MS TIERNEY (Minister for Corrections) — We will see whether we will end up in committee. There were a number of questions primarily raised by the Greens party this afternoon in respect of matters in this bill, primarily as they deal with issues to do with court security officers (CSOs). One of the first questions asked was: why is the government employing private security contractors to guard our courts? The government in response says that the private sector security guards at our courts are not a new thing. This bill simply supports the expansion of longstanding existing arrangements for court security and clarifies the powers of private court security officers. Private security officers are used extensively in the public sector for public building security, management of safety in public spaces and secure transport. Court Services Victoria advises that private security guards have been deployed to provide security at a number of high-volume Victorian courts, including the Melbourne Magistrates Court since the mid-1990s, Ms Pennicuik. Providing important safety and security at courts is a key government initiative, especially in the context of family violence disputes. The government has invested $58.1 million to upgrade Victorian courts and expand the presence of court security officers to all Victorian courts on sitting days.
There was a further question about why court security is not provided by protective services officers (PSOs) and police. CSOs, PSOs and Victoria Police all perform different roles in providing court security. The role of CSOs is to maintain the integrity of the entry screening process, respond to courtroom incidences and report incidences to Victoria Police. Victoria Police and PSOs provide security for criminal sittings of the Supreme Court and the County Court, as required by the Court Security Act 1980, and to the Magistrates Court within greater Melbourne. CSOs will provide basic security in urgent incident response to criminal and civil court proceedings in all Victorian courts, especially regional courts. Victoria Police will continue to respond to emergencies and criminal behaviour across Victoria’s metropolitan and regional courts. There is, and will continue to be, strong coordination between the courts and Victoria Police in relation to security requirements.
A key feature of the expansion of court security officers to regional court sittings is that Victoria Police, who currently provide security on sitting days in regional courts, will be able to be redeployed from courts to frontline law enforcement activities in their communities. Victorian police officers are a vital and limited resource, especially in those areas.
A question was raised during the course of the debate about whether the court security officers will be armed. Currently private security officers are managed under contract by Court Services Victoria (CSV), and they are not armed. Under the new contract the CSOs will be trained and will have the necessary authorisation under the Control of Weapons Act 1990 to carry operational equipment, including batons, handcuffs and stab-resistant protective vests. CSV advises that at courts where police and protective services officers are deployed, CSOs will not carry operational equipment. In courts where there are no police or PSOs, CSOs will carry operational equipment. Private security officers will not carry guns or pepper spray. These arrangements are appropriate and proportionate to the duties that CSOs are expected to carry out in keeping Victorians safe in our courts.
Another issue that was raised was: what happens if an authorised officer acts unlawfully or inappropriately? In exercising powers under the Court Security Act 1980 an authorised officer, as a public authority under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, must act compatibly with human rights. A private security company engaged under the Court Security Act is an authority for the purposes of the Ombudsman Act 1973 and can be investigated by the Ombudsman in relation to administrative actions. In addition the Private Security Act 2004 establishes a process for the investigation of complaints about licensed security guards, noting that private security guards appointed as authorised officers will be contractually required to be licensed security guards. Any private security company engaged under the Court Security Act will also be subject, through contractual arrangements, to performance monitoring and reporting and will be required to have a robust complaints management system, including appropriate disciplinary measures. I trust that I have covered off on most of the issues that have been raised.
I can go to matters that talk about the policy context of the new court security model. I can deal with the implementation of the new security model and how many additional private security officers will be provided under this new security model, and I will go to that.
This new court security model will deploy approximately 160 private security officers across court and tribunal premises, including at 40 courts where there was previously no formal security presence. The new model will provide approximately 70 new court security officers in addition to 94 security officers currently deployed under the existing model. I believe that I have covered off now on the issues raised by Ms Pennicuik.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time; by leave, proceeded to third reading.