MS TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) (15:55:48) — I rise to provide the summation in relation to the government’s position in respect of this important bill. The government has a longstanding commitment to work with Victoria Police and the Police Association Victoria (TPA) to develop a suite of reforms to comprehensively address threats and acts of harm and violence against police. Violence towards police officers and other emergency workers in the line of their duty is absolutely unacceptable. Police and emergency service workers routinely put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe and help us at the worst moments of our lives. As other speakers have noted both in this place and in the other the frequency of car rammings directed towards police officers is increasing. It is shocking that emergency workers are being targeted in this way. This bill fulfils the commitment made by this government on 9 August this year to introduce new laws to specifically address incidents where offenders use motor vehicles to harm police and emergency workers.
The bill was developed in lockstep with TPA and Victoria Police.
The secretary of the TPA has said that this issue is the top priority for the association and its members. These incidents are happening more frequently, and the risk they pose to our hardworking police is totally unacceptable. As the TPA secretary has said, it is only a matter of time before a police officer is seriously injured or killed in one of these incidents.
The new offences introduced by this bill are intentionally exposing an emergency worker, a custodial officer or a youth justice custodial worker to risk by driving, with a maximum 20-year term of imprisonment; recklessly exposing an emergency worker, a custodial officer or a youth justice custodial worker to risk by driving, with a maximum 10-year term of imprisonment; and damaging an emergency services vehicle, with a maximum five-year term of imprisonment.
Given that I have just mentioned youth justice custodial workers, there was a comment made by Mr O’Donohue in his contribution, and I take this opportunity to provide further information on this. Youth justice officers have been included to capture as many classes of emergency workers as possible for custodial offences. This will prevent offenders specifically targeting emergency workers who are not captured by the new offences. The bill is intended to capture a wide variety of circumstances in which offences against emergency workers may occur. Youth justice custodial workers will be included in the definition of emergency workers more generally through amendments made to the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Act 2017. The provisions in this bill that specifically include them are transitional provisions for the period between this bill commencing and those provisions taking effect.
Going back to the specifics of this bill, the bill also creates the aggravated offence of intentionally exposing an emergency worker, a custodial officer or a youth justice custodial worker to risk by driving, with a maximum 10-year term of imprisonment; and the aggravated offence of recklessly exposing an emergency worker, a custodial officer or a youth justice custodial worker to risk by driving, with a maximum 10-year term of imprisonment. A statutory two-year minimum term of imprisonment will apply if an adult offender commits the offence of intentionally exposing an emergency worker to risk to safety by driving, or the aggravated version, and in so doing causes an injury to the emergency worker while they are on duty. These statutory minimums will not apply if there are special reasons or if the offender is under the age of 18. These statutory minimums are in line with other provisions for the harming of emergency workers in Victoria.
We believe our reforms are a comprehensive package to protect our emergency services workers. The government has worked with the TPA and Victoria Police to ensure that we have got them right. This is a comprehensive package to ensure the safety of those who keep us safe and who put their lives on the line to save ours.
In the opposition’s bill the offence only applied to the ramming of police vehicles. It did not apply to any vehicle being driven by a police officer while not in the course of their police duties. The opposition’s bill, the government asserts, prioritised property over people. Our bill, we believe, puts people first. We have a comprehensive bill, as I said, that was developed in close consultation with the TPA, and it captures the conduct they are trying to protect their officers from. We believe the opposition decided that a statutory minimum term of imprisonment should apply to all offences in this bill. The same statutory minimum sentence we believe should not apply to offending that causes injury and offending that merely results in damage to an emergency services vehicle.
The penalties for each offence have been developed in close association with the TPA and are well-informed by real-life scenarios that our emergency workers are faced with. If the same statutory minimum sentences are applied to all of these new offences, it basically tells emergency workers that damaging their vehicles is as serious as causing harm to them as emergency workers. It is emergency workers who make the choice to take up a profession that protects and serves the community, despite the risk it might present them. Saying that injuring workers is the same as damaging their vehicles is simply offensive to the people who put their lives on the line for us every day.
Our record shows how committed we are to ensuring the safety of emergency services workers, because those who care for us at the most difficult moments deserve the respect of the entire community. They are entitled to work in a safe and secure environment. As a result of this, I commend this bill to the house.