Women in Policing | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 11:35 :40 ): It is a pleasure for me, on behalf of the opposition—and I know that other speakers will do the same—to support the member’s motion: 

That this house recognises the 100th anniversary of w omen serving as police officer s in the South Australian police force.

I have no doubt that every single member in this chamber strongly supports that motion, as they should. To begin, I would just like to read a couple of things which set some context. Firstly, from the South Australia Police Historical Society website:

The South Australia Women Police Branch came into operation on 1st December, 1915. Miss Kate Cocks and Miss Annie Ross were appointed as Constables, the primary reason being the growing social problem of immorality in the community, particularly in relation to young girls. The Branch was the first Women Police Service in the then British Empire , and the second in the world.

The website also states:

Until 1973 only single women were permitted to join, and they had to resign if t hey married…

In 1979, female recruits underwent the same selection standards and training as male officers. According to the website, ‘There were no restrictions to their career paths or promotional opportunities offered.’ I would also like to give a bit of information from an online article written by Mr Brett Williamson for ABC Adelaide, with some other very relevant facts:

On April 27, 1915, a collection of 20 community groups petitioned the Chief Secretary A.W. Styles to employ female officers….

Crown solicitor Charles Dashwood advised there was no legal barrier to employing female officers.

‘ The only limitation was that the government would need to pay the women exactly the same [wage] as the men and give them the same authority, ‘…

That was obviously a concern at the time, but quite appropriately, no longer. The article continues:

The ruling to pay female police the same as men was the first time such a thing had been done in the British Empire.

The government of the time, the police of the time, and certainly the women of the time who received equal pay, were leaders, and deserve to be recognised as such. I remember being at the South Australia Police Academy a few years ago for the 175th anniversary of South Australia Police very well. It was an absolutely tremendous occasion. One of the many wonderful recognitions that were given that day was for the women serving in South Australia Police. It was certainly one of the many things that was highlighted, and it was a pleasure to see that.

At the moment, women make up approximately 25 per cent of the total South Australian police force, but we have more than that in very senior leadership roles. We have Deputy Commissioner Linda Williams, Assistant Commissioner Linda Fellows, and Assistant Commissioner Bronwyn Killmier in those very senior ranks, and it is a pleasure to have all three of them with us today, along with other very important female representatives from SAPOL.

Everybody in this house and throughout the community should be made aware (or indeed, if they are aware, remind themselves) that South Australia Police, out of all the police forces through all the states in the nation, is held in the highest regard by the public. Surveys continually show that the South Australian police force is valued more highly by South Australians than other police forces are by other people in other states. I am sure that is, in no small measure, due to the role that female officers play in the broader policing work. SAPOL has been a leader and continues to be a leader in many ways, and that is one of them, and I think the women who serve us in SAPOL can be very proud of that.

Women fulfil many roles. I think, across almost every single area of our current modern day police force, there are women serving in all of the different areas. It might seem like a small thing and perhaps not one of the glamorous roles, but, as the member for Stuart, I am regularly made aware of how often female police officers work on their own in charge of single officer stations in very remote places and communities across country and outback areas, with which I am very familiar, have no hesitation about that whatsoever. It has never ever happened that anybody has said to me, ‘Gee, you know, we’re a bit remote. They’re all on their own. That officer could be put in a difficult situation. I wish it was a bloke instead of a woman.’ That has never happened in my 17 years, I think, of living in country and outback South Australia.

Communities appreciate female police officers enormously, even when they are working all on their own. In fact, I would go so far as to say that communities rally around police officers in remote places very well. Communities appreciate the fact that there is a station, they appreciate the fact that there is an officer, and they will do what they can to support that officer, whether it be to welcome them into the community or into their homes in a social way, or whether it be to support them in a potentially more difficult, stressful, confronting work environment. So, there is no hesitation about having female officers in those roles whatsoever.

I will touch on Commissioner Grant Stevens’ recent announcement that, as of January of this year, he intends to recruit 50 per cent women into the Police Academy. Again, that is leading the way, from South Australia’s perspective, across the nation. I think it is very important we recognise the commissioner has taken that step. I think it is also very important that he has said simultaneously that this will not impede the delivery of service by the South Australian police at all. He has said that publicly, he has said that privately. I know that he means it. I also know that he will have to make some adjustments within SAPOL to deliver on those two commitments, and I will certainly do everything I can possibly do as the shadow minister for police to support him in that. Some of those adjustments will make the South Australian police force better than it has been in the past.

I do not think it is a sexist thing at all to acknowledge that there are some tasks in some areas that women are better at, and some tasks in some areas that men are better at, in general. It does not mean that every single woman or every single man fits that role, but there are an enormous amount of problem solving issues and perhaps even, let me say, intuition. Policing is a science and operational based, on evidence, but officers need to trust their own beliefs in certain things. There are many areas where women are better than men, on average, and I think that having more women in the South Australian police force will enhance the South Australian police force.

Let me just say on behalf of the opposition, and I am sure every member of this house would agree, thank you to all of the women who have served in SAPOL for 100 years until now. For all of the people, particularly, who are sworn officers at the moment, we appreciate your contribution, your leadership and your hard work in protecting our community, preventing crime and apprehending people who have committed crimes. We value the work you do very highly. So, on behalf of the opposition and, as I said, I am sure every member here, thank you for doing that.