Parliament Police Benalla Police Station Emergency services

Victoria Police Amendment Bill 2022 - Second Reading Speech

08 March 2022


Thank you so much, Acting Speaker. I think we all now stand corrected; thank you very much. It is very nice to see you in the chair.

It is a pleasure to rise today to speak on the Victoria Police Amendment Bill 2022 and to make a few remarks about this important legislation, which comes before us today as an urgent bill to fix, as others have said, an administrative error. We have a situation where under the Victoria Police Act 2013 we have seen deputy commissioners appointing police officers to act as assistant commissioners in situations where they do not actually have the delegated power to do so, and that has as a consequence flowed down, as other people have explained, resulting in acting commissioners swearing in graduating police officers. As I understand it, as a consequence we had 1076 police officers, 157 protective services officers and 29 police custody officers that were incorrectly sworn in. Of course when this error was realised late last month and a police officer told the public what had occurred, Victoria Police acted very swiftly to address the problem, and as a result we have the legislation here before us today to apply some retrospective powers to correct that mistake and to ensure that prosecutions—some that are currently before the courts, as I understand it—are not jeopardised.

We are certainly not opposed to this legislation coming forward. Even though we did see the bill only late yesterday, we understand the importance of this and we understand the importance of this to police, and therefore we are certainly not opposing the bill. I do note the comments from the secretary of Police Association Victoria, Wayne Gatt, who said:

The Bill is essential to make good our members appointment, but in doing so also validates and bolsters their work performed in that same period protecting the community and holding criminals to account. It is our hope that this Bill passes quickly, so as to provide the community with every assurance, that all of our police and PSOs, have done in good faith over that time, will not be undone.

We are certainly working with the government to facilitate that outcome and to ensure the speedy passage of this legislation.

It is probably worth mentioning that it is not the first time that an oversight such as this has actually occurred. There was a similar issue that arose in 2011, when police realised that they were not following proper procedure in obtaining search warrants. They were not swearing on the Bible or affirming in obtaining search warrants, and that forced the government at the time to bring similarly retrospective legislation to ensure that some 6000 prosecutions were not put in jeopardy. So it is not the first time that it has occurred, but thankfully the Parliament is able to act swiftly to address it and ensure the continued safety of the Victorian community.

I think it is worth mentioning that from our side of the house we have driven some really major reforms in policing and in community safety. In 2010 it was The Nationals and the Liberals who championed a dramatic expansion of the role of PSOs, to place them on all platforms in metropolitan Melbourne and on key regional stations. And I recall that quite well because it was Peter Ryan as the Leader of The Nationals, who was the shadow minister for police and then subsequently the Minister for Police, who implemented that policy. I will refrain, in the interests of the bipartisan nature of this debate, from mentioning how the Labor Party described PSOs at the time, but I would hope that all sides of the chamber—

A member interjected.

Mr Rowswell: How rude.

Ms RYAN: Thank you, member for Sandringham. I think it is too. All sides of the chamber now really, I would hope, recognise the great value that PSOs have brought and the way they have contributed to community safety and particularly safety on public transport, which we know is always an issue and, I might mention on International Women’s Day, is particularly an issue often for women travelling at night and those perceptions of safety. PSOs have certainly gone a long way to contributing to that.

We also delivered significantly to actually boost the police workforce, and at the time we made a commitment to recruit and train an additional 1700 police officers. That target was not just met but exceeded, and over the term that we had in government 1900 new police members were recruited, trained and employed. And if memory serves me correctly, before the 2010 election Victoria under the Brumby government had the lowest number of police per capita of any state or territory in Australia, so it was a very significant issue to the Victorian community particularly at that time. But as other people have mentioned in the course of this debate, our police do do wonderful work and work under the most trying and challenging of circumstances, and I think COVID has been very stretching not just for the community but also for the force.

Speaking to many frontline officers in recent times, I know they have felt and shared the community’s frustration at restrictions and lockdowns, the changing nature of restrictions and the difficulty of interpreting a lot of the government’s regulations. I think, particularly from the perspective of my community, of the impact of border closures and the difficulties that that presented for our police. Not only were they taken away from those frontline, core jobs of everything to do with things like family violence and violent assault, they were taken away from those jobs and were suddenly policing the state’s borders. But we also had situations like at one point the Victorian government overnight basically took Benalla out of the border bubble, and what that meant was that we had people who were cancer patients in Benalla who were travelling to Albury for treatment and suddenly they were being turned back at the border and police were telling them that they required a border permit in order to be able to travel for and get cancer treatment at Albury Hospital, which of course services northern Victoria as well. I had a lot of people contacting me, seeking clarification, and in the end we finally managed to get clarification from the Victorian government that no border permit was required, but those things either were not thought about or were dealt with on the fly. It was not the police’s fault; they were just doing the best job they could do interpreting the government’s restrictions at the time. In the end we got clarification, and as a result police were able to let those people through. But that was not just distressing for the people who were endeavouring to travel for life-saving treatment, it was distressing for police as well, because these members of our police force are members of our community.

I think about many of the police that I interact with on a regular basis, people I know in our community, people like Pat Storer, who is a copper in a single station at Violet Town. You are just as likely to see Pat on the Rotary barbecue or on the gate at the Violet Town market as you are in uniform around the streets. He is such a big part of that community. He is at all the Violet Town Action Group meetings. He is Violet Town; he is part of Violet Town—just like Paul Maher, who has now been stationed to Northern Metro, which is a loss for our community. He is the president of the Kilmore football club. You have got people like Mick Layton, who has just been appointed to the Mitchell police service area—a wonderful fellow who is a big part of cricket in our region. Everywhere you go our police are not just police, they are also an integral part of our community and they are community members. So it has been incredibly challenging for them, as they have borne the brunt of the community’s anger about restrictions when it has been the government that has been setting the rules and they have been left to enforce them. That is challenging because they also then have to turn up to the cricket or the footy, when it was running, and be part of the community—like we all are, but also they have the responsibility of enacting the regulations and the legislation that the government of the day sets.

I just quickly want to mention that since I was elected I have been working very closely with Benalla police, and I am delighted that the government has finally come on board to commit to rebuilding their police station. It has been at the top of Victoria Police’s capital replacement list for many, many years, and I am very hopeful that we will start to see that work soon. I will be working with the Euroa community to advocate for their priorities around the Euroa police station as well.

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