Sydney Mardi Gras Policing

Sydney Mardi Gras Policing

(Private Members Statement, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Large numbers of constituents and visitors to my electorate have contacted me about the well-publicised policing incidents that occurred after the Mardi Gras parade, which highlighted a number of other concerns about policing at Mardi Gras events. This is especially disturbing given the history of violence targeted at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] communities. While only a handful of formal complaints have been made to date, I understand that more than 40 people contacted agencies, such as the Inner City Legal Centre, the Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Redfern Legal Centre, for advice and support to make complaints about policing at this year's festival. Those reports included heavy-handed policing, aggressive language, failure to respond to concerns about safety, public strip searches, large-scale drug detection dog operations treating everyone as criminals, and police comments on clothing and appearance.

One issue that raised many concerns was the large police presence preventing people from crossing Oxford Street, even after the parade had finished, when the priority always should have been on protecting the community. Mardi Gras organisers, the Roads and Maritime Services and police have identified that this caused many issues and indicated their commitment to ensuring it does not happen next time. Large-scale events such as the Mardi Gras parade require policing by consent and recognise that police and the public need to work together to mitigate incidents and ensure a safe and enjoyable evening is had by all. While I do not condone offensive language, it is time to discuss what it is in its justification to confine and charge people. Additionally, police officers should not prevent witnesses from observing and filming incidents. Some people have commented that the change of name from the Police Service to the Police Force undermines the growing police customer service focus and does no justice to the strong focus on relationship building.

This can be seen especially with inner-city police commands, which have built a strong partnership with residents, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities. This good relationship was evident with police recognising the community's concerns and committing to working together to fix problems. The Minister for Police's response to the Mardi Gras incidents deserves to be commended. He met with me and Mardi Gras organisers immediately after the incidents came to light and committed to a thorough and fair investigation, which has commenced already with the NSW Ombudsman being involved directly. The Minister and the Commissioner of Police followed up with a further meeting last week. The Surry Hills commander and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex corporate spokesperson, Donna Adney, have been responsive and fronted up to hear criticism and look for solutions at a recent forum I organised with Mardi Gras organisers and the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.

All police officers should treat lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community members with respect. My forum identified the need for better training and education of all police officers about these communities and other minority groups. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community members should contribute to this training and work directly with police. Many concerns related to drugs policing, with allegations of public strip searches and searches without reasonable suspicion of possession. Reports were made of all Mardi Gras event patrons being treated with suspicion and many being publicly humiliated. While drug detection dog operations are seen as a visible response to illegal drug activity, I am concerned that often they are an ineffective approach that undermines harm minimisation strategies by encouraging low-level drug users to ingest large amounts of drugs as the dogs approach.

I call on the Government to review drug policing strategies and focus resources and efforts on dealing with trafficking. It is time to start a community conversation about drug law reform and evidence-based drug strategies. There is significant community concern about how complaints are investigated, and a significant misunderstanding about the role of the Ombudsman. Many people want an independent body that does more than make recommendations but ensures that officers who assault citizens are dismissed. A large number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community groups have started a petition addressing these serious concerns about inherent conflicts with internal police investigations.

They say police should not be investigated by police. We need a complaints system that both police and the community can trust. I call on the Government to review the system to ensure investigations are prompt, thorough and fair, with necessary action taken and reported to the community. The Ombudsman needs sufficient resources to oversee all serious complaints and report promptly, so that the community can see that justice is done. I will continue to work with police and Mardi Gras organisers to make sure future Mardi Gras events are safe and well managed. I will call on the Government to review and properly fund the complaints and oversight systems to ensure all citizens are treated fairly and with respect.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!