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.