May 7, 2014  |  Second Reading

Victoria Police Amendment (Consequential and Other Matters) Bill 2014

Mr  HOWARD (Ballarat  East)—  I am pleased to speak  on the  Victoria Police Amendment (Consequential and Other Matters) Bill 2014.

As  we have  heard from  previous speakers,  the bill  does not  make any  major changes to  the way  our police  operate, but  it clarifies  a number  of issues associated  with  the  Victoria  Police  Act  2013  and  creates   a  number  of consequential amendments associated  with that legislation that roll on over 180 other acts across the Victorian legislature. I am very supportive of the work of Victoria Police.  As  with  all  members,  we  often  have  reason  to  work  in association  with  the  police  on  issues  raised with us by constituents. I am pleased that the  present chief in  Ballarat,  Superintendent Andrew  Allen,  is always very cooperative when I have had to follow  up issues with him, as are so many other members of the police with whom I come into contact for work reasons. I congratulate them all on their roles.

As we know, when this  government came to office, it came in on a strong law and order platform, but, as other speakers from this side have emphasised, it is not as though the former Bracks and Brumby governments did not also do a lot of work to enhance  policing across the state. I note that the member for  Benalla  seemed  to suggest that the coalition government is the first  to modernise the police force  in  Victoria,  but  let  us  remember  who introduced the first female Chief Commissioner of  Police in Victoria. Under the former  government Christine Nixon  as chief commissioner clearly  did a lot  of work to modernise and change the culture of our police force under our watch.

Although some members would not remember what the police force was like ahead of 1999, they would know that during the years of the Kennett government there were significant cuts  to  the public  service  across the state,  including  cuts to police. The morale of  our police force when we came to  office in 1999 was very low. The attrition  rate in the police force at that time was high, and that was certainly the feedback that I gained regularly in dealing with the police force. The Labor government was  able  to increase the number of police officers across the state to build up our force in numbers.

We did a great deal to improve policing across our state.

I also note that this government, while it came  to office with a strong law and order platform, has made significant cuts to  the  police  budget  of  around $1 million.  While it has said that will not affect front-line staff, we  know that it has  significantly  reduced  the number of support staff to the police. Under Labor  we  tried  to build that up from  200  to  400,  but it has dropped  back significantly again.

What  it means when you drop the number of public  service staff  supporting the police is that you  see, as did Jack Rush QC in his review, that more police are being forced to do more desk work to complete their own police work. By reducing offline staff you clearly force those that should  be on line, out there  on the beat,  back to  doing  more  deskwork.  That  has  clearly happened  under  this government, and it is unfortunate.

However, I have to say that I have had a number of dealings with police recently in looking at issues  associated  with some potential young offenders out in our retail precincts, sometimes in Bridge Mall  and sometimes at other  sites around Ballarat. When those issues have been discussed with  police, they have got more members out  on  the beat and  worked  with the shop precinct  owners  to try to address their concerns.

However,  I have to emphasise, as I always do when we are talking about policing matters, that  issues associated with crime  are not just policing matters; they are broad community issues. While you  can  increase  the  number  of police and increase their level of attention on people who may potentially commit  a crime, there needs to be a broad community  response. I  do not believe this government is doing enough to provide support in those areas.

We know  the  welfare  sector has  involvement,  and the  education  sector  has involvement at all  levels,  not just at the  secondary level. It has a  role in ensuring that  young people who may be  at risk continue to  be  involved in the education sector and that  they see opportunities  for themselves. Cuts to  TAFE and other training options are a threat to their  opportunity  to  find  ongoing involvement  in  the  education  sector and to link into job opportunities. If a young person or anybody  becomes disenfranchised in  our community, they are  at greater risk of going the wrong way.

I am disappointed to note that, even though this government made big promises in regard  to law and order,  last  year when we looked  at the crime statistics in Ballarat a number of the figures had increased. In particular crimes against the person had jumped by 27 per cent, and in  Moorabool the total crime rate  jumped by 8.3 per cent just in the year.

I never want  to  concern our community or  to scaremonger, as I  know  the then opposition  did while we were in government. I believe we generally have  a safe community and that a lot of  the crimes we are concerned  about, whether they be drug  related  or  crimes  against the person, often happen at times  when  most people are not  out and about; they happen  early in the morning,  often  on the weekend as we know, and they  might be  alcohol related.  They are  often around issues  associated with specific domestic violence, and I hope we are getting to a situation where more women particularly who  are victims of domestic  violence feel free to report  that and feel that  they  are being well supported  by  the police crimes unit in attempting to address the matter. Again the welfare sector is also  there through the Department  of Human Services and other organisations to support those women who have been victims  of domestic  violence. As with the White  Ribbon  movement,  I  am  always pleased to declare to the community that there is no place  for violence in the home. That  is an issue on which  we have made some progress.

I  support  this  bill. We need  to  continue  to work  to  support  a  range of activities across the community. I also express  my  concern about what might be happening  with  the  Blue  Light  events that  police  have  been  running  for under-18s.  They have  been  great across  my  electorate,  whether that  be  in Ballarat, Creswick or  Daylesford  and  so  on. I am concerned that with funding cuts the Blue Light discos and other Blue Light activities are under threat in Ballarat.  I  have been talking with police recently  about how they are going to progress. I hope we can find resolution to those  issues that will see proper staffing and full police  support  for  those activities.

I want to  ensure that people understand that I and members  on this side of the house always  support police  and try  to work  with our community to see  crime reduced and not escalated. It needs broad community support.  I support the work that  is done to modernise the  police force, but I  want to see broad community action being taken to reduce crime in our community.