Thousands of police officers protesting in Sydney on November 22, 2011.

Thousands of police officers protesting in Sydney on November 22, 2011. Photo: Quentin Jones

On New Year's Eve, Sergeant Prue Burgun of the NSW Police was punched in the face by a drunk, who was promptly arrested, but not before inflicting an injury that was painful for days and required a hospital visit for treatment. We know this because Burgun described the attack, and other incidents, on New Year's Eve in an opinion piece in the Herald online on Tuesday.

Normally, this would prompt natural sympathy for a member of a police force that has, for too long, had to deal with too many drunks. But I think Burgun has a problem. She concluded her opinion piece with this taunt to the state government, which was typically shrill:

''Get out of the pocket of the Australian Hotels Association, get out of the pocket of Tourism Australia and represent the people who should matter in this state. They want something done about the scourge of alcohol-related violence and so do the people who mop it up every night. The decision is easy. Just have the guts to make it.''

Burgun has form. She undistinguished herself in this way when the government started to wind back the culture of police perks, the excessive disability, excessive overtime and excessive moonlighting. During the last four years of the Labor government, medical discharge rates in the service exploded by 367 per cent and long-term sick leave blew out by 152 per cent. The police budget had become untenable, prompting the government to introduce the Police Amendment (Death and Disability) Bill 2011 as one measure to rein in costs.

On November 22, 2011, several thousand police rallied outside the NSW Parliament to protest this bill. Most did so in uniform, against an express order of the commissioner. This was a mass display of insubordination which did nothing to instil public confidence in the force.

Burgun spoke at the rally, in her capacity as treasurer of the Police Association of NSW, a role she still holds. She mocked the Minister for Police, Mike Gallacher, himself a former police officer, saying the only injury he had ever suffered in the line of duty was a paper cut. Three days later, Friday morning, she was at it again, one of a group of police who occupied the public gallery of the Legislative Assembly during debate. Catcalling ensued, as if the rules that apply to the public do not apply to police.

They behaved like bogans with badges. After the legislation passed in the lower house, Burgun tweeted: ''You might've won this battle Barry O'Farrell but you WILL NOT win the war. Police will remember at the next election.''

She resumed her attack the next day, November 26, again on Twitter: ''Police won't forget yesterday's Coalition betrayal. We will fight all the way to March 2015.''

This gives Burgun's sneering on Tuesday a new perspective. It's not just about police exasperation. It's highly political. It also provides a context for the smear published on the police association website on Monday, written by Inspector Pat Gooley. In an open letter, he detailed the alcohol-drenched violence of Kings Cross on New Year's Eve and said: ''Too many police are the victims of the scourge of alcohol-related violence.''

Yes. True. Agreed. The Herald has been campaigning on this for a year and nowhere on the paper is more for law-and-order than this column, which again and again has argued that our legal system delivers revolving-door justice and this is debilitating to the police. But Gooley, vice-president of the police union, chose, as had Burgun, to put union activism first when he included this in his open letter: ''So my question is, where were you, [Hospitality Minister] George [Souris] on New Year's Eve? Somewhere safe, shielded from the horrors of what people can do to each other? I remember seeing you about 3 months ago doing a presser next to the El Alamein Fountain at Kings Cross spruiking how you had the violence under control. What struck me was that it was 9.30 in the morning and you never even stopped to speak to the cops going in and out of the police station 20 metres away, instead, jumping in your car to be whisked away to the safety of anywhere but Kings Cross or central Sydney …

''It is time for the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, to demonstrate that he is running this state for the benefit of his constituents. Because at the moment it appears the Australian Hotels Association is running the minister's policies for the benefit of a handful of licensees who hold late night trading licences. If your government is willing to take $11 million a month out of drivers' pockets through speed cameras to reduce crashes by 42 per cent in black spots, why won't you tell your minister to trial the Newcastle model to reduce assaults by 37 per cent in violent black spots?''

These would be legitimate points except that ever since Labor lost in 2011 the police union has not even tried to maintain a position of political neutrality. Labor was thrown out in a landslide because it was dysfunctional. What Gooley and Burgun have achieved this week is remind us the public sector unions are the bedrock of the NSW Labor machine. When it came time to clean up their part of the dysfunction, the police took to the street in an act of mass insubordination.

Twitter: @Paul_Sheehan_