House of Assembly: Thursday, March 23, 2023


Public Works Committee: SAPOL APY Police Post Construction

Mr BROWN (Florey) (11:24): I move:

That the 26th report of the Public Works Committee, entitled South Australia Police APY Police Post Construction, be noted.

The public works submission from South Australia Police (SAPOL) proposes to construct two new police stations, police housing and associated infrastructure at Fregon and Pipalyatjara in the APY lands. The proposal includes an option to build a third police post at Indulkana, subject to provision of budget through the state budget process.

The APY lands cover an area approximately 93,000 square kilometres in the state's north-west, adjoining the Northern Territory and Western Australian borders. The APY lands are part of the NPY lands, home to 26 remote communities and homelands, which extend some 350,000 square kilometres across the borders of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

The remote environment of the APY lands, with vast geographical distances between communities, creates a unique set of complexities and challenges. Policing the communities while meeting the needs of staff working in isolated locations is one such challenge. The proposed works aim to address this challenge and better support communities, government and non-government agencies working in isolated communities, ultimately allowing SAPOL to place the right number of police in communities at the right time. In addition, the new and modern accommodation proposed is designed to reduce SAPOL members' exposure to health risks associated with working in isolated conditions.

SAPOL describes existing police facilities in the three communities as basic sheds in 'extremely poor condition', with no ability for expansion. The proposed works will replace the aged infrastructure with more robust permanent structures that can withstand the harsh environmental conditions. Construction plans utilise modular buildings that combine office, accommodation and storage facilities to reduce the need for on-site labour.

For each of the three locations, the project proposes the construction of one police station with interview rooms, a reception area or front counter and workstations, three or four individual short-term accommodation apartments for visiting criminal investigation, domestic violence and crime scene officers, pilots and relief staff, and a carport to serve both the police station and accommodation.

Currently police officers are deployed from the communities of Umuwa, Mimili and Amata to provide support in Fregon, Indulkana and Pipalyatjara. As a result of the extended travel times, officers can be challenged by fatigue and have limited time on site. Constructing police accommodation in the three communities will enable officers to remain on site for extended periods, increasing police visibility and accessibility. The facilities will also provide a suitable and comfortable area for community members to conduct general police business, such as providing statements and participating in interviews.

A major objective of these works is to improve the wellbeing, safety and security of APY communities. By providing appropriate police infrastructure, SAPOL can increase policing services in the APY lands. These works form part of a whole-of-government approach to working with communities in the planning of infrastructure and assessment of regional priorities.

The title to all lands, including the sites for the projects in the APY lands, has been vested in the APY pursuant to the APY Land Rights Act 1981. Final approvals from the traditional landowners were obtained, allowing a final anthropology submission to the APY Executive Board in December 2021. On 24 December 2021, SAPOL received approvals for the construction of the three police posts. The Crown, in consultation with SAPOL, is preparing a lease document with APY to ensure SAPOL contractors have access to the three sites and SAPOL has authority to use the required land. The authority of the Minister for Police and the APY Executive Board will be sought to ratify the lease once it is finalised.

The tender process for engaging the construction contractor is being managed by the Department for Infrastructure and Transport (DIT). Construction is scheduled to commence in May 2023, with practical completion in June 2024. However, the proposed construction period includes the extremely hot summer months; therefore, the actual construction time line may differ from that currently proposed. DIT has confirmed that additional time is required to complete construction, given the remote location and market conditions, with a more accurate time line to be agreed upon with the future contractor.

SAPOL considers the critical issue in implementing a successful construction program to be the approvals process, and this is actively being monitored and managed by DIT. Required approvals include, but are not limited to, receipt of the State Commission Assessment Panel approval, as well as the finalised land lease arrangements with the APY Executive Board.

The total budget currently available to deliver both the Fregon and Pipalyatjara work packages, excluding GST, is $7.62 million. The estimated cost to deliver a third police post at Indulkana is $3.34 million, with the total cost to complete all three police posts estimated at $10.31 million. This results in a current budget shortfall of $2.69 million, excluding GST. However, this is being pursued as part of the budget process.

SAPOL affirms that engagement and consultation have been key themes throughout their concept planning works and ongoing consultation with various stakeholders will continue during the design and construction process. SAPOL has consulted the three communities in respect of the proposed sites and facilities to be provided and has received approval to construct.

Consultation has also been undertaken with SAPOL members and executive stakeholders through the SAPOL governance structure. SAPOL also reports that appropriate interdepartmental consultation has occurred. The Department of Treasury and Finance has confirmed funds are available in the state budget for the Fregon and Pipalyatjara works.

The committee has examined written and oral evidence in relation to this project. Witnesses who appeared before the committee were Ms Karen Kochergen, Director, Infrastructure and Assets, SA Police; Mr Shane Addison, Detective Superintendent, SA Police; and Mr John Harrison, Director Buildings Projects, Department for Infrastructure and Transport. I thank all the witnesses for their time.

Based upon the evidence considered, and pursuant to section 12C of the Parliamentary Committees Act 1991, the Public Works Committee reports to parliament that it recommends the proposed public works.

Mr TELFER (Flinders) (11:30): I welcome this 26th report of the Public Works Committee and their recommendation. As the shadow minister for police, corrections and community safety, it is an opportune time for us to remember just how challenging it is to be policing, especially in our regional and remote isolated areas.

We know that safety in the APY lands was terribly thrust into the spotlight by the tragic murder of outback nurse Gayle Woodford at Fregon in March 2016. I cannot believe it has been seven years since that event. It was one that rocked the community of South Australia, and especially those of us in regional and remote South Australia. It is always important to make sure that we keep in context the challenges involved in working within isolated communities. Thus, as I said, I welcome this report from the Public Works Committee. Investments such as this are necessary to keep our community safe.

I recognise the unique nature of policing within a community with a significant Indigenous population and the need to be engaged directly with Indigenous elders and community leaders as a part of policing within such communities. It is a whole immersion into a community when you are policing in isolated parts of South Australia, and that includes a lot of the community policing, the proactive policing, those relationships that are really important with community.

Those of us who are engaged with regional South Australia certainly see the challenges of recruiting and retaining our police force. It is happening across the state at the moment. We see the public reports about how challenging it is to actually be recruiting and retaining people within our police force but that is no more pertinent than within regional and remote South Australia.

As the member for Flinders, I see that prominently within some of my communities, especially those that have additional challenges with policing. I have been hearing directly from communities and police within Ceduna, Port Lincoln, and also further abroad from my electorate, from Port Augusta, Whyalla, as well as our remote and regional communities such as through the APY lands and outback South Australia.

Investments such as this into making sure that people are equipped to keep our community safe really does highlight the importance of officer support through not just the infrastructure but also the facility and the services to make sure that we are actually retaining a police force within regional and remote South Australia.

I know that there is a fine balance that always needs to be had, but the two pillars of policing, especially within our regional and remote communities, are, firstly, keeping our community safe and, secondly, keeping offenders accountable for their actions. It is always at the pointy end of policing within our regional and remote communities. It is an ongoing challenge.

As I said, I see it predominantly within my electorate. I also hear about it as the shadow minister for police, corrections and community safety, that we need to have a police force that is adequately armed to actually enforce the laws which we put in place in this place to keep our community safe.

The minister has a task, absolutely. The minister needs to make sure there is adequate police force staffing. He needs to make sure there is appropriate funding put in to keep our communities safe, especially within regional South Australia. I hope this recommendation from the Public Works Committee about investment is just one of a number of steps that will see the government continuing to invest within our regional, remote and isolated communities and making sure that there is enough support for those communities and for the services such as the police force that are within them. I commend the report and the recommendations.

Mr HUGHES (Giles) (11:35): I would just add a few words in support of this very worthwhile initiative. I do not have to go on at length. It has been well covered by the members here. A lot of the sentiments expressed by the member for Flinders I would fully agree with. We know that when it comes to police recruitment and retention it is a challenging time, and it is especially a challenging time in regional communities and our more remote communities.

The challenges of policing in the APY lands should not be underestimated. The more that we can do to ensure that police are able to stay on land for extended periods of time in order to build relationships is probably one of the most important things with most communities but especially with remote Aboriginal communities.

There have been challenges over the years in the lands and the tragic loss of life. We know that police can make a difference, but it is about that long-term commitment. When you think about what they are expected to do, the APY lands are an area the size of England. There are various estimations of the population, especially given the significant movements over the last two years. We usually operate on a figure probably at the maximum close to 3,000, but it is often significantly less than that.

Imagine an area of land the size of England with less than 3,000 people scattered over incredibly remote communities and the challenges then for the police who work up there. Indeed, there have been some excellent officers over the years who have generated a lot of respect from the communities that they have served in the APY lands. That was all based upon that long-term commitment to those communities. Some of those people have gone on to manage organisations that are now still heavily involved in the APY lands.

Investments like this are important in the APY lands. As I said, there has been a lot of movement of late. There always has been historically, but there has been a number over the last couple of years, some of it COVID related; there are other factors at work as well. The more that we can do to establish relationships in the APY lands and establish relationships in some of the other communities—Ceduna, Port Augusta and even, to a lesser degree, some of the people coming down to Whyalla—the better. If we are going to get on top of some of the issues, we need to be doing all we can to ensure positive relationships between police and Aboriginal people in our remote communities.

The Hon. J.K. SZAKACS (Cheltenham—Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services) (11:39): I thank other members for their contribution to this very worthwhile and worthy project. I thank the member for Florey for his leadership in the inquiry, and the member for Flinders and the member for Giles.

I rise briefly to commend SAPOL and the Department for Infrastructure and Transport for their work to date. On all the very reasonable and worthwhile contributions made by other members to this matter around the complexities and very unique challenges that remote policing finds, that is also replicated in building construction projects like this in incredibly remote communities like the APY lands and, particular to this project, Fregon and Pipalyatjara.

Having had the privilege of spending some time in the community last year, it was entirely clear to me why these projects were so necessary. It has not been without some significant cost pressures and construction management pressures that have brought us to this juncture. The state government in its first 12 months—in our first budget delivered in the year 2022 and also in the Mid-Year Budget Review handed down in December 2022—committed a further $5.4 million to this collective project largely on the basis of a series of headwinds that have found construction costs escalate right across the private and public sector.

As I have already said, unique challenges find this project being constructed and completed in such remote parts of South Australia as the APY lands, and I very much look forward to the support of this house. I thank the Public Works Committee for their recommendation to proceed and also very much look forward, as I am sure other members in this place do, to the start and ultimate completion in early 2024 of these very important police posts.

Mr BROWN (Florey) (11:41): I take this opportunity to thank members for their contributions to the debate. Whilst I would like to thank the Minister for Police for his contribution, I would like to particularly thank the members for Flinders and Giles for their words. As we all know in this place they represent very remote parts of our state, and I know that the policing complexities of the remote areas of this state are issues that are very much front of mind for them, so it is quite pleasing to see them contribute to this discussion.

I would like to thank the members of the committee for the way that they conducted themselves during the inquiry, and for the very professional way that they asked questions and also contributed to the discussion before the committee. I would also like to take this time to thank committee staff for all the support they provided. I commend the report to the house.

Motion carried.