Police numbers (21.10.2015)

Written on the 22 October 2015

21 October 2015


GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

I am very pleased to be able to rise to speak to this excellent motion that has been put forward by Mr O'Donohue.

This motion notes that when the coalition left government there were 13 151 equivalent full-time sworn police officers in Victoria and that as of June 2015 those exact same numbers remain. It also notes the failures of the Andrews Labor government to add any additional police, despite the fact that we know that our population is increasing by close to 100 000 people each year.

That is a really important point which I will return to in a moment, but to go to other elements of the motion, it talks about the priorities of this government in spending money on compensation not to build a road, meaning the eastwest link. The need for that road is becoming more evident each and every day. When I speak to people out in the south-eastern suburbs they tell me about this. In fact I had somebody come to visit me today, and it took 1 hour and 40 minutes for them to get from Berwick to the Parliament this morning. Finally, the motion notes that the failure of Labor to invest in more police stands in stark contrast to the coalition's record of 1900 additional police and 950 protective services officers during its term in office.

As Mr O'Donohue rightly pointed out, there are challenges within our community that we as a community face and that certainly the police have to deal with each and every day in fact they are dealing with these situations each minute.

Ms Symes made reference to the ice scourge. She acknowledged the increase in ice addiction and the associated issues and problems that ice is causing. It is leading to dramatic violent activity by ice users and resulting in terrible crimes. There are stories of ice addicts going into our hospitals and abusing doctors, nurses, police officers and paramedics, so it is a real problem. Ice is a dreadful problem of the modern era. Other issues of the modern era that we are seeing on a too frequent basis are the threat of terrorism and family violence, which is an area of particular concern to me as the shadow Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence.

The police that is, the men and women who do a terrific job in keeping our community safe face those challenges each and every day in Victoria, and they need to be recognised and supported. Governments of any persuasion need to give police the capacity and powers to enforce the law. Once that breaks down, all hell breaks loose. If you have a weakened police force or do not give the police force appropriate levels of support in resourcing or other assistance, it can lead to many difficulties, as we know.

I was pleased to be part of a government that delivered an additional 1900 police. We said we would get 1700 police into the force, and we delivered 1900, as well as 950 protective services officers, as the motion states. They are additional policemen and policewomen who are protecting Victorians each and every day.

Lack of planning is becoming a bit of a theme with this government with Labor governments all round, actually. They govern for today. We are seeing it just 11 months in, and you can tell by the comments. To digress slightly from the motion and talk about the issues of today, the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel has no business case and no money behind it. The government is going out goodness knows what it is announcing tomorrow and taking on large projects, when we know it does not have a tremendously strong record on delivering large and complex projects, and this is another example. To not have a business case and to have no funding behind it is extraordinary. I am not surprised by the lack of planning for our increasing population and the challenges that need to be met by police.

Returning to the area of family violence and looking at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Victoria Police protocol for family violence referrals, the police have a huge number of challenges. We know the numbers have gone up in recent times, and they have done so for a number of reasons. People are more confident in reporting, and there is greater attention in the community with the likes of Rosie Batty and the campaign she is undertaking, bravely raising awareness right across the country. I commend her for her actions. We also have the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, which is allowing people to report their issues to police, so the police are experiencing an increase in demand, as one would expect.

If you look at the protocols, you see that the police have to go through a risk and threat assessment. The protocol states:

The Victoria Police code of practice for the investigation of family violence states that police will respond to and take action on any family violence incident reported to them. The action taken is based on an assessment of the risks and threats, regardless of whether the affected family member makes a verbal complaint or written statement.

The risk assessment tool used by police is compatible with the common risk assessment and risk management framework used by family violence services funded by DHHS.

If you go through the protocol further, you see that for these risk assessments and referrals there are flowcharts that show how the police assessments are done, the action or the contact and then the service response. They are complex and necessary responses and actions by the police in relation to the family violence incidents being reported to them. Those numbers are on the increase, as I said. Here in Victoria and across the country there is one incident every 8 minutes or so being reported to police, so there is huge demand on our police from that issue alone.

There is an expectation from the community and from women or whoever is reporting family violence; it does not matter whether it is a man, woman or child. Whoever is reporting incidents of family violence needs to be taken seriously, and the reports need to be acted upon. The police need to respond appropriately, get the services to those individuals and ensure that they are safe from harm's way. The police do a tremendous job, but they cannot do it if those numbers are increasing on top of all their other demands. Police stations are being closed and protocols, policies, legislation and other government demands are putting constraints on the police force.

To look at what is happening, I go to the crime statistics released in June. The June figures from the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency for the 12 months to March 2015 show that 69 442 family-related incidents were recorded, an increase of 8.2 per cent. There were 1166.9 family-related incidents per 100 000 people, up 6.2 per cent. If there is a population increase of 100 000 people each year, you can expect those figures to go up, as is pretty evident. The total number of recorded offences rose from 452 209 to 458 027. Stalking, harassment and threatening behaviour offences rose from 10 686 to 11 936, an increase of 11.7 per cent. Theft offences declined, which was good news, as did robbery offences, but breaches of orders rose by 48.1 per cent. Those increases for whatever reasons they are occurring are significant in relation to the motion we are talking about, because they demonstrate that we need additional resources.

As I mentioned, the Labor government has put into place not one extra police officer, and I do not know what it expects the community to do. The government's recent stance on Ashburton police station is unbelievably hypocritical. As from 20 September the Ashburton police station is only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., despite a campaign by a number of Labor Party members, including a former Assembly member for Burwood, Bob Stensholt, who lost that seat on this issue.

This was a huge issue in Ashburton in 2010. Hundreds and hundreds of people put their signatures to a petition calling for Ashburton police station to remain open, and Bob Stensholt lost his seat as a result. Now he is the chief of staff to the Minister for Police. He ran a campaign during the federal election with the Assembly member for Bendigo East, Wesa Chau and a couple of others to keep the police station open. That petition, despite everything that was being promised by the coalition government, was handed to the Assembly member for Burwood, Graham Watt, three days before the unveiling of the coalition's promise, which it delivered, to have Ashburton police station open seven days a week between 9.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m.

Now it has been cut to just two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. As I said, the former member who ran that campaign and who is now the chief of staff of the police minister should know better. It is an absolute disgrace when we have family violence issues on the rise. Where do the people of Ashburton, Burwood and the surrounding areas go? They want to attend a police station to speak to someone so those very important family violence protocols can be followed.

In conclusion, although I could speak for a lot longer on this important motion, this is a very good motion put to the house today by Mr O'Donohue. Unfortunately I do not have the luxury of the time, but I commend him for moving this motion, and I commend the motion to the house.



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