MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (19:21): I thank Ms Taylor for her introduction in terms of the government’s position in respect of this. The introduction of the new Victoria Police Act 2013 changed the powers of deputy commissioners to appoint acting assistant commissioners. However, in practice Victoria Police continued this practice. Legal advice sought by Victoria Police identified this as a potential issue in late 2020, but they believed it to be limited to a small number of powers used by the acting assistant commissioners. Further auditing and legal advice sought by Victoria Police and finalised in February 2022 identified the issue as it related to the swearing in of sworn officers by acting assistant commissioners, and at that point the government was made aware. From the audit we know that 1076 police officers and 157 protective services officers were sworn in by invalidly appointed acting assistant commissioners. Twenty-nine police custody officers were also affected.
Actions taken by Victoria Police have corrected this issue prospectively, with the vast majority of affected officers re-sworn. This bill will fix the issue retrospectively by making valid all of the lawful conduct and use of their powers by these officers for the period between 1 July 2014 and August 2021. Retrospective action is required to ensure that evidence gathered and enforcement outcomes from this period are not compromised by technical administrative error. All sworn officers affected by this matter are well-trained officers who have exercised their powers in good faith. There is no suggestion that they have done anything but serve their communities to the best of their abilities. This bill will provide certainty and clarity for all of the affected officers and for the broader justice sector.
The Police Association Victoria has been engaged very much on this matter. They support the actions of the government to provide certainty and clarity for all of their members caught up in this matter. The government and Victoria Police have worked very closely with the police association to assure members that their legal, industrial and superannuation protections and entitlements are not diminished by this administrative error.
When this matter was brought to the attention of the Victorian government we acted to resolve it. The impacted officers have always considered themselves to be sworn. They are well trained. They have kept the community safe. This is an administrative issue that is no fault of the officers impacted. We have moved quickly to resolve this issue. Victoria Police moved to re-swear the vast bulk of the 1200 sworn officers so that they could continue their work. The government and Victoria Police have worked closely to draft the bill and correct the matter retrospectively as well. This administrative error should not have occurred, but it has to be dealt with. We cannot speak for the breakdown that occurred in 2013 when the change in legislation created this issue, but we can tonight fix this, which is what this bill does.
Can I say that I did have the opportunity to listen in on the debate in the Assembly during the course of the afternoon, and what also struck me was the breadth of knowledge that members of Parliament have in respect to the work that the police do in this state. I was incredibly impressed by that and of course by examples time and time again of the close connections and working relationships that members of Parliament have with their local police.
I take this opportunity also to record my appreciation for the work of Victoria Police right across this state. It is a vocation. I think we are all thankful for all of the efforts that they undertake day in and day out. We thank them so much for it. I do commend this bill to the house.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.