Herald Sun: East West Link protests chew up 36,000 police hours costing more than $1.5 million. Mark Butler. Chief Police Reporter.
Police assigned during the series of East West tunnel protests. Picture: Nicole Garmston
East West Link protests have consumed 36,000 police hours and left the Victoria force with a colossal overtime bill.
Figures obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun under Freedom of Information laws show the extraordinary burden on police assigned to maintain order on the $8 billion project.
The FOI numbers reveal that officers have worked 4852 shifts at East West Link protest sites in Melbourne’s inner north since September 30 last year, at a cost of more than $1.6 million.
There were 3443 shifts worked by constables and senior-constables, who have made up the bulk of the workforce at the sites.
Shift allocations at protest locations for more senior ranks totalled 961 for sergeants, 287 for senior-sergeants, 97 for inspectors, 64 for superintendents and 102 for unsworn officers.
Those officers were already on duty, but there is concern at the huge resources diverted from core crime-fighting duties.
Another 102 unsworn officers shifts were spent on the demonstrations.
Much of the police time was spent doing very little as they waited on standby for trouble.
But they were required in case of incidents such as one last January when protesters formed a human chain to block Alexandra Parade in Clifton Hill.
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At one stage, cars travelling at up to 60km/h were forced to swerve to avoid hitting them.
Planning Minister Matthew Guy said he was surprised by the scope of the manpower commitment for East West.
“Every Victorian should be angered by this,” he said.
“I knew they’d be large figures but it’s more than most people would be expecting.”
Mr Guy said while he respected the right to protest, the East West project was not an ongoing human rights issue but an essential infrastructure project backed by law.
“It rips frontline services from regular police duties protecting Victorian citizens in every suburb and every town,” he said.
“These people (the protesters) are a complete menace.”
Background administration work not included in the FOI figures adds to the hours chewed up by the demonstrations.
There were also 2779 overtime hours authorised for work on East West protests.
That impost came in at up to $200,000, based on the overtime rate for a senior constable.
Police said the large number of police was vital to ensure community safety.
“We believe the number of police deployed was both sufficient and necessary to keep the community and our members safe,” they said in a statement.
Protest organiser Anthony Main described the situation as “political policing” and a waste of resources.
Mr Main said the Government was determined to ram through an unpopular project, even if that meant huge numbers of officers protecting “a piece of dirt.”
“It’s outrageous. Of course, it’s a total waste of police resources,” he said.
Mr Main said the low number of charges laid by police indicated protester behaviour had been good.
The Napthine Government now faces the prospect of an expensive legal challenge against East West Link.
The inner-city councils of Darebin, Yarra and Moreland have backed Supreme Court action against Mr Guy’s approval of the project.