Lake Macquarie Electorate Policing

21st September 2023

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (17:10): Over the past few days there was much discussion in this House about public sector wage rises, safe staffing levels for nurses and midwives and additional paramedics for regional New South Wales. Those are all very worthy initiatives in the New South Wales budget and I applaud the Government for its commitment to addressing the staffing issues affecting our public sector workforces. Though one area that did not get as much attention in the budget was police resourcing, which is a significant issue in Lake Macquarie. The Lake Macquarie electorate falls under the Lake Macquarie Police District. It is the same command that covers much of Swansea, the electorate of our police Minister, so I know that the Minister is well aware of the issues I am speaking about today. Indeed, the Minister and I have discussed policing issues very recently. She empathetically answered a question from the member for Barwon on the broader issue in question time today.

But over the past few months my office has been made aware of an increasing number of crime-related issues in the Lake Macquarie electorate. Some common themes have emerged, including theft, antisocial behaviour, inappropriate use of motorbikes and scooters, and malicious damage. The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research quarterly update for June 2023 was released this week. The update, particularly the comparison of crime rates in the Lake Macquarie local government area over the past two years, supports my community's concerns. In Lake Macquarie the recorded number of break and enters of dwellings is up 16.5 per cent between July 2021 and June 2023. Motor vehicle theft is up 28.1 per cent. Stealing from retail stores is up 28.5 per cent and stealing from persons is up 80 per cent.

Two police stations in my electorate are within the Lake Macquarie Police District: Toronto and Morisset. The current Morisset Police Station was opened in October 2016 with much fanfare. It was celebrated as a state-of-the-art police station that could accommodate general duties police with meal rooms, meeting facilities and improved canine facilities for dog units. Initially the station was open to the public from 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., Monday to Friday. Since its opening date, I have been campaigning for an ongoing 24/7 police presence at Morisset Police Station. In the five years between 2016 and 2021 there has been an 18 per cent increase in the populations of postcodes 2264 and 2265, which include Morisset and its surrounding suburbs. Yet I was shocked to find out recently that, instead of police resourcing being increased at Morisset, the doors of the station are no longer open to the public, with no general duties officers based there.

While the growing population of Lake Macquarie presents a compelling argument to extend police services in the southern Lake Macquarie area, the opposite is occurring. I am very concerned that the rising crime rates around the area correlate with the reduction in the police presence in Morisset. The Lake Macquarie Police District has also been plagued in recent years by too high a turnover of area commanders. Notwithstanding the quality of those who have taken the helm, the short stays make it hard for me and other members to discuss concerns directly with the local area management. I do not in any way criticise the hard work of the officers of the Lake Macquarie Local Area Command. They do an extraordinary job and are no doubt doing the best they can with the resources they have.

Police officers on any given day can witness the very worst of humanity; no doubt that takes its toll. In 2022 there were eight police suicides in New South Wales alone. I acknowledge the work the NSW Police Force is undertaking to support the mental health needs of its workforce. But clearly significant staffing issues are affecting the force. I note that this weekThe Daily Telegraph—I do not normally quote it—reported on police staffing shortages in the NSW Police Force. There are more than 1,350 vacancies in the force, not factoring in vacancies caused by leave. The Police Association of New South Wales has also reported an increasing number of officers exiting the force in recent years due to being medically unfit.

I recognise that the Government has inherited this issue and that it believes addressing public sector wages will help to recruit and retain public sector workers. But the issue is clearly starting to have a serious effect on New South Wales communities. With particular reference to my community, fewer police are on the ground. I believe one obvious step to address the rising crime rates is to ensure that the doors of Morisset Police Station reopen to the community as soon as possible. The police numbers allocated in the area are reflective of the current population and are not even close to addressing the very significant growth in the greater Morisset area.

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