Crimes Amendment (Carjacking and Home Invasion) Bill 2016
15 September 2016
Ms RYAN (Euroa) — I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate today. In his contribution the member for Niddrie made the statement that Victorians have the right to feel safe and the right to feel safe in their homes. That is a sentiment I completely agree with. The truth is that at the moment we know Victorians do not feel safe. That is largely due to the actions of this current government. We know that crime increased by 12.4 per cent in the year to March. They are quite staggering figures, but frontline police at stations are down by 80 officers across the state compared with November 2014 when the coalition left government. Police stations around the state are closing their doors. We have had numerous examples of that in metropolitan Melbourne, but there are also police stations across country Victoria and in particular one-man police stations that are no longer being staffed in the way they once were. As the member for Box Hill outlined earlier, the government has also weakened bail laws for juvenile offenders, and on this side of the house we are quite concerned about the message that sends.
Concerns about rising crime and the government's failure to protect Victorians has actually extended beyond the city borders. It is certainly impacting in my area. The government's failure in particular to keep pace with population growth is really starting to impact areas like Mitchell shire, for example, which is part of the Euroa electorate. Last year Benalla actually saw a 36.6 per cent increase in the crime rate. While we have an average of 12 per cent — that in itself is shocking enough — in some regional communities we are seeing increases that are much greater than that. The local police inspector there, Dan Trimble — who I think has recently moved on — cited both home and commercial burglary as the main drivers for the increase, particularly in property damage, and also of course crimes against the person were up.
The government often points to increased reporting of family violence as being a driver of the increase in the crime rate, and while that is true to some extent, we also know that there have been increases in violent crime. The Shire of Mitchell, as I said before, is growing very rapidly. It is actually expected to grow at a rate of 6.8 per cent per year over the next 15 years. Because of the rapid growth of areas like Mitchell shire and the government's failure to actually employ enough police to keep pace with that population growth, what I am seeing across parts of my electorate is that police are getting dragged out of smaller communities to be put into these rapidly growing communities. There is most definitely a very real and very present need for the government to look at police resourcing and to ensure that the men and women of Victoria Police are staffed to the capacity necessary to do the work they need to do.
The bill that we currently have before the house amends the Crimes Act 1958 to create four new offences of home invasion, aggravated home invasion, carjacking and aggravated carjacking. It also amends the Sentencing Act 1991 to provide for a statutory minimum sentence of three years imprisonment where a person is convicted of aggravated home invasion or aggravated carjacking.
I particularly wish to pay tribute to a member for Eastern Victoria Region in the other place, Ed O'Donohue, for the vast amount of work he has actually done. I think it is probably fair to say that he has embarrassed the government into bringing this bill forward. It was introduced after he introduced his private members bill into the Legislative Council, and I very much doubt that the government would be taking these measures, which are almost a carbon copy of Mr O'Donohue's bill, were it not for his actions in the other place.
In Mr O'Donohue second-reading speech he highlighted the fact that carjacking was once virtually unheard of in Victoria, but data from the Crime Statistics Agency now shows that the number of crimes that actually fit the definition or the matrix of carjacking has increased by 80 per cent in the last year alone. That is quite a staggering increase. Much of that, as we know, has been attributed to members of gangs, like the Apex gang, but it does go beyond the boundaries of the city, as I said earlier. One of the things I was very interested to note when the crime statistics data came out recently was the huge increase in motor vehicle theft across in particular the Mitchell shire.
The coalition has also proposed an amendment to the government's bill to insert a five-year minimum non-parole period, as we believe that the bill that is currently before the house actually proposes a weaker position than that which was proposed under the private members bill that was introduced by Mr O'Donohue in the other place. We further have some concern that the new offences relating to home invasion do not actually seem to be very different to the existing burglary offences which are already under the Crimes Act. I think that could lead people to wonder whether the government has in fact introduced this bill more in response to public pressure and, I guess, as a political fix than for the genuine reason of addressing the issue of carjacking, which we have seen increasing at such a staggering rate.
Just in the few minutes that I have left I do just wish to put on the record some conversations I have had, particularly with the community of Rushworth. It obviously came to light in question time today that the government has actually cut funding for Neighbourhood Watch. In Rushworth there is an excellent Neighbourhood Watch group, who wrote to me a number of months ago very concerned about the increase in crime that they are seeing in their community and the reduced policing presence. There are actually two retired police officers in that community who themselves are absolutely scratching their heads in utter frustration at the police's inability to actually catch people who are known in the community, who are causing property damage, who are defacing things around town and who, they have told me, they have actually caught on CCTV stealing a car from the main street.
These are crimes that once were not really considered commonplace in smaller country towns, but with the pressure that police in our country communities are now under they are becoming commonplace and we are seeing more and more of this kind of behaviour that police are simply not resourced to be able to deal with. The rosters, as I understand it, at the Rushworth police station have changed, and as a result the police station there is now no longer open the way that it was and the police officer who was at Rushworth has been called to Bendigo for a significant period of time.
Again, the bill before us addresses these issues around carjacking and home invasions, but there are much broader law and order issues there that the government also needs to look at. The reality is that the only way we are going to see these issues addressed is by adequately resourcing the fine men and women of Victoria Police who do their job day in, day out and who are finding it increasingly difficult as a result of the lack of resources from this government. On that note, I am pleased that the government is taking these steps. I wonder whether they would have done it had it not been for the actions of the coalition in the upper house, but I think this is a positive move forward. I would urge the government to consider the statutory minimums that the coalition has put forward.