MS TIERNEY (Minister for Corrections) — I rise to make a number of comments in relation to points that have been made by a variety of speakers over the course of this debate. I begin by also acknowledging the hard work and commitment that protective services officers (PSOs) and police officers exemplify every day in our Victorian community. Whether it be in small country towns, metropolitan Melbourne or regional centres, all of them do an amazing job in keeping our communities safer. That brings me to the genesis of the bill that is before us this afternoon. It is in response to a number of reforms that were announced to support the implementation of the Community Safety Statement 2017 to make our communities safer and to reduce harm in our communities.
The bill will provide transit PSOs with appropriate flexibility to respond to incidents in the vicinity of the place in which they are on duty. We believe that this is a commonsense approach which the public expects. PSO functions will also be expanded to give them a more active policing role where they are already stationed to deal with matters relevant to public safety. The new powers, which complement the powers they already have in other contexts, will enable them to request a person’s name and address, issue an infringement notice, apprehend a person and search a person or thing.
The new powers will allow PSOs to deal with situations that they are already encountering out there in the public. For example, PSOs are already discovering illicit drugs when exercising their existing search powers. As is the case with their existing powers, appropriate safeguards will apply, such as a requirement to conduct searches and manage seized items in accordance with the Victoria Police (VicPol) manual requirements. Failure to comply can lead to management and disciplinary action.
I want to pick up on a point raised by Ms Patten and I believe Ms Pennicuik as well in relation to the statement of compatibility. That statement dealt in a cautious and transparent manner with the power for PSOs to participate in controlled weapons operations. This was because police officers’ existing equivalent powers were found incompatible with the relevant charter rights. However, the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee examined this bill and concluded that despite any charter incompatibility with the existing police powers, the bill’s provisions extending those powers to PSOs are in fact compatible with the charter. This is because the clauses do not extend the scope of the powers but only extend who is permitted to perform the searches. PSOs are not given police powers to conduct a strip search.
It is also important to put on the record the high quality of PSO training, including in relation to children and vulnerable people, which makes them well-placed to exercise the additional powers being proposed. PSOs undertake a 12-week course at the police academy. They receive the same training as police officers in respect of their specific community protection functions.
For three months immediately after graduating from the Victoria Police Academy new PSOs carry out their duties under intensive on-the-job supervision from both police officers and experienced PSOs. Routine briefings and readouts at the start of each shift provide ongoing timely training for police officers and PSOs. The additional training needed for PSOs’ new powers will build on the training PSOs already receive. Police officers and PSOs are trained in the same tactical options when dealing with children and vulnerable people, and PSOs are subject to the same degree of accountability as police officers when deciding to use force. On searching a person or seizing any property Victoria Police expects the highest standards of its PSOs and actively enforces requirements relating to their behaviour in the Victoria Police code of conduct.
Moving to the other issue of scrap metal, this bill bans cash payments for scrap metal to disrupt the trade in stolen cars. It also bans trade in unidentified motor vehicles, requiring records to be kept of scrap metal transactions, and gives police stronger search powers in respect of scrap metal dealers. The new offences carry high penalties. These reforms will leave a trace for investigators and will deter criminals looking to make quick money by disposing of illicit goods, including stolen vehicles.
I would also like to correct the record in relation to a point discussed in the other place about the provision that enables payment by a cheque that is not transferable or that is payable to cash. The cheque must go through a bank account. That provision is based on equivalent provisions in New South Wales and UK legislation, rather than the commonwealth legislation that was mentioned in the other place.
Large parts of a vehicle, such as the chassis, will be covered by all of the new offences, including the unidentified motor vehicle offence. Smaller scrap metal parts of a vehicle will be subject to the cash-for-scrap ban and the record keeping requirements, ensuring tracing information is available to Victoria Police.
The government supports the recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report on the use of regulatory regimes in preventing the infiltration of lawful occupations and industries by organised crime. As recommended by that report, draft risk assessment guidelines have been developed by the interagency government working group. These guidelines have been applied in a pilot project assessing the risk of organised criminal infiltration of the auto wrecking and scrap metal industries. The pilot is set to conclude shortly and will help the government consider further regulatory or non-regulatory options to address any identified risk while supporting legitimate businesses and protecting the community. Victoria Police and industry stakeholders will be consulted on any proposal that may involve increased regulatory oversight.
In respect of mental health, the bill also implements the recommendation from Peter Cotton’s mental health review that specialist psychologists be able to undertake psychological fitness for duty assessments that are part of Victoria Police’s ill health retirement process. The review noted that medical units do not necessarily have the skills needed to assess a person’s mental capability to perform duties, and this amendment reflects the contemporary mental health practice that exists. I applaud the work that has been undertaken by all parties, including Police Association Victoria, in bringing this forward and seeing its implementation.
The bill also makes a 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 jails to facilitate their transfer to and from courts and youth justice facilities. These young people may be on remand or under sentence. Remanding a child in custody is a last resort for police. In practice it is the intention that children will be held for the shortest possible time and that their transfer to either a court or a youth justice facility will occur at the earliest opportunity.
Victoria Police is concerned that, although most of the amendments proposed by the Greens already appear in the VicPol manual, to mandate these provisions would be very challenging, especially in country locations. In some cases Victoria Police would be physically unable to comply with the requirements due to the number and configuration of available police cells and the requirement to also run the police station. Victoria Police is also concerned that the proposed amendments are at odds with the power of the officer in charge of the police station to determine who visits prisoners in custody.
Finally, the bill also creates the position of police custody officer (PCO) supervisor. This new category of PCO is intended to free up police time to prioritise frontline community safety initiatives and assist with the retention of PCO staff. As of 2 September this year PCOs had completed more than 75 000 shifts across the 22 police stations at which they are deployed, with the exception of Melbourne West, which predominantly manages arrested persons. Police stations with 12 or more PCOs will have a PCO supervisor, and PCO supervisors will remain subject to the authority of the officer in charge of the police jail.
I think I have touched on most of the points that are controversial. That will not necessarily help the Greens, as I understand the government’s position is not to accept those amendments. However, we have now committee time to further explore the issues before the chamber.