Dealing with the second wave

Secretary's Message

By Wayne Gatt

In the last edition of the TPAV Journal we spoke to members about our plans coming out of restrictions, only to find our members right in the thick of it again, dealing with the state’s second wave of infections.

This relatively swift change of trajectory is a measure of the unpredictability of this virus and the uncertainty that it holds for the community, and by extension, all our members.

There are few, if any comparable occasions in the state’s history when our members have been asked to perform such unique and different work to support such a massive community effort.

In some regards, the response expected from police has put our members on a war-like footing – responding at a moment’s notice to unfolding issues and events and performing operations like enforcing mandatory quarantine and operating vehicle checkpoints that would have been unthinkable at the start of the year.

TPAV’s work at the start of this pandemic has paid dividends in working together with Victoria Police to establish protocols to support our members and while we initially thought many of these would not have been invoked as restrictions began to ease, we are finding that most of them are now being activated, as the number of positive cases have soared.

Isolation leave, ‘Hotel for Heroes’, priority testing, restricted duties… the list goes on.

We are pleased that Victoria Police has helped members by eliminating many of the potential workplace and safety issues before they have occurred.

Any police officer or PSO knows it is planning that counts to get things right.

Rising to the challenge

Our experience at the public housing estates was a challenging one for all.

To be fair to Victoria Police, the deployment of our members in great numbers at those towers in Flemington and North Melbourne was an operational task provided to it with little to no notice.

We know that in the absence of information, our members were rightly concerned about the environment they would confront.

Notwithstanding those concerns, you all responded as police and PSOs do which is to, ‘help those in need of assistance’ – and we responded for you by ensuring safe work plans and resources were made available as soon as possible.

We won’t ‘gild the lily’ – there were certainly elements of this particular health response and the decision to immediately lock down certain areas that could have been done better, and with more consultation, but we accept the intent and imperative that existed at the time.

With others from our team, I attended the housing estates last month to provide support to the hundreds of our members and to identify what could be done to improve their health and safety.

I am glad we did.

Seeing and hearing first-hand your frustration and the actual challenges confronting the operation at all levels, deployment, helped us advocate for more to be done to support police and PSO and the health operation.

Our calls for the Australian Defence Force (ADF), and other assistance, came directly from the feedback received from members, frustrated that the support, resources and leadership of the lead health agencies was lacking.

Simple tasks like getting meals delivered fell to the police and PSO, an example that more boots on the ground were needed to get the job done. Eventually, support came in the form of MFB, volunteer lifesavers, SES, Sheriff and Red Cross staff.

Far from over

As that operation began to wind down, the role for police and PSO in hotel quarantine and metropolitan roadblocks was ramping up.

These operations presented their own unique challenges for members, and we are very pleased that the Government and Victoria Police moved quickly to support police at roadblock locations by accepting assistance from ADF personnel.

While the ADF is no replacement for police, and we acknowledge they do not have police or PSO powers, they have lessened the load on our membership which has been focused on emergency management, almost continuously, since Christmas.

To do this work alone would have been taxing at best and unsustainable over the long term.

Feedback from our members about this support has been very positive and I wish to extend our collective thanks to the men and women of the ADF that have lent us a hand on the thin blue (and now green) lines with us.

We will continue to advocate for more support wherever and in whatever form it is required to share the load.

Sadly, this pandemic is likely far from over.

At the time of writing this message, a plan was announced for police to support WorkSafe enforce Chief Health Officer directions in Victorian workplaces.

This, together with the advent of the compulsory wearing of face masks will present yet another challenge for all of us to deal with.

Our members have also been called on to help ‘right the ship’ at some hotel quarantine sites.

Again, we have worked to ensure that this role is shared and supported by other agencies as has been the case in other jurisdictions.

Without doubt, we have a role to play in assisting here but we know that our members cannot be all things to all people, all at the same time.

The dynamic demands placed on police and PSOs have been enormous.

Country and metro members have answered the call and as we tend do as a membership in and out of emergencies, helped to fix things!

Challenges ahead As we navigate the next two months of challenges and the ongoing probability that this way of life may be with us for some time, we will continue to put you first and address your issues as we go forward.

As we do that – you have one more thing to fix that we cannot – complacency!

For months we have advised members to take this virus seriously, practice social distancing in and out of stations and ensure PPE is worn when required.

As we have seen at a range of stations now, the risk of station-based transmission in workplaces from member to member is real.

Police culture tells us that police stations, muster and mess rooms are our safe places. In the context of COVID-19, the reality is that these spaces may conceal our greatest risk.

Please take office sanitisation, personal hygiene and protection in the street and in your workplace seriously.

If it’s not happening at your station or office, you must demand it.

We must lead in workplaces, and in the community, by example.

Finally, owing to COVID-19 we have had to plan for our next Delegates conference to once again be conducted virtually.

We have also had to delay our September Annual General Meeting owing to COVID-19 restrictions beyond our control.

We anticipate this AGM will occur by the end of November. We will advise members of the precise date via our usual digital platforms once this date is locked in.

Please stay safe and keep talking to us as you have.

We cannot fix what we don’t know about.

We’re proud to continue supporting you as you go continue with your work at this difficult time.

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