Police minister Michael Costa talked tough on law and order but sidestepped issues like drug dogs and the age of consent while speaking at a Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association dinner on Tuesday night.

The speech was criticised by some dinner attendees who told Sydney Star Observer they felt it was too general and contained little that was pertinent to gay and lesbian community interests.

Costa’s only direct reference to lesbians and gay men during the address was in the context of police recruitment. He told the attendees he was a strong supporter of a diverse police force and encouraged members of the gay and lesbian community to get involved in policing.

The minister took questions from the floor after his speech but refused to be drawn on a question about his stance on the age of consent issue.

The Star later asked him to clarify his position.

My attitudes are pretty clear on these issues. Rather than pre-empting a debate that might not come on, I will leave my answers as cryptic as that, he said.

When it was put to him that the premier himself had made a statement to state parliament that he could see no substantial argument against an equal age of consent, Costa said he endorsed the premier’s comments.

Costa was equally unyielding when asked about the effect of drug sniffer dogs on community perceptions of NSW police. While his speech mentioned the use of dogs for drug detection, it focused heavily on the use of dogs for firearm detection.

Our police are trained to use their powers with discretion, Costa told the Star. In relation to small quantities of cannabis, the government made a decision about that: we have a cautionary system. In terms of other drugs, and I’m talking for adult offenders, they are still illegal. My advice to anybody who has a view about this is to engage in the public debate. The police have an obligation to enforce laws. If people want to change the laws they should engage in the public discourse rather than focusing on the police.

The police minister also rejected suggestions that the gay and lesbian liaison officer [GLLO] program within the NSW police was suffering from a lack of support.

It certainly enjoys support from the minister’s office, he said, explaining that it was part of the police strategy to engage all communities.

I’m a strong supporter of community-based policing. That means having a police force that reflects the diversity of our community. Without that we won’t be successful, he said.

However, the Liberal candidate for Bligh, Shayne Mallard (who attended the SGLBA dinner) argued that the government had discovered community policing seven years too late.

The government has woken up to the fact that people are very angry about the lack of police on the beat. On Oxford Street, that’s what we’ve been calling for for the last five or six years, he said.

Other sources commented on the perceived drop in police support for the GLLO program.

The acting chief executive officer of ACON (which auspices the Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project), Alan Brotherton, told the Star that there were originally a number of people working on the GLLO program at police headquarters, while now there is just one. That person had not been replaced during an absence of over three months, he added.

That doesn’t sound like a program fully supported by the highest level of the NSW police, he said.

Similar comments came from civil libertarian John Marsden.

There has been a determined effort by the police to cut back the gay and lesbian liaison officer support, and the efforts of people like Fred Miller [former parliamentarian who helped establish the program] are all being turned backwards. Michael Costa has a responsibility to move forward, Marsden said.

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