Politicians in the NT Parliament recently passed legislation repealing the Oaths Act and substituting for it the Oath, Affidavits and Declarations Act.
One of the effects of this new act was that it removed the Oath of Office for Police when embarking on their solemn profession of policing.
The gravitas of the old Oath of Office has been replaced by the NT Government with a simple promise to “do the right thing”, whatever that may be. The solemn oath of police members, that they “do swear …”, now becomes a promise, and the phrase “So help me God” is omitted altogether for believers and unbelievers alike.
By doing so, the NT Government has caused the profession of policing to take a backward step and reduced the solemn oath to a promise, no different from a promise to take the garbage out before going to bed or a child’s promise to do his homework. Governments of all persuasions will be the first to tell you that promises are easy to make.
But when a member takes that oath of office he makes a solemn oath before a higher power to uphold the law, not just a promise to whatever may be relative at the time and place.
It would appear from the reading speech that one of the reasons for the change is that a small minority of people no longer identify themselves with a belief in God and so the majority of NT people must follow their lead.
Bibles are out the window and blank bits of paper are in. Now, not everyone previously swore on the Bible, but the Oaths Act allowed for that and allowed those members to make a declaration instead.
Indeed, even Prime Minister Julia Gillard failed to take an oath when taking office but instead declared to “do the right thing”, so those members were previously taken into account and not discriminated against for their non-belief.
Notwithstanding this, I believe that the Act has dumbed down policing and belittled its important status by making it like any other job and not a profession whose members are sworn to uphold the law.
Post Script: Since writing the above, it is understood that the Independent member for Nelson, Gerry Wood, has raised similar concerns with the bill as it stands and the NT Government will now look at the matter when it goes back before the Parliament.
Sean Parnell is a police superintendent based in Alice Springs. This article is reprinted from the Northern Territory Police News (published by the Northern Territory Police Association), October 2010.