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Legislative Council
Justice Legislation Amendment (Protective Services Officers and Other Matters) Bill 2017

23 June 2017
Second reading


Ordered that second-reading speech be incorporated into Hansard on motion of Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture).

Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Incorporated speech as follows:

The Victorian government is committed to preventing crime and ensuring Victorians feel safe in their homes and on the streets. The first ever community safety statement, which was jointly developed by the government and Victoria Police, is our strategy for how we will make our state safer.

The community safety statement acknowledges the need for visible presence of police and protective services officers (PSOs) in the community — and notably on public transport — to improve feelings of safety and to prevent and detect crime. Highly trained PSOs deter crime and antisocial behaviour and help people feel safe and confident to use the train network. These transit PSOs have freed up more than 47 000 shifts for police officers, allowing police to spend more time on the street and doing specialised work.

The bill supports implementation of a number of community safety statement initiatives to further reduce harm in our community by deploying mobile PSOs across the public transport network and providing them with the flexibility they need to respond to incidents, banning cash for scrap metal to reduce the trade in stolen vehicles, and implementing Victoria Police's mental health review.

Mobile PSOs were announced in the community safety statement. They will tackle hotspots across the public transport network, based on Victoria Police's intelligence about the time, location and types of crime and antisocial behaviour occurring on public transport. The bill will make transit PSOs' powers consistent across the statute book, giving PSOs an appropriately limited measure of flexibility to respond to persons or incidents where they are on duty.

The bill will amend a number of acts that contain existing powers in order to enable PSOs to exercise these powers both at a designated place as well as in the vicinity of a designated place. This will provide PSOs with the flexibility they need to respond to persons or incidents both at the designated place (such as a train station) and in the surrounding area. For example, it would allow limited pursuit of a fleeing offender by a PSO or allow a PSO to attend to a crime taking place across the road from a train station. These amendments will enable this common-sense response which the public expects.

The community safety statement highlights the need to expand PSOs' functions to optimise safety outcomes and return sworn police to the front line. The bill will give PSOs several additional police powers to give them a more active community safety role where they are stationed.

Specifically, the bill will expand the circumstances in which transit PSOs may: request a person's name and address, issue an infringement notice, apprehend a person and search a person or thing. These powers are similar to powers that PSOs already have in other contexts. The following acts will be amended to provide transit PSOs with these new powers:

the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (CYFA);

the Corrections Act 1986;

the Crimes Act 1958;

the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981;

the Liquor Control Reform Act 1987; and

the Control of Weapons Act 1990.

All PSOs will continue to be trained for 12 weeks prior to commencing their role. This includes the same training that police officers receive on using tactical equipment (such as firearms and batons), and how to deal with vulnerable persons. In the same way as police, PSOs are required to requalify in the use of tactical equipment every six months. Following graduation, PSOs continue to receive supervision from police officers for three months while 'on the job'.

Transit PSOs will receive the same training as police officers in respect of the new powers and will be subject to the same complaint investigation and discipline processes as apply to police officers.

The bill implements the community safety statement commitment to ban the use of cash to pay for scrap metal. Victoria Police and the Victorian Law Reform Commission have both identified the lawful scrap metal and vehicle recycling industries as being highly susceptible to infiltration by organised crime. Cash-based transactions for scrap metal can be used to conceal unlawful dealings, incentivise motor vehicle theft and provide a breeding ground for organised crime. By prohibiting cash payments, prohibiting trade in unidentified motor vehicles (including where a compliance plate has been removed and replaced with another), and requiring records to be kept of all transactions involving scrap metal, the bill will ensure that traceable information on every transaction is available.

The bill takes a deliberate law enforcement approach, strengthening police search powers in respect of second-hand dealers by allowing entry without warrant onto business and storage premises of a second-hand dealer when a business of dealing in scrap metal is being carried on or is reasonably believed to be carried on. This includes when business is being conducted after hours. Police will also be able to enter parts of residential premises that comprise business premises or storage premises. The bill also gives police the power to apply for a warrant to search particular premises to monitor compliance with law.

These measures, developed in consultation with Victoria Police and informed by criminal intelligence, equip Victoria Police with the tools to disrupt the trade in stolen motor vehicles and deter organised crime infiltrating the scrap metal and vehicle recycling industries.

The government will continue to work with Victoria Police and industry stakeholders to examine and develop regulatory options to further enhance the measures in this bill, prevent criminal activity in the scrap metal and vehicle recycling industries and to support legitimate businesses and protect consumers. Building on the work currently being conducted through the Organised Crime Infiltration Project, the government will embark on sector-wide consultation and develop these options in the second half of 2017.

A key priority in the community safety statement is to improve Victoria Police's capability, culture, and technology. Police must be able to keep the community safe without jeopardising their own safety. A recent independent review into the mental health and wellbeing of Victoria Police employees found that police officers experience higher levels of recurrent exposure to potentially traumatic events compared to any other industry. Over time, these traumatic events can increase the risk of police officers experiencing mental illness such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Chief Commissioner of Police has committed to implementing all recommendations of the mental health review, and is prioritising raising awareness of mental health issues in Victoria Police, and increasing prevention and early identification.

The government has said it will stand with Victoria Police in its efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of police staff. This bill will support implementation of the mental health review recommendation that psychologists with relevant specialist training should be permitted to conduct psychological fitness for duty assessments. This reflects contemporary mental health practice, is expected to lead to more accurate assessments, and will support the community safety statement aim of ensuring that Victoria Police has the right capability to keep Victorians safe and secure over time.

The bill will make a minor and technical amendment to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 to put beyond doubt Victoria Police's ability to incidentally hold young people in police gaols to facilitate their transfer to and from courts and youth justice facilities. Not every court premises has holding rooms on site, so in some situations, a police gaol may be the only place available to hold young people before or after their court appearance. The maximum time for transitionally holding these young people in a police gaol will be two working days. However, it is the intention that young people will be held in police gaols for the shortest time possible and that their transfer to either a court or youth justice facility occur at the earliest opportunity. Importantly, they must be kept separately from adults and will be afforded the same protections as young people temporarily remanded in custody in a police gaol in other circumstances under the CYFA. This is a minor and technical reform which is unrelated to the temporary holding of children in the Mill Park police station gaol following last year's events at Parkville youth justice centre.

The bill will facilitate the government's election commitment to recruit, train and employ 400 police custody officers (PCOs) by the end of 2017 by creating the new police custody officer supervisor position. PCO supervisors will lead a team of PCOs and will be authorised to perform some of the responsibilities currently assigned to the officer in charge of a police gaol, who is a sworn officer. These responsibilities include managing visitors to police gaols and those detained within police gaols, authorising searches of persons within a police gaol and the use of restraints, and directing PCOs who transport and supervise persons from a police gaol to other destinations. The chief commissioner will ensure that PCO supervisors will be selected from suitably qualified candidates and required to undertake appropriate training to acquit their responsibilities.

The bill also clarifies the scope of the current duties of PCOs so that they more accurately reflect their existing role and function. In addition to their work at police gaols, PCOs play a vital role in supporting the work of sworn and unsworn officers at police stations. For example, PCOs maintain attendance registers at the police gaol and complete correspondence and reports. The administrative work of PCOs within the custody area is separate yet complementary to the efforts of current and hardworking VPS staff who are fundamental to the efficient functioning of police stations in Victoria. The administrative functions of VPS staff already working in police stations will continue.

In addition to supporting the progressive release of police officers to frontline duties in line with the community safety statement, the new dedicated PCO supervisor position will promote best practice within the custody environment, create a clear career pathway for PCOs and will help Victoria Police to retain skilled staff.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan).

Debate adjourned until Friday, 30 June.