In a bizarre political decision on the eve of a by-election, the NSW Government is believed to have plans to downgrade the Deniliquin Police Station.
It comes as work is almost completed on the new $18 million police building that is headquarters to the region’s Local Area Command.
However, the Pastoral Times believes plans are afoot to relocate the Command headquarters to Albury.
There are concerns this will lead to a reduced police presence in the new ‘Taj Mahal’ building.
The issue will be raised today with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian during her first visit to Deniliquin.
She is to be accompanied by NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services Troy Grant.
Mrs Berejiklian is the first Premier to visit Deniliquin since Bob Carr, in the lead-up to the 2007 election.
Coincidentally, at that time the Deniliquin district was in the notionally marginal seat of Murray-Darling following a boundaries redistribution.
A further redistribution before the 2015 election moved Deniliquin district into the safe seat of Murray, held by Adrian Piccoli until his recent resignation.
In the present by-election, there is a strong view in many quarters that the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers’ Party candidate Helen Dalton will defeat The Nationals’ Austin Evans, despite the seat being previously considered one of the safest in the state.
If the police station downgrade is confirmed this will no doubt fuel claims The Nationals are not doing enough to protect rural communities like Deniliquin.
Since the start of the campaign the party has been under fire for its failure to support the region’s timber industry and not doing enough to protect supplies of productive water for the region’s farmers.
Other key issues have been health, and failure of The Nationals to get Hallmark status for the Deni Ute Muster so it doesn’t have to pay an estimated $100,000 a year for police presence. Controversial police charges, which The Nationals committed to addressing a decade ago when in Opposition, have cost the Muster more than $1.5 million since its inception.
Edward River Council Mayor Cr Norm Brennan yesterday confirmed he would be talking with Mrs Berejiklian today about the police station speculation and other issues.
‘‘It is certainly one issue I will be trying to get to her, although I believe our time with the minister — about 45 minutes as part of a larger group — will be dedicated to talking about water.
‘‘If I cannot speak to the Premier, I will speak with Troy Grant who will be with her, or failing that their advisors.
‘‘While this speculation the command will be relocated has not been substantiated, we need to know what the status is.
‘‘There’s always a lot of ‘what ifs’ when we don’t know the details, so we need to be asking for them.
‘‘I would suggest if a decision to relocate has been made it was done well after construction of the new Deniliquin Police Station started, and it would be most disappointing if they decided to make that move.’’
Mrs Berejiklian will meet with farming representatives this afternoon to specifically discuss water policy and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The Pastoral Times believes she will also do a ‘street walk’, talking to locals about their concerns.
The Nationals’ candidate Austin Evans said he was unaware of plans to relocate the police Local Area Command headquarters.
He has labelled Shooters Party claims about policing in Deniliquin as a ‘‘cynical scare campaign’’, and says that the upcoming changes to police structures would be a good thing for our towns.
‘‘We know the current Local Area Command model isn’t working as well as it should be. The police know that, the community knows that. The Shooters are the only ones that seem to be out of touch.
‘‘While the police haven’t finalised the exact details of the changes I’m confident enough to guarantee three things: that Deniliquin won’t lose any police; that we’ll have more cops on the front line where they’re needed; and that there’ll be more local control over local policing.
‘‘Anyone who wants to paint this as a question of shuffling around Local Area Commands either doesn’t understand the issue or they’re shamelessly trying to mislead local people.’’
Mr Evans said with the funding commitment the Coalition has provided to build the Deniliquin Police Station, it would not make sense to move the command centre from the town.