COVID-19 Inquiry: Police Association Advocates for a National Guard for Future Pandemics

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The national guard could help police and other first responders manage borders and enforce the law.

The Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) has asserted that establishing a national guard during a future pandemic “has merit.”

In a submission to the Federal government’s COVID-19 inquiry, the AFPA suggested that the National Guard could assist with law enforcement and managing borders, alleviating pressure on police.

This recommendation comes as the Australian Federal Police (AFP) revealed to the inquiry that officers felt the burden of extra workload during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AFPA, which represents members of the AFP, ACT Policing, and other federal law enforcement officials, agrees with a proposal from Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie for a National Guard.

“In recent times, Senator Jacqui Lambie has proposed the establishment of an Australian ”National Guard“ to supplement existing police and Australian Defence Force (ADF) resources during extraordinary situations such as pandemics or natural disasters,” the AFPA said (pdf).

“The AFPA believes this idea has merit and could reasonably be expected to alleviate pressure(s) on Australia’s policing responses during another pandemic.”

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The submission suggested the national guard would not undertake community policing, but could be given special powers in an emergency.

“The role of a ‘National Guard’ within the scope of a potential future pandemic should not be to undertake community policing in any form but rather to assist police and other first responders in managing borders and enforcing relevant legislation,” the AFPA said.

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

The AFPA also recommended a feasibility study to assess the viability of establishing an Australian National Guard, including cost evaluation and estimated readiness timeframes.

Senator Lambie had previously penned an opinion piece recommending a national guard for emergencies in October 2022.

Additionally, the AFPA advised police forces nationally experienced “significant resource constraints” implementing COVID-19 measures.

“The AFP and ACT Policing especially felt this pressure as not only did they have to control the ACT/NSW border and quarantine sites, but they also had to deploy officers to assist the Northern Territory Police Force (NTPF),” the submission said.

“The NTPF did not have the resources to realistically manage both their border and biosecurity checkpoints due to the significant size of the NT.”

Members of the AFPA also experienced issues acquiring Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs).

Further, police officers felt the toll of being spat on or coughed on by members of the public. The AFPA recommended that new legislation is introduced to make it a federal offence to weaponise bodily fluid and “deliberately endanger police officers.”

“In the ACT and other jurisdictions around Australia, there were regularly reported instances of people purposely coughing or spitting on police officers and stating they were infected with COVID-19. This took an often heavy physical and psychological toll on the members involved and their families,” the association said.

“It also caused additional staffing pressures, as affected members were required to be stood down while awaiting testing results.”

Extra Workload Felt By AFP

Meanwhile, the Australian Federal Police has detailed (pdf) how extra law enforcement duties during COVID-19 took its toll on frontline police.

“The burden of the extra workload over the COVID-19 period was felt by the AFP, in particular the frontline officers, who were required to enforce mandated COVID-19 restrictions,” the AFP said.

“On an individual level, policing during the pandemic increased the risk of members contracting the COVID-19 virus through interactions with the public, as well as spreading the virus to family and friends.”

Federal police highlighted more people at home and online had an impact on the crime environment in Australia.

The AFP also noted the higher protest activity during COVID-19 and raised concerns about the spreading of “conspiracy theories.”

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the AFP witnessed an increase in protest activity occurring. The AFP observed an increase in nationalist, racially motivated, and religiously motivated violent extremists and sentiments including persons and groups exploiting public fear to further their own agenda,” the AFP said.

“This included spreading disinformation, conspiracy theories, and in some cases motivation to incite violence. This presented challenges for law enforcement who were simultaneously enforcing increased measures imposed by the government, while also policing an unprecedented changing criminal environment.”

Australia’s COVID-19 inquiry is reviewing the Commonwealth government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and accepted submissions between Nov. 6 and Dec. 15.

The actions “undertaken unilaterally by state and territories are not” in the scope of the inquiry. However, the inquiry is considering the “roles and responsibilities” of federal, state, and territory governments responding to the pandemic.

The panel, chaired by Robyn Kruk and including Catherine Bennett and Angela Jackson, thanked everyone who made a submission to the inquiry.

“We have been overwhelmed by the openness and willingness of the more than 2,000 people and organisations who have taken the time to share their insights and experiences,” the panel said.

“There was a common theme in the submissions of wanting to capture the lessons learned, before they were lost to the passage of time.

Four years on since the start of the pandemic, as a panel, we share that sense of importance and urgency to better prepare for a future event.

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