Mall, for every bit of it looking like that dystopian film right here in Adelaide. It was not a once-off. That was not a media stunt. Indeed, we were told to get used to it, the police minister telling us to go up and say hello to them and that they would be very friendly, and to expect them at the Christmas Pageant, in Rundle Mall, at the football and at the Central Market. Wherever South Australians would be out and about the SRS would be there.

That official public announcement of the SRS, where these officers do indeed look like they are heading into military combat, has seen them out at train stations, at bus interchanges, at shopping centres and in suburban shopping malls. That announcement and those pictures of the SRS walking up and down Rundle Mall were met with a social media backlash that saw hundreds of responses to those SAPOL social media posts saying that the SRS were intimidating, terrifying, frightening and traumatic.

Certainly it was unexpected, and certainly it was completely contrary to the talkback radio promise at the first announcement of this budget allocation that they would not be walking up and down Rundle Mall and that they would indeed be a rapid response, but certainly not out on the streets of downtown Adelaide day in and day out. What was the response of SAPOL to this social media backlash? It was to pull the social media posts and to put up a video the next day reassuring people that they did not understand.

The government and SAPOL have not properly communicated with the public about the development and deployment of this heavily armed unit that is the SRS. Indeed, in terms of their operations, according to media reports, the SRS has been deployed in one case to perform a welfare check—which ended up in somewhat of a siege—and they also arrested a man for choosing the wrong laneway to walk down one night in Adelaide, first claiming he had a knife (he did not) and arresting him for no apparent reason, certainly not on the basis of any intelligence that we could ascertain.

We have been told that the SRS is a section reserved for major events as the threat of terrorism is always present. That leads me to wonder if both the then minister and the police commissioner have forgotten to refer to the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee's strategy for protecting crowded places, which clearly outlines that 'community engagement through information sharing and collaboration…is an intrinsic part' of this policing. The committee maintains that the success of counterterrorism plans 'rests on the strong partnership between governments and the private sector'.

Given the strong reaction from the public on the announcement of the SRS, it would seem that we were not engaged, we were not informed and, if this is SAPOL's new method of policing, we need to rethink where we are going. The original SRS social media post received such extraordinary levels of backlash that it was soon deleted. The original media announcements, with those heavily armed units patrolling up and down Rundle Mall, actually saw a community outpouring online through the use of a petition, a petition that within a weekend had 3½ thousand signatures, a petition started by a man who is not normally involved in politics but was so horrified by what he saw happening in his home town that he felt the need to start that petition online.

Some of the quotes on that petition have included: 'SA Police is now deploying officers armed with assault rifles. We don't want American gun culture here.' The petition's creator, Ripley Newbold, has stated that he was just so horrified: 'I couldn't quite understand why we would need something like that. I felt the justification SAPOL had given for their existence was really flimsy at best.' That petition now has over 12,000 signatures on it—12,000 voices that have not yet been heard in this debate, 12,000 voices that deserve to be heard.

I refer members back to those principles of policing. In a democracy like ours in South Australia, we have policing by consent and we have policing that has to engage the community, and it does in fact normally engage the community. The PACE forums are much boasted about in terms of engaging the community, and we see regular police and community meetings on all manner of issues.

Back in 2010, when the police changed their uniforms, there was a six-week consultation process. Indeed, there were changes between what the police officers themselves wanted as a uniform and what we ended up with. Six weeks of consultation on a new uniform: zero days of consultation on a paramilitary unit that came as a shock and surprise to South Australians when it was launched down Rundle Mall. If you can consult on changing the colour of your uniform, surely you can consult on whether or not the community feels safer as a result of the SRS.

I would urge the new police minister to take this on board. I would urge SAPOL to rethink this strategy. I would urge them to listen to the words of the Victorian police commissioner. Every other state and territory now has a similar unit, but no other Australian state or territory has a unit that is out patrolling on the streets. The Victorian police commissioner is on record saying, 'Of course we wouldn't have this unit on the streets. They are a response unit.'

The weaponry and the paramilitary force is kept for when it is needed, not shown at the football or the Christmas Pageant to scare the kiddies and not shown in a way that creates fear and intimidation in our community, particularly for those unexpectedly coming across it at the Modbury interchange or the Colonnades shopping centre, where there is no need for this show of force. There was certainly no community consultation nor consent to be policed this way.

With those words, I commend the motion to this council. I will write to the new police minister seeking a briefing on the SRS for all members of parliament. I urge SAPOL to undertake community consultation, to listen to the backlash they received when they announced the SRS and not simply delete the posts but amend their attitudes and approach.

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