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When Police Unionise

When Police Unionise

The politics of law and order in Australia

By Mark Finnane


Once upon a time police were not allowed to unionise. Now they are among the most highly unionised of workers. When Police Unionise shows how that happened in Australia. More than that however - this book is a study of the contemporary politics of policing, about the generation of law and order politics in Australia since the 1960s, and about the implications of these developments for the way criminal justice systems work.

The highly publicised intervention of the Queensland Police Union in the 1996 Mundingburra by-election is the starting point for a study of the longer history of political activity of police. Set against an international context of increasing police militancy, the book examines the very early unionisation of police in Australia, the turmoil of police industrial relations during the inter-war decades, the combative approach of police commissioners like Blamey in Victoria and MacKay in New South Wales, the optimistic post-war alliance with the Australian labour movement, its collapse in the 1960s and the subsequent emergence of a more autonomous, belligerent and ambitious police union culture.

This is a critical appraisal of the politics of law and order in Australia, seen from the perspective of police in their role as workers and employees. The book helps us understand why police have the voice they do in public debates about crime, justice and policing - and why their impact is nevertheless limited by the play of politics in contemporary Australia.



Politics and the police in Australia

Law and order elections
An international story

Organising the police

Before the unions
Combinations and aspirations
Police strikes

The politicisation of police

Defining the game
Political campaigns
Wages and conditions
The developing political role

Industrial battlefields

The uses of law
Matters of appeal
Commissioner-union conflict
Implications for policing: ministers, commissioners and unions

Alliances and conflicts

A national union?
Political rights
Using the media
Are police workers?
Fractured relations

Political interventions

A thousand more police, or two
Damage control-commission and inquiries
Law reform-the unions for and against
The politics of victimhood

The new politics of change

New agendas and old responses
Discipline and the commissioner's powers
Operational issues-policy and practice

Law and order

Political choices
Taking stock

References/ Index


Mark Finnane tracks the way that Australian State and Territory police overcame significant obstacles to their right to organise, such as the transfer of union leaders to remote areas and the dismissal of striking police officers. Unions, assisted by sympathetic State Labor governments, gradually gained legitimacy and improvement to wages and conditions. They also developed the capacity to influence government policy, including crime control and prevention measures, resources allocation and police budgets.
The book generally satisfies its claim to present a critical appraisal of the politics of ‘law and order’ in Australia from the perspective of the police as workers and employees and the influence of police unions in public policy debates, with some caveats.
The conflict of interest created by the function of police as unionists … and their role as agents of the state, is a substantial issue requiring closer examination. … Problems with accountability, transparency and corporate governance and the implications for responsible government merited closer examination …
The book provides a well-researched insight into the politics of police unionisation that will be of interest to governments, police administrators and their officers. …

Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol 39 No 1

This wide-ranging book provides much more than just an account of the origins, consolidation and development of police unions. It intricately details the relationship between state police unions and their respective governments and the aggressive tactics employed to gain advantage. It probes police union influence on law and order politics and the ramifications upon the criminal justice system. …

The major source of the book is the union journals of the six states, the various Police Journals. The contentious industrial concerns and the book’s narrative evolve from these rich sources, which have previously been ignored. By diligent analysis, Finnane presents the police unions’ perspective about core industrial issues such as wages, conditions of work, promotion, pensions, transfers and discipline, as well as the priority law and order issues over many decades.

The book makes a significant contribution to industrial history by unravelling Australian police unionism with its commonality but also state-by-state differences …

The book adroitly explores how police have come to play an active role in politics – a theme not pursued elsewhere. Although Finnane rightly documents the limits of police unionism, these unions nevertheless remain powerful bodies. As the guardians of law and order, police are vital to safeguarding internal security, a powerful position. More than 96% of police around Australia are unionised …

Finnane has achieved what he has set out to do, namely, to identify the police union perspective industrially and politically.

David Baker, LABOUR & INDUSTRY, Vol 15 No 2, December 2004 134


Published May 2002
Publisher Institute of Criminology, Sydney
ISBN 9781864874648
Australian RRP $33.00
International Price $30.00
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Industrial Relations / EEO
Criminology & Policing - Police Studies

Institute of Criminology, Sydney, Monograph Series

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