Federal Richmond MP Justine Elliot has accused her state counterpart and parliamentary secretary for police of presiding over a drop of 34 serving police officers in the region over the past 12 months.
It follows calls from Byron’s business chamber (Byron United) for additional police to assist with the town’s alcohol related violence, with unsolved bashings taking place on a weekly basis.
Anti-CSG activists have also criticised the apparent ease with which police can be called upon to protect private mining sites but their apparent lack of availability for beat patrols.
Ms Elliot, who is a former police officer herself, said, ‘Local residents deserve to know why police numbers are in such a sharp decline. But instead Mr Provest is claiming record numbers, which is demonstrably incorrect.
‘It is time that the state government restored policing numbers on the north coast to previous levels. They need to restore the 34 police officers,’ she added.
Ms Elliot made the statement after questions were asked in state parliament on Tuesday about a reduction in the number of operational police officers in the Tweed-Byron region from 198 in February last year to 164 currently.
But a Police Association spokesperson has disputed Labor’s interpretation of the figures, saying the reason for the apparent reduction is a change in the way that highway patrol officers are accounted for.
‘They are highway patrol numbers that were previously counted in the Tweed-Byron Command and have now been moved to the Traffic and Patrol Command,’ Tony King told ABC radio this morning.
Labor’s spokesperson on Byron issues, Amanda Fazio, asked a series of questions of the NSW police minister, Michael Gallacher, in parliament on Tuesday but failed to get a promise from him to restore police numbers.
Ms Fazio asked, ‘In light of recent incidents… in Byron Bay and the Tweed, when will the state government restore the 34 police officers who were removed from the Tweed-Byron local area command in the last year?’
Mr Gallacher responded that the reduced number constituted some officers who were expected to return from long term sick leave and said that the government’s changes to the death and disability scheme would expedite this.
He added that, ‘I suspect that in her question the honourable member is referring [primarily] to the numbers of the Tweed highway patrol officers. I intend to look at that matter as she has requested me to but let me assure members of the House and, more importantly, members of the Tweed-Byron community, that the highway patrol personnel who were there two, three or four years ago are still there today. They are still performing their job but we have given those highway patrol personnel the ability to determine where their expertise needs to be deployed throughout the Tweed-Byron community.’
Ms Fazio then asked when police numbers could be expected to be restored but Mr Gallacher turned the question back on Ms Fazio, talking instead about the record numbers of graduating police who the Liberal-National state government had sent into the regions in 2011.
Ms Fazio raised a point of order on the grounds of relevance but Mr Gallacher continued reminiscing and failed to respond to the question.