8 March, 2016
I rise to speak on the Victoria Police Amendment (Merit-based Transfer) Bill 2016, and in doing so I acknowledge that it is largely a bill that enshrines into legislation parts of the recent enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) negotiations. However, it is another example of the Labor government filling the business program of the house with administrative bills, which is certainly a function of this Parliament, but in the context of other possible policing legislation or policies around police, it does show that there is not a lot going on in this particular portfolio. This bill is an example of that. Really, it seems that the only people who are benefiting from these bills more broadly — not this one in particular, but more broadly — are those in the Victorian Public Service who are employed to draft legislation: there are some examples of putting commas in and putting certain words in italics. It is not an exaggeration to say that I could actually use my allotted time to read this whole bill into Hansard
and still have time to talk about how it is not contributing to people who are calling on police to assist them at times when they do need officers in their communities.
Of course the coalition is not opposing this bill, because frankly there is not a lot to oppose about it, but there are certain issues that are worth mentioning as a result of the debate going around this bill. The first I would talk about, if we are talking about transferring police into areas where they are needed, is that there has certainly been a longstanding request from my community that more police are put into the area, the electorate of Warrandyte, and more broadly into the eastern region, division 1, the Manningham area, where police numbers have dropped by over 14 per cent in the last few months. It is a real indictment of this government that we are seeing a fall in police numbers in my community, particularly when a petition was recently tabled in this Parliament of over 1100 signatures from people from the Warrandyte community who desire to see more police in that area.
I am hearing anecdotally that there is a significant amount of antisocial behaviour going on in the Warrandyte community — frankly, more than I have seen in the 10 years I have represented the area. There have been break-ins at the local service station and the local IGA down there on a couple of occasions. If we look at Victoria Police's crime statistics, we can see that just in the last year in my area crime in Doncaster East has gone up by 22.3 per cent. In Warrandyte itself on a weekly basis members of the community are witnessing and certainly reporting back to us an increasing incidence of crime, and that is the basis for their request for more police in the area; in Warrandyte and Warrandyte North we are seeing crime statistics up by 16.3 per cent. Up in Wonga Park, a place where, for those who know it, you would not expect too much crime, those who would act outside the law are certainly aware that the lack of police is giving them opportunities they previously have not had. Over the last year we have seen crime rise by 31.6 per cent in that area. That is a huge rise, and it is certainly something that the local community has great concerns about. As I said, it adds to the community's view that more police in the area would certainly be beneficial.
While this legislation helps with the transfer of police — and that is useful, it is supported by all police and, as I said, it is not opposed by us — there are concerns about who actually allocates police to particular areas. As I have said in this house before, I have raised the matter of the allocation of police with the Minister for Police, who responded by saying that it was up to the Chief Commissioner of Police. Following that I wrote to the chief commissioner, who said that if I wanted to talk about the allocation of police, I should talk to the minister. When I sent copies of those bits of correspondence to my broader community, they were certainly appalled that while the chief commissioner and the Minister for Police were arguing about responsibility, they were left exposed to crime rises and left with the ongoing fact that they did not have the sort of police numbers that they thought they were entitled to.
It has been a longstanding practice that the chief commissioner allocates police to areas of need, and I would point to these crime statistics as a way of saying that the Warrandyte community is an area of need. However, in the term of this government we have seen that politicians, namely the Premier and the member for Bellarine, have allocated police themselves over and above the police hierarchy. I can cite examples outlined in media in relation to the Geelong area, where local police have said that there is no need for more police, whereas the member for Bellarine and the Premier have said, 'Well, we said we would deliver more police, and we will do so, no matter what the police say'. So there is certainly a clear political agenda when it comes to allocating police.
I feel that when we look at that semi-marginal seat down in the Geelong area, there seems to be more of an inclination to ensure that police are put down there, but when we look at what the government may term a safe opposition seat, the government seems to have completely deaf ears. In fact, more than that, there is an abrogation of responsibility by both the minister and the chief commissioner. As I said, we have the correspondence, and my community has seen the correspondence, that actually makes that very clear. It is certainly not something I am making up. It is in black and white, signed off by the chief commissioner's offsider.
It is a great disappointment to my community that this government has not got any room in its budget for more police. The member for Niddrie talked about the extra funding going to police. Frankly, in the last term of government the coalition added almost 1900 additional officers, on top of police we already had. Under this government there has been no allocation of sworn officers. May I point out to the house that when the issue of sworn officers was raised, the minister at the time took great pains to talk about police, but he never addressed the issue of sworn officers. The fact of the matter is that there is no opportunity for the recruitment of additional police over and above the current number, and the figures I read out earlier certainly sustain that point in relation to the eastern region division.
In short, this piece of legislation is widely supported. It is a result of significant EBA negotiations. However, it does not deal with the ongoing matter that we are seeing rising crime in areas in which you would not previously have seen it. In my electorate, people have not expressed any concerns about community safety for the 10 years I have been the representative there until only in the last year. Victoria Police's own crime statistics have shown that they have every reason to be concerned, because those statistics continue to rise, and that is of great concern.
While we certainly do not oppose the passage of this bill through this house, the government has been put on notice by the 1174 people of the Warrandyte community who have signed a petition asking for more police in the area to deal with rising crime, and the government should listen to that; it should not play games.
The issues of the allocation of police and community safety should not be used as political footballs. It does seem that that is the case with this government. The to-ing and fro-ing between the chief commissioner and the Minister for Police with regard to who has responsibility really needs to stop. I have called on the chief commissioner to organise some sort of public meeting at which he or his officers could explain to the Warrandyte community why it is that in the midst of rising crime they have been deemed not worthy of an increase in police numbers. To say that the chief commissioner's reply did not even address that particular portion of my letter just shows the contempt it seems the government holds for my community, and, may I say, while I have respect for police command, the fact that this particular issue that I raised on behalf of my community was ignored does give my community some cause to pause and think about how important it is to Victoria Police command.
I hope that I have misunderstood the situation. I will give the chief commissioner the benefit of the doubt, but, as I said, if he is unwilling to allocate police to the Warrandyte area in response to a petition with a large number of signatures, then he should at least explain why the public safety of my community seems to have come second to the electorate of Bellarine. It would seem that the member for Bellarine and the Premier have done a sweetheart deal with the commissioner in order to get the police that were committed there. I think my community, the Warrandyte community, deserves better than that from this government. It deserves some explanation, and over and above that, it certainly deserves to have the pleasure of some additional police in order to combat and deal with the rise in crime. Warrandyte is a great place to live, and we want it to continue to be a great place to live. Some extra police to deal with rising crime would certainly be in order, and I hope that the government addresses that.