Full NTPFES mental health review to remain hidden, no funding submission made

by | Jun 21, 2022 | Cops, News | 0 comments

An internal investigation into well-being and mental health in the NT Police, Fire and Emergency Services will not be made public, Police Minister Kate Worden told Budget Estimates on Monday, adding she did not know when its recommendations would be implemented.

Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker, who referenced the report at a police officer’s funeral in early May, said at Estimates that he had still not sought additional funding from Cabinet to implement the findings and the required changes would not be forthcoming anytime soon.

The Minister also confused the hearings by first suggesting she had “no issues” with releasing the full report publicly, then retracted that comment, and committed to keeping it under wraps.

A broad summary of the Support and Well-being Services review, which was released to members on June 3, stated the agency had no defined strategy supported by performance metrics to address mental health and well-being, and only limited data reporting, while also stating there was no money for “preventative and responsive” services.

There have been five known suicides of current or former NT Police officers this year, four of those since April.

The NT Independent previously reported details of a member survey that found that a key concern of officers was a lack of suitably qualified and experienced staff who they could talk to who could “understand the nature of their work and could be trusted”.

Ms Worden told Estimates the full review had been finished and released in March, and that while some changes had started internally, the agency did not have a time-frame for when all the recommendations would be implemented, adding they were still working out how much it would cost.

“I’ve read that report, and I’ll be working intensively with the commissioner to make sure that the findings of that report are implemented,” Ms Worden said.

“Some of that work has already commenced. I’m still getting out and about to meet people to understand their views.

“I’m happy to advise a key part of that is growing our peer support network, and how we are far better providing ongoing support, and broadening the number of people who are trained, particularly in critical incident stress management.

“The external psychologists, again, similar to the chaplains, were some of the highest rated as it related to support, certainly more so than internal available resources. And again, a lot of that goes to confidentiality and people feeling more confident.”

Chalker cut officer welfare position, Minister told him to renew it: Estimates

Mr Chalker revealed at Estimates that a formal cabinet submission for funding was still not delivered and that developing a “communications plan” took priority.

“So we’ve seen that required a significant amount of engagement and work for that to be perfected,” he said about the HR changes.

“We also did key stakeholder engagement. We’ve been working on a communications plan. We’ve started communicating internally over the period of time since March as to where we’re going.

“The clear thing is the model that we’re moving to and the recommendations that are in place are not going to be overnight fixes.

“We haven’t progressed yet a formal cabinet submission because we want to consolidate through our planning what that looks like.

“We know the model that we are exploring to be based on the case study that has been preferred and recommended. And again, the reality of it is it’s unlikely we would be able to achieve that in a short period of time.”

Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro later said in a statement it was “absolutely astonishing” the new Police Minister “couldn’t outline a single initiative to address ongoing issues with attrition, morale, [and] lack of mental health services” within NT Police.

“Despite attrition within the NT Police force on target to hit 11 per cent this year, morale at tragically low levels, and escalating crime at unsustainable levels, Minister Worden today rejected the notion police are in ‘crisis’,” she said.

Ms Worden said the reason the review was completed was because “nobody was necessarily feeling that the current model that had been in place for a considerable period of time was meeting the need”.

Last week the NT Independent reported the Alice Springs officer welfare role had been ended, with sources saying Mr Chalker had told senior police in the station the role was over.

Ms Worden confirmed the role had been ended, but that she demanded it be reinstated, at least temporarily, but did not say what would ultimately replace it.

“Within the review it does indicate that well-being officers are potentially not the right structure and right fit for the organisation,” she said.

“But I have asked the commissioner to make sure that filling of those positions is a priority.”

Mr Chalker said in this year’s budget there was $1.65 million for well-being and mental health services, with 12 full-time equivalent positions, made up of chaplains, internal psychologists, as well as administrative staff.

‘There’s no secrets’: Review won’t be made public despite Minister saying it would

When first asked by Ms Finocchiaro whether the investigation would be made public Ms Worden said: “I don’t have an issue with it being made public.”

She was then asked how it would be made public.

“Would you like it to be made public? Is that what you’re asking? There’s never been a commitment to making it public,” Ms Worden said.

“Sometimes reports are made public, sometimes they’re not. I don’t see any harm in providing you a copy if you’d like. There’s no secrets. It’s a very self explanatory straightforward report that represents the facts and indicates the areas that need to be worked on.

“I’m just wondering how you’d like me to [make it] public. I’m happy to provide you with a copy. We’re not going to put it out on a website and broadcast it to everybody…”

Ms Finocchiaro then pointed out that she had just said she would make it public.

“I said ‘no’, I didn’t say ‘yes’. What I said is there was never any public commitment. This is an internal operational report, it affects people internally. I don’t think there’s any need to do that.”

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