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History of The Police Association Victoria

The Police Association was formed in 1917 due to low wages and poor working conditions endured by Victorian police officers at the time.

Police officers in Victoria were not only the lowest paid police in Australia, they also compared unfavorably on other conditions such as leave and superannuation. For instance, Victorian police received 17 days annual leave compared with 28 days a year enjoyed by their colleagues in New South Wales.

Victorian police officers also harbored a long-standing grievance toward the government since it had abandoned their pension scheme in 1902. Through the establishment of their own Association in 1917, Victorian police officers were able to successfully lobby for the reintroduction of the scheme in 1923.

Following its formation, the Association worked on behalf of its members to obtain improved wages and working conditions. However, it was not until 1923 that the organisation achieved legal recognition.

The Association has since grown in size and stature and currently negotiates with the Chief Commissioner of Police and the Victorian government and other relevant organisations on behalf of its members.

The following is a detailed chronology of key events and achievements that have shaped the Association throughout its proud history since its formation in 1917.


The Constitution Act was amended to create the Political Rights Bill.  This accorded public servants, including policemen, full citizens rights, such as voting in parliamentary elections.  The surge of interest in political and industrial matters arising from this prepared the ground for the formation of a police union.


1917 On the 10th of May of this year 600 men met at the Temperance Hall and, under the chairmanship of Chief Commissioner Sainsbury, it was unanimously resolved that a police association be formed, which was to be affiliated with the State Service Federation.



Membership of the Association was on the decline – down to a low of 62% in this year – due to its reluctance to confront the police administration on issues such as poor pay and conditions, and its influence was on the wane.  Its general ineffectiveness, combined with the maladministration of the Chief Commissioner of the day, Alexander Nicholson, and a confrontational government, all set the stage for industrial action.  The police strike took place on the night of 31 October 1923, the two main causes of discontent being the so-called ‘spooks’ – plainclothes supervisors detailed to secretly observe and report on constables – as well as the loss of police pensions.  The Association, which was not in favour of direct action, never sanctioned the strike, and the reward for its lack of support was the provision made by the Government in the Police Pensions Act for the former to be recognized as the one employee body with which it would deal on police welfare and efficiency matters.  The Association had thereby finally gained statutory recognition.  The strike also reaped benefits for ‘loyal’ police with the swift introduction of the Police Pensions Act, a pay rise and other improvements to work conditions.  The repressive aspect of this legislation was that it made it illegal for members of the force to join a ‘political or industrial organisation’, and it introduced a twelve month prison sentence for any member who withheld his services or caused disaffection.



Chief Commissioner Blamey declared the Police Association an ‘illegally constituted body’ on the 30th of September of this year, having obtained the Crown Solicitor’s advice that the Association contravened the Police Regulation Act due to the fact that its secretary, V.G Price, was not a member of the police force.  Blamey directed all members to dissociate from it and then proceeded to set up his own puppet association.  Blamey’s hostility stemmed from the fact that he was naturally anti-union, anti-Labor and anti-Communist, but a further cause of rancor arose from his attempt to introduce a merit based promotion system to replace that of seniority.  This was bitterly opposed by the Association and caused it to support the Labor Party in the upcoming election in an effort to ensure that Blamey’s proposed reforms were quashed.  In this it was successful but Blamey never forgave the Police Association for its open political endorsement and he exacted a devastating revenge.



The two associations co-existed for a time but Blamey finally accomplished the total annihilation of the original Association with the ‘Siberia’ transfers – key Association officials were transferred to remote rural locations for ‘disciplinary reasons’.  It was not until many years later, long after the resignation of Blamey, that the Association, by a gradual democratic process, became a genuine, representative union body once more.



No adjustments were made to police salaries during these Depression years despite an 18% rise in the cost of living.



By the end of the war police were worse off than they been before the war was declared due to wartime austerity measures and a passive industrial approach on the part of the Association during the war years.  In November 1945, however, John Cain’s Labor Government came to power and it met many of the Association’s requests for improved conditions.  An independent Police Classification Board was created to determine wages and general conditions of members of the force; an independent Police Discipline Board was established; six months long service leave after twenty years of service was provided to all police, as well as a weekly rest day; and section 81 of the Police Regulation Act was changed to enable the Police Association ‘to affiliate with any federation of police associations or police unions of Australia’.  (These were conditions that most other police forces in Australia and New Zealand already enjoyed and for which the Association had lobbied since the 1930s.) A uniform more suited to the Australian climate was also introduced.


1948  An Association claim for a forty hour, five day working week was granted by the Police Classification Board.  (New South Wales, Tasmanian and Federal Capital Territory Police and the state public service had already set the precedent.)



The Association unsuccessfully lobbied to have Inspector-Superintendent A. A. Webster, a career policeman, replace Chief Commissioner Duncan.  But Major General Selwyn Porter, an outsider, was appointed in 1955, an event which dashed the ‘hopes’ of career policemen according to the Association.  Nonetheless, the latter pledged its loyalty and later petitioned the Government for a pay rise for Porter for the many beneficial programs he introduced


1956 The Association, the Government and Chief Commissioner Porter finally agree on a modified scheme for an auxiliary police force – a contentious issue for many years.  It used retired Victorian police in clerical and administrative roles to free younger police for active duties.  (The ‘retired police reserve’ still exists today in theory but its numbers have dwindled to a mere handful.)



Police Association Secretary, W. D. Crowley, laments the lot of the embattled police during the height of the Vietnam protests.

Anti-police crusader, Dr. Bertram Wainer, raised allegations of police accepting bribes from abortionists.  This, in addition to several other scandals involving police, began to bring the force into disrepute.  The illegal behaviour and corruption of some members of Victoria Police, however, were symptomatic of a force that was suffering from demoralizing low pay and poor work conditions, mismanagement and neglect.



The Police Association contributed to the legal costs of a constable accused of culpable driving.  This marks the first occasion that the Association had paid for the defence of a member on an indictable criminal charge.



The Neil Collingburn incident – the case of a man well-known to police who was taken into police custody only to be later admitted to hospital with an injured duodenum which resulted in his death – caused a further public furore.  The Police Association initiated moves for criminal libel in order to suppress what it described as outrageous publications.



The Police Association, due to its concern about poor morale and image of its members as well as pay and general organisational health, commissioned two academics to undertake an investigation of the force.  The result of their findings was “The Policeman’s Position Today and Tomorrow”.  It provided the basis for some successful claims brought by The Association before the Police Service Board (formerly the Police Classification Board) to enhance the monetary and professional status of its members.

Not long after this Colonel Sir St Johnston was commissioned by the Bolte Government to produce a report on the state of the police force.  The St Johnston Report made more than 180 recommendations for restructuring the force and described the report commissioned by the Police Association as a complimentary document.  These two studies were pivotal in bringing about major organisational change, higher salaries and improved work conditions, and helped to reverse the recruitment problems that had long beset Victoria Police.



Dr Bertram Wainer continued his crusade against police with further allegations of illegal behaviour.  This finally resulted in the Beach Inquiry, conducted by Barry Beach, QC, who was instructed to investigate and report on any evidence of police criminality.  He eventually made adverse findings against fifty-five members of the force but before his recommendations were even made public a massive meeting of members took place at Festival Hall in October, 1976, to demonstrate their animosity and to devise a strategy of resistance.  Association President L. J. Blogg described it as ‘the greatest demonstration of unity in the history of the Association’.  A strike was threatened but never eventuated as the Government ceded to the demands of the Association that it be involved in any changes to police procedures and that these should not be based upon the recommendations of Beach.  Beach’s proposals were never implemented and none of the police named by Beach were convicted.  It was a turning point for the Association as it had never before exerted so much political influence and it marked the beginning of a new militant phase.



This new militancy resulted in a series of disputes with Chief Commissioner Miller which came to a head in 1979.  Association President J. R. Splatt moved a motion of no confidence in the police administration due to ‘lack of support by senior officers’.  The issue that most rankled with the Association was the fact that Miller had several times publicly apologized for or admonished the conduct of certain policemen.  A further bone of contention was his desire to implement several organizational changes to which the Association was opposed.  The latter did manage to ensure that one of these was never carried out.  With time relations between Miller and the Association eventually improved.


1981 Police Association officials were permitted to attend meetings of senior police, and joint working parties, consisting of members of the police administration and Association staff.



Victoria Police numbers were being systematically reduced due to budgetary cuts.  Almost 1,000 police left the force and were not replaced.  The Police Association waged a large scale public campaign 'Cutting Police Numbers is a Crime' against the dramatic reduction in police numbers.  On March 25, Association Delegates met at their annual country conference.  For the first time in the history of The Association, Delegates were not permitted to attend the conference "on duty" by Force Command.  Showing solidarity, the Delegates took rest days or other forms of leave to attend.  During the conference Delegates passed a motion of no confidence in the Government, the Premier and the minister for Police and emergency Services.  

On July 18 almost 2,000 members attended a General Meeting at Dallas Brooks Hall to show support for the 'Cutting Police Numbers is a Crime" campaign and pass several important motions. Again, members were not permitted to attend this meeting on duty.

A change in government in November 1999 saw the incoming Bracks Government promise an additional 800 front line police members.  



In May of this year the Police Association moved into its current East Melbourne premises, St Hilda’s, an architecturally significant building that is listed with the National Trust.  (It was officially opened on 23 October 2002 by the Honourable Andre Haermeyer MP, Minister for Police and Emergency Services.)

A protracted but, ultimately, highly successful campaign was conducted with Victoria Police and the Bracks Labor Government.  The Association sought better pay for its members, in particular parity with police in New South Wales, the introduction of extended incremental scales, and a new career structure.  When negotiations finally reached an impasse members endorsed an industrial action strategy at a Special General Meeting on 31 July, 2001.  Protected industrial action was implemented with the introduction of bans.  The Force / Government responded by bringing an application before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to terminate the bargaining period.  A breakthrough was finally achieved, however, in the lead up to a rally, during which members intended to march, in uniform, on Parliament House.  A new, five year Certified Agreement was ratified, a timeframe which enabled the Association to achieve one of its chief objectives of pay parity with its New South Wales Police colleagues.



In April 2002 the Bracks government promise of an additional 800 front line police members is honoured, with the 800th net additional recruit graduating from the Police Academy.



On February 23 of this year a joint Executive meeting of the Police Association, United Firefighters’ Union and Ambulance Employees Australia formally endorsed the formation of the Emergency Services Federation – the first combination of its kind to be formed in Australia.  All three unions will retain their autonomy by maintaining their own separate assets and rules but will campaign jointly on issues of mutual interest.



In June, The Police Association launched its historic “SOS – Save Our Streets” (an ultimately successful) public campaign for more police in Victoria.  As part of this campaign, the Association commenced a public petition calling on the Victorian Parliament to commit to recruiting an additional 3000 more police in a bid to improve community safety and relieve the increasing stress on our police officers operating in a chronically under-resourced environment.

This campaign brought the issues of law and order and police numbers in to the public and media spotlight long before it became a mainstream political issue.



In April, The Police Association submitted its “SOS – Save Our Streets” record-breaking petition to the Victorian Parliament featuring over 70,000 signatures from voting-age Victorians – the largest ever presented in the State’s history.

In response to the strong community sentiment led by our campaign, both major political parties announced that they would contest the November 2010 state election with a commitment to boost police numbers by 1700 over the next four year term. This is the most significant police recruit commitment ever undertaken in Victoria’s history.




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