I rise to speak on the Crime Statistics Bill 2014. There have been a number of attempts to bring this bill before the house and finally it has arrived this afternoon. The purpose of this bill is to provide for the publication of crime statistics and the employment of a chief statistician. From the outset I would like to advise that the Labor opposition will not be opposing this bill. We support — as would all Victorians — transparency when it comes to realistic reporting on crime.
The Napthine government’s tough stance on crime has failed miserably. The reality is that crime has increased, and this government is doing nothing to improve the current state of affairs. Crime statistics should be used for constructive policy making and to allocate resources where they are most needed. The Ombudsman, in a report on Victoria Police crime statistics dated June 2011, recommended that an independent agency be established to manage crime statistics. This bill implements that recommendation.
An independent agency will be established to oversee the provision of these statistics and ensure that the information is properly analysed. Victoria Police will no longer be responsible for managing and releasing the data.
The chief statistician, working within this agency, will have the power to publish and release statistics on crime in Victoria; research and analyse crime and criminal justice issues and trends; require that the Chief Commissioner of Police give full access to law enforcement data necessary to perform their functions; and make copies or take extracts of law enforcement data. The Chief Commissioner of Police may refuse to provide access to law enforcement data if he or she believes that the access would prejudice investigation or a fair trial, would disclose a confidential source or would endanger the lives or physical safety of those connected to law enforcement or who have provided confidential information.
The bill creates offences for unauthorised access, use or disclosure of this information without lawful excuse. The summary offence carries a penalty of 240 penalty units, imprisonment for two years, or both. The indictable offence carries a penalty of 600 penalty units, imprisonment for five years, or both.
The independent analysis and reporting of crime statistics will give us further insight into where resources need to be allocated. This is a strong message that the Napthine government obviously requires. Over the course of its term in government we have seen a significant increase in crime, with the crime rate in Victoria up by 7.1 per cent. In the midst of a crime hike, the government has cut the number of police we have on our streets protecting communities.
In Geelong, a regional city in my electorate of Western Victoria Region, police numbers have decreased by 35 while the crime rate has risen by 15 per cent. That has caused the community great concern. In May this year we saw a rally at Johnstone Park in Geelong attended by members of Victoria Police as well as community members who wanted to highlight the concerns they have about local crime and the lack of resources allocated to the region.
A week and a half ago we had a rally in Drysdale on the Bellarine Peninsula.
It was a community protest over the reduction of police station opening hours all over the Bellarine, whether it be Queenscliff — —
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) — Order! I note there are seven or eight different conversations happening in this chamber at the same time as Ms Tierneyis trying to make her contribution.
Mr Finn interjected.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) — I cannot hear Ms Tierney, Mr Finn, so it is lucky that Hansard has audio backup. I ask those who wish to have a conversation to do it outside the chamber as a sign of respect to Ms Tierneyand the contribution she is trying to make over and above the noise.
Ms TIERNEY — I was talking about the community rally that was held in Drysdale just over a week ago, where local community members were protesting about the reduction in opening hours at the Queenscliff, Drysdale and Portarlington police stations. I can say it is a barbecue stopper wherever you go; there is a constant conversation about community policing on the Bellarine. It is clear that the community is desperate in its plight and is wanting this government and Victoria Police to hear its pleas.
Police members themselves admit that they need more resources to be able to adequately respond to the community. It is not just in those areas where there is high crime; there also needs to be acknowledgement of those areas where we have a disproportionate number of older citizens who need community policing to enable safer communities. During this government’s term we have seen a dramatic reduction in police presence and also an overwhelming increase in the number of prisoners.
It is almost as if police numbers are being replaced by prison officer numbers.
Prisons in Victoria are overflowing; violence is escalating between prisoners and prison officers; and prisoners are sleeping on mattresses, being housed in shipping containers and being held for long periods in police cells. The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures tell us that there are now more than 33 000 inmates being held in prisons across Australia. This is the highest rate of prisoners ever. The Napthine government is responsible for Victoria’s contribution to these excessive figures.
I think it is worth listening to people who have worked in the system for a long time. A former Supreme Court judge, Christine Wheeler, QC, has publicly expressed her concern that prison does not have the intended effect of deterring crime. Ms Wheeler was quoted on ABC Victoria’s 7.30 report, which was screened on 2 July this year. She said:
- Deterrence works for people like you and me, who think about — —
Mr Ondarchie interjected.
Ms TIERNEY — You clearly are not even interested in a practising QC and her opinions about the system, are you, Mr Ondarchie? You are interested only in your own contributions. I return to the quote:
- Deterrence works for people like you and me, who think about consequences and would not commit the offences anyway. It doesn’t work for drug addicts, it doesn’t work for alcoholics, it doesn’t work for people who are mentally ill.
The Napthine government’s tough stance on crime just is not working. Its policy is not deterring people. The crime rates are higher and the prison system is collapsing.
Ms Wheeler identified that there is money being wasted on deterrence that is not working. It is money that could be spent on things such as crime prevention, which would make us safer in the first instance. Ms Wheeler said that each prisoner costs $100 000 per annum. For that we sacrifice a nurse or a teacher that the state cannot afford to employ. We need to seriously assess where the funds could be more effectively applied.
Establishing an independent agency to manage and analyse crime statistics is a measure we support. The statistics are important and should be used productively to allocate police and reduce crime rates. The Napthine government’s failed approach to crime has resulted in the crime rate increasing and police numbers decreasing. Our communities have been left feeling vulnerable and unprotected.
Given this track record, Victorians have no confidence that the Napthine government will give attention to the independent crime statistics or develop realistic policy measures in response in this area. Statistics themselves will not reduce crime or contribute police numbers on the streets. Statistics need to be used for future planning and the effective allocation of resources. Although this bill is a welcome measure, the Napthine government has a long way to go when it comes to managing crime in this state.