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COVID-19 inquiry: Federal police union wants ‘national guard’ to ease burden on officers in next pandemic

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
2 Min Read
The Federal police union wants a ‘national guard’ to ease the burden on officers in the next pandemic.
The Federal police union wants a ‘national guard’ to ease the burden on officers in the next pandemic. Credit: Kelsey Reid/Kalgoorlie Miner

Standing up a “national guard” made up of civilians but with powers to enforce health restrictions should be considered to ease the workload on police during the next pandemic, a major union has recommended.

The Australian Federal Police Association has called for a feasibility study into the concept in its submission to the Commonwealth’s inquiry into COVID-19.

Police forces nationwide were stretched to capacity during the pandemic, with officers forced to juggle normal frontline duties with emergency tasks including patrolling border checkpoints, enforcing social distancing rules and managing quarantine.

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In its submission to the inquiry, the AFPA said it was worth considering setting up a “national guard” to free up police officers to focus on their main job.

The National Guard in the US is essentially a civilian defence force that is regularly deployed into domestic emergencies, including natural disasters.

Establishing an Australian equivalent has been suggested — including by Tasmanian crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie – as one option to reduce the reliance on the Australian Defence Force during bushfires, cyclones and floods.

WA Police continue to man the border on Monday after the hard closure came into effect on midnight on Sunday. Mandurah motorcyclist Chris Joy was stopped as police referred his case to Perth to see what his fate would be.
WA Police continue to man the border on Monday after the hard closure came into effect on midnight on Sunday. Mandurah motorcyclist Chris Joy was stopped as police referred his case to Perth to see what his fate would be. Credit: Kelsey Reid/Kalgoorlie Miner

The AFPA said a national guard would not do community police work in a future pandemic, but rather assist officers and other first responders with manning borders and enforcing social distancing rules.

“National guard personnel could be given special powers during a declared incident, such as biosecurity checking, the authority to request personal details, or the power to stop and detain for suspected breaches of pandemic or natural disaster restrictions,” the submission said.

AFPA president Alex Caruana said the extra responsibilities imposed on officers during the pandemic meant normal policing work “wasn’t getting the attention that it needed”.

“In order to make sure that organised crime doesn’t capitalise on that, it is important that we are least consider it (a national guard) and look at the merits of having something set up,” Mr Caruana told The West Australian.

“Whether that be a national guard, or something similar, to fill that gap where it’s not policing and it’s not the military.”

A feasibility study should be conducted into the idea, the APFA recommended, focusing on costs and the likely timeframes for getting a national guard up and running.

In other recommendations, the police association called for the act of deliberately coughing or spitting on a police officer during a pandemic to be made a Commonwealth offence.

Cases were regularly reported during COVID-19, the AFPA said, taking a heavy mental and physical toll on officers and their families.

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