Cops and robbers

You think a deregulated VET sector was a bridge too far?

Steve Goldberg
Lidcombe TAFE College

Picture this: a free-market ideologue with very close connections to a swag of politicians from the major parties, senior government policymakers and CEOs of blue-chip companies finds his beloved Beemer has had its windows smashed and tyres let down — again.

Furious, he goes to the local police station and happens to arrive just when there is a lull in activity at the front counter. The sergeant is at his desk having a cup of tea. Some officers are having a boisterous chat about the upcoming State of Origin.

Struggling to contain his anger at the momentary inactivity he sees, our ideologue makes a mental note to see that stations like this get “fixed”.

For him, police stations should always be a hive of activity. The crims are winning the war and the police response is to enjoy an undeserved coffee break rather than being out on the beat, collaring miscreants such as those who smashed his windscreen.

Clearly, the police force needs to improve productivity. It matters not a scrap to our ideologue that these officers are called to this dangerous and stressful job through a sense of vocation and a desire to perform a public service. The police service is a business, he is a customer and the customer service was poor.

A week later in Canberra he meets up with like-minded friends and insists there is a law and order crisis and the police force’s monopoly on law enforcement is the problem Holding Us Back. He has a PowerPoint presentation titled Tomorrow’s Policing with a model on how to fix this crisis once and for all:

  • Deregulate the police force. Instead of there being one state-run police force, invite private Law Enforcement Providers (LEPs) to tender for taxpayer funds to provide policing services.
  • Strip away components of the current requisite two-year associate degree qualification for police officers; all that namby-pamby criminology they study is superfluous. Create a new Certificate IV in Policing course available through private RTOs with a key focus on arresting and detaining. There is no minimum class attendance for this qualification and proof of ownership of a DVD box set of The Bill may count for some recognition of prior learning.
  • Ensure that RTOs tell would-be Certificate IV in Policing candidates that the course will be free, with opportunities for online self-paced learning and they will never need to pay back any VET FEE-HELP loans because they will never earn enough to do so.
  • Cease funding police stations and officer positions on the basis of where they are located or how busy they might be. State-run police stations are now merely government-owned LEPs in competition with private LEPs. The Police Commissioner of the public LEP is rechristened The Business Owner. His salary is doubled, CEO-style, and his e-mail missives come thick and fast. Most contain expressions such as “it has never been a more exciting time to be involved in policing”.
  • Revamp how LEPs are funded. No station gets anything more than an allowance to fund basic utilities, tasers, pistols and uniforms. Salaries, petrol and siren amplifiers for police cars will now be paid from the contestable budget and 35 per cent of these funds are paid to stations for arrests. The remaining 65 per cent is paid upon convictions.
  • Create a new regulatory body and name it APSQA (Australian Policing Standards Quality Authority). Give three guys the power to check the electronic records and paper trails to ensure “fair play” in law enforcement and make binding decisions when there are disputes between LEPs and the public, or rather, “customers” as they are to be called.

A year later, the new service delivery model is implemented. Suddenly, arrests are happening everywhere. The first places hit as part of this new competitive model are towns and suburbs where there is a large Aboriginal or Middle Eastern population or wherever there are lots of housing commission flats. People with intellectual disabilities are rounded up in no time.

Grumblings among concerned citizens are dismissed by the Police Minister. He exhorts the publicly-funded LEP officers to “stop whinging and get out there and compete. It is a level playing field.”

He tells the viewers that Gotcha, one of the best known LEPs in Matraville, has experienced significant organisational pain and now understands the incentive to play by the rules, having had its taxpayer funding frozen for a week over allegations by two 15-year-old customers being verballed for shoplifting, following an APSQA audit.

A week later, the news reports that the millionaire CEO of Gotcha! is facing bankruptcy owing to taxation irregularities. He manages, however, to reach a confidential settlement with the ATO and pledges better corporate governance before suddenly selling his Gotcha! shares.

A few months pass and suddenly there he is again, running a new LEP from swish new premises at Barangaroo. The former police minister attends the opening of this new LEP and makes a speech telling everyone what a great Australian his mate is.