NT Police Association president Paul McCue has said motions for a vote of confidence in Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker in nine of the 12 union sub branches was really about doing “a survey” of members’ feelings toward the Commissioner “not about necessarily a vote of no confidence”, while claiming there was an equal amount of positive comments he had received from members about Mr Chalker.
Mr Chalker was this week asked in Budget Estimates if his position was untenable, but he said a “silent majority” supported him, and responded that it was “heartbreaking” for him to deal with “mistruths” and “disgusting commentary” in the media, including in his involvement in the Constable Zach Rolfe murder charge and how he hoped the truth would come out after unnamed “internal processes” were over.
The Office of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Michael Riches is investigating alleged political interference in the charge, something Mr Chalker and former chief minister Michael Gunner have repeatedly denied.
Mr McCue was interviewed on Mix 104.9 on Wednesday morning and confirmed that nine sub branches had voted for a vote of confidence in Mr Chalker, as exclusively reported in the NT Independent on Monday. This could mean at least 450 officers of about 1660 total officers voted but Mr McCue downplayed the significance and again was not critical of the police commissioner, or did not mention him by name.
He said the media reporting on the votes for a vote of confidence in Mr Chalker was inaccurate but did not specify what was incorrect or use his interview as a chance to correct the record.
His public commentary about Mr Chalker is in stark contrast to the United Workers boss Erina Early, who represents firefighters, who recently called for Mr Chalker to stand down from his position as NT Fire chief executive, for allegedly telling new recruits on their second day of training “all firefighters are greedy”, and that he was “coming after” one senior fire officer who is also a union delegate.
Mr Chalker denies he made those comments.
This is the first time Mr McCue has spoken specifically of a “survey” rather than a vote of confidence but a source said any vote of confidence would be done using the Survey Monkey platform.
Mr McCue’s commentary on Mr Chalker, specifically with reference to the Constable Rolfe charge, has also changed significantly since his interview with The Australian in February 2020, where he said Mr Chalker was “out of touch with our troops if he can’t see the irreparable damage the swift charging of Constable Rolfe” had inflicted on police morale.
“Our members are still completely dumbfounded by the hasty decision to charge Constable Rolfe with murder, just days after the critical incident, and before a thorough investigation had occurred,” Mr McCue said at the time.
“The NTPA still receives numerous calls, daily, from members who are angry, disillusioned, and questioning whether they still want to remain in the NT Police Force …”
However, after Constable Rolfe was found not guilty of murder and two alternative charges in the Supreme Court in early March, Mr McCue has not once criticised Mr Chalker publicly, and said the NTPA would need to travel around the Territory to consult with members to gauge their feelings about the Commissioner, and the charging of Constable Rolfe.
Sources have told the NT Independent the lack of confidence in Mr Chalker stems from the murder charge, but there is also deep unhappiness at the doubling of the attrition rate, a view that disciplinary action is being used for frivolous matters and to prevent members transferring to other jurisdictions, as well as a belief the executive enforce standards on the rank-and-file that they do not uphold themselves.
There have also been five known suicides of current or former police officers this year while police well-being service positions have been cut by the executive.
“Obviously, there is a lot of you know, media commentary, and a lot of it is quite inaccurate, but we’ve had nine of our poll branches meet and discuss this issue,” Mr McCue said.
“Now this is obviously driven from the members, officials from these branches, and our responsibility in the NTPA executive is to take those minutes on board when we receive them, of course, we have to wait for them to come to us.
“And then we make a decision from there. But quite clearly, nine of the 12 have asked for this to take place, and you know, I’m being upfront with the Commissioner about this and we’re directed by those regions.
“And ultimately, this is about a survey, it’s not about necessarily a vote of no confidence. It’s about undertaking a survey to see how the members are feeling, and no doubt that’ll take place.”
Mr McCue said there would be a question in the survey about a vote of confidence but said “more importantly” it would be about the reasons why members have a lack of confidence in Mr Chalker.
“And you know, just to simply say we don’t have [confidence in the commissioner], well that’s all well and good, and we can say that today, but that doesn’t really mean much,” he said.
“But ultimately, what we want to know is why. Is it the attrition rate? Is it the Rolfe matter? Is it discipline? Is it resources? Is it a feeling of a lack of support. There are a whole bunch of reasons why people are feeling this way, and we certainly want to know why.”
He added it would be a “short, sharp” process to undertake the survey and provide the information to the Commissioner and he said “there is every chance they would take it to the August conference” but if they received the minutes from the branch meetings before the annual conference he would “undertake that” before the conference.
Mr McCue had previously said no action would be taken until the conference and that members would have to provide evidence of alleged failings by the Commissioner for the NTPA to be able to act.
“…I mean, I know people have been critical [of not acting sooner and not being critical of Mr Chalker] but we have a responsibility to the membership in the association to make sure everyone has an opportunity to have their say,” he said.
“You know, we won’t steer away from that process, which is the way we’ve always done the business. It doesn’t matter what people on social media, and those sorts of things, who, you know, publicly criticise us, or the police executive, or whoever.
“We’re responsible about it. And as I said, this is about really understanding the reasons behind it.
“We’ve had large amounts of people turn up to our meetings, equally there’s been quite a few members offer support for the commissioner, and a lot of the work that’s been implemented since he’s come in such as additional resourcing in remote stations, bringing back the duty supers, all those sorts of things.
“You know equally there’s been some comments around the positives.”