David Gibson
David Gibson

Papers to politics: David Gibson

IT started with a newspaper ad asking for community-minded people to join the National Party.

After six years toiling for the Gympie electorate in opposition, David Gibson is Queensland's new Police and Community Services Minister.

Sitting on one of the white leather couches in his swanky new office at 50 Ann St, with impressive views over the Brisbane River, the 44-year-old's eyes light up when he talks about the chance to effect change in a state he loves and to fight for his community in a tangible way.

"I've always been a person that if you see a problem, you've got two options - you either be part of the solution or you shut up," he said.

"I looked at what was happening and I didn't like the way things were travelling in the state, under Peter Beattie at that stage, and thought we were missing out as an electorate. This was before Traveston (dam proposals) and before the Bruce Hwy works going forward."

Mr Gibson said since Premier Campbell Newman tapped him on the shoulder he had regularly worked 14-hour days as he is briefed in his new portfolios.

He said he had clear directives from his new boss as well as personal goals he wanted to achieve during his term as minister and in-power MP.

"Something we've already started talking about is our recruiting surge for an extra 1100 police across Queensland," he said.

"Logistically that's a really big task and while we need to increase policing numbers, we don't want to lower the standard of our police entrants.

"We don't want people who normally wouldn't have made the cut just because of the surge.

"I've discussed with the police the number of police going to mines (in places such as Mackay).

"The things I'm keen to have QPS look at are how we can retain our police, that we increase our recruitment and how we attract them back.

"The wages of working in the mines are attractive, but the working conditions are not.

"If we lose a police officer to the mines - let's say they work in the mines for two to five years and then say 'I've made some good money' - I want to be able to get them back.

"We've trained them, skilled them up and invariably often they have great life experience.

"So we need to look at ways we can bring them back, if not at the same level they were when they left, certainly at a more senior level."

Mr Gibson said the LNP had committed to taking 200 police over four years from behind the desk and back into frontline policing.

He said the plan to identify the first 50 transitions was part of the LNP's commitment in its first 30 days in government.

"There's some opportunity where we might be able to identify roles we currently have police doing, but might be able to civilianise," he said.

"Let's cast a fresh look across the way we do business. Does the role assist directly with the frontline? If not, maybe we don't need a police officer doing it, maybe we need that officer on the beat.

"I want those experienced police officers with those junior officers on the beat, sharing the experience they've had and giving them tips as they go."

Mr Gibson, surmising these mentoring ideals probably stem from his days in the army, remembers the support he received after graduating from the Royal Military College Duntroon and being posted to Townsville.

"You graduate as a commissioned officer and become a lieutenant in charge of a platoon," he said.

"I had a great Warrant Officer, WO Souter. On day one he went 'boss, by virtue of your rank you are the boss, I'm here as a warrant officer by virtue of my experience and I have everything to give you if you want it'.

"It was that relationship that really helped shape me … ."

Mr Gibson said in the first 30 days in government he was also committed to extending an existing lease arrangement and developing a plan to roll out two permanent police helicopters.

He said one would be based on the Gold Coast and one in the south-east Queensland to service Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Ipswich, Goodna and "anywhere else it might be required".

Mr Gibson said the most important task in the community safety portfolio was activating the recommendations from the flood inquiry.

He noted the importance of these moves in the Ipswich area, which was badly affected by floods in January last year.

"I'm really conscious of the fact that across the state for the past two years we've been hit with some pretty major disasters and our emergency services, our ambulance and fire officers, have all done outstanding jobs and they're at the front of our minds," he said.

"But if we don't have a disaster now, God forbid we do, but if we don't have anything for the next 12 months to 24 months it's very easy to get complacent.

"I want to make sure we keep up the skills so we are prepared if the next disaster occurs.

"I think part of the challenge we had with Brisbane floods was that everyone said we'd never have a 1974 flood again.

"It's the death of a thousand cuts. We did things incrementally which resulted in some of the difficulties we faced when the flood occurred."

Mr Gibson knows only too well how important the emergency services are, having witnessed a crash on the Bruce Hwy between the Sunshine Coast and Gympie, on what he describes as one of Australia's worst sections of road, and being trapped by flooding.

"I was isolated at my home last year for five days. We couldn't get out of the area on the south side of Gympie," he said.

"We were lucky in some senses because we had a dairy on that side and could have as much milk as we wanted.

"Other products, like toilet paper were a little bit rare. We were bartering," he said with a laugh.

After this week's car chases across Brisbane and Ipswich and Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson noting pursuit policies had become too restrictive, Mr Gibson said he would also put a policy review of the issue on his agenda.

"The events of this week have really highlighted the fact criminals are taking advantage of the current police pursuit policy," he said.

"By doing so they're putting the lives of Queenslanders at risk. We need a review to strike a balance between pursuing the criminals and also ensuring we have taken on public safety concerns.
in light of previous coroner reports (following deaths resulting from police pursuits).

"I'm keen to look at how technology can interface with police pursuit policies too and how we engage in pursuits once we have our helicopters and vehicle plate recognition available."

While the chance to make changes is exhilarating, Mr Gibson knows taking on a ministerial position will be tough on his family.

The son of two deaf parents and father of five children, aged 13-24, Mr Gibson gets emotional when asked how he will manage both areas of his life.

When he won pre-selection in 2005, he had to stand down from his position as Gympie Times general manager and became a house dad while he campaigned.

"It was the best nine months of my life. I took my kids to school, took my daughter to swimming lessons, got to do reading in class," he said.

"You can always schedule time, and you should, for the big things. You can be there for school speech nights and the birthdays.

"But it's those little things you miss like coming home and hearing the tale about a good day at school or being there when they get an A- in an assignment they put a huge amount of effort into and they're stoked.

"I will, in a disciplined way, take time to invest in my family and there will be times I am not available, both in my ministerial role and as an MP.

"I don't expect any of the people I have anything to do with in my roles to be there at my funeral, but I certainly want my kids to be there."

But Mr Gibson has promised not to forget his duties to his electorate and vowed to treat all requests from non-government MPs with respect.

"Electorates like Gympie have missed out under Labor. We've only picked up the bare essentials," he said.

"I'm excited because we can actually start to plan things properly and do things based on need.

"I'm not going to sugar coat it, the Bruce Hwy is a disgrace and it's been allowed to be a disgrace.

"The bypass work happening at the moment is foolish and tainted by political decision making over the Traveston Dam.

"I make a commitment to the other 88 MPs that regardless of their political persuasion, I will always, for as long as I am privileged to serve as a minister, show them due respect when they bring to me a local issue because I've been fobbed off."

"I've had a death of a constituent's nephew, who they were the next of kin for, and it took nine months before the health minister bothered to respond to my request in writing.

"It was not political, I did not want to take it to the media, this family just needed closure.

"Having experienced how bad it was, I'm not going to duplicate that."

Gibson's goals

  • Find a way to attract police officers back from the mines.
  • Recruiting surge for an extra 1100 police across Queensland.
  • Take 200 police over four years from behind the desk back into frontline policing.
  • Extend existing helicopter lease and roll out plan for two permanent police helicopters.
  • Activate community safety recommendations from the flood inquiry.
  • Develop a plan to clean up graffiti, including regional areas.
  • Appoint the "right" police commissioner when Bob Atkinson's contract ends in October.
  • Ensure the government does not become complacent with emergency services if there are no more natural disasters for a while.
  • Fix the problems caused by the Traveston Dam proposal and fix the Bruce Hwy.

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