The policing cost of managing the so-called ‘freedom protesters’, aka the Convoy to Canberra, has now blown out to $3.5 million and a total of 42 arrests have been made.
That’s an increase of almost $1 million since mid-March when the bill was revealed to be around $2.45 million.
The protest action, which peaked in February with around 10,000 attendees, has continued on a smaller scale, Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan has confirmed.
“The biggest impact on the community is the amount of police hours that have been used for the protest. We’re up to 40,500 policing hours which comes at a substantial opportunity cost because we are not doing what we want to do,” CPO Gaughan said.
Earlier in the year, the Australian Federal Police Association warned additional hours and overtime for police would take a toll on members.
Ordinary policing operations in areas such as road policing and general duties have had to be shelved because of the need to manage protesters instead.
Every Saturday, around 100 protesters are still gathering in various places around town, with 200 or so attendees recorded at protests on Anzac Day.
Even this week, protesters tried to camp outside Parliament House and had to be moved on, CPO Gaughan said.
“It’s like playing ‘Whac-a-Mole’ to be honest. We just remove their equipment, they move on and they come back a few days later,” CPO Gaughan said.
He said it was still unclear when these protests would come to an end but hoped a frost next week might speed up their departure.
“Depending on how the election goes – one way or another – I think they will leave and go back to where they came from,” he said.
Among the 42 arrests made so far, the most common charges laid have been breach of the peace, trespass and assault/obstruct police.
A small number of protestors have been charged with breach of bail when either failing to attend court or being present in areas not permitted under bail conditions, a police spokesperson confirmed.
A spokesperson for ACT Policing has previously confirmed costs are calculated based on the “costs of [its] own officers, the costs of bringing in and accommodating Australian Federal Police officers from interstate and all other expenses associated with managing protests of this nature”.
The ACT Government has yet to approach the Federal Government for assistance but said these arrangements would be addressed once the final cost of managing the protests was known.
It’s still unclear when the remaining protesters will eventually leave as most Canberrans, the CPO included, had expected them to depart once the Federal Government entered caretaker period ahead of the election.
“There is an expectation that the Federal Government should meet the additional costs incurred by ACT Policing during this operation and any future costs associated with protest activity in the nation’s capital,” a government spokesperson said.
But CPO Gaughan put it bluntly this morning, noting the cost would ultimately fall on the taxpayer.