Police resources

I would like to start my contribution on the motion today by thanking the police and protective services officers (PSOs) for the work they do in the community on a daily basis. With regard to the actual motion that Mr O'Donohue has put forward today, I would have to make the comment that it is a little bit of a hotchpotch of points cobbled together. While I truly believe that the fundamental issues at stake here — whether there is a rising crime rate and the level of resourcing of the police service in Victoria — are important issues, I do not think this motion actually goes to those in any particularly serious way.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 9:30am
Sue Pennicuik

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I would like to start my contribution on the motion today by thanking the police and protective services officers (PSOs) for the work they do in the community on a daily basis. With regard to the actual motion that Mr O'Donohue has put forward today, I would have to make the comment that it is a little bit of a hotchpotch of points cobbled together. While I truly believe that the fundamental issues at stake here — whether there is a rising crime rate and the level of resourcing of the police service in Victoria — are important issues, I do not think this motion actually goes to those in any particularly serious way.

In fact if we were going to look at these issues in a serious way, we would be looking at them with a different motion and perhaps setting up some sort of inquiry. Because as often characterises these debates that have been put forward very often by Mr O'Donohue but other members of the opposition as well and the responses of the government to those motions that we have seen several times in the past couple of years, it often — and I think I have made this comment before — just amounts to claim and counterclaim as to whether police numbers are falling or police numbers are rising and whether crime is falling or crime is rising. We do not actually get very far in regard to having a serious discussion about what are very important issues to the community.

I thought I would just briefly respond to the points in the motion even though, as I say, I view it as a bit of a hotchpotch. It was presented to us as a motion about the rising crime rate, but in fact there is little reference to that in the motion. There was a lot of reference to it by Mr O'Donohue in his contribution and Mr Morris in his recent contribution, but in fact that is not actually what the motion and its points talk about at all — well, only one of the points does, which is the fourth point.

The first point is about whether there is any specific commitment to reopening certain police stations that have either been closed or had their opening hours cut under this government. I note that when Mr O'Donohue moved the motion he spoke about the comment by the police minister that it is up to the police commissioner to decide the opening hours of police stations and whether or not they are to close. Mr Adem Somyurek in his response for the government made the comment that no police stations have been closed. It seems some have, but I have to take what is put forward by the government, and they are saying that none have been closed. Perhaps none have been closed within the last certain time period, but that was not necessarily specified.

But I would agree with the police minister that it is in fact up to the Chief Commissioner of Police to decide on the deployment of police officers — sworn police officers or protective services officers (PSOs). It is up to the police commissioner to decide. Commissioner Ashton made comments at the budget estimates hearings with regard to that — with regard to consulting with experts in the field, looking at the crime statistics data, looking at the demographic data and consulting with the police association as to how police stations are operated.

He also made the comment, and I think Mr Somyurek mentioned this as well, that within that parameter there is discretion for stations themselves to decide what their opening hours are and whether in fact it is better for them to have police on patrol rather than in the stations. I think it is correct and appropriate for operational decisions about particular police stations, patrols of police and whether police are working in particular task forces et cetera to be left to the police commissioner. It should not be up to politicians to make those decisions. When you get politicians making decisions about where police are deployed it is not a good route to go down.

The second point is that several closed police stations have been attacked with graffiti. The motion says 'several', but it only mentions two — Burwood and Heidelberg West. Of course the answer to that is to include them in a graffiti removal program, which there are in all local government areas, supported by some funding from the state government. I am not quite sure why that point is in the motion when Mr O'Donohue says that we are talking about the important issue of the crime statistics in Victoria and the resourcing of the police force.

The third point goes to the police minister talking about the hours of operation of particular police stations in her area — Portarlington, Drysdale and Queenscliff — and saying that they will be open 16 hours a day. I would say that perhaps the police minister should not have said that, because again I would say that it is up to the police commissioner to decide the hours of opening of police stations and where police should be deployed, depending on where they are needed.

The same goes for the deployment of protective services officers, that Mr O'Donohue went to in his contribution and which I have raised in this place before, in that it was a policy of the previous government that there would be protective services officers on railway stations between 6.00 p.m. and the last train at every station across the Melbourne metropolitan area. But if you are actually going to use evidence as to where PSOs are best deployed, that may not be the best deployment of them. It may be better to deploy them at places where there are more reported incidents that require them to have a presence there. That is a point that the Greens have always made — that actually the deployment of police and protective services officers should be under the control of the police commissioner and not determined by any policy of any government.

The fourth point talks about the crime rate being up over 20 per cent in two years and the number of police per capita being cut. That is where we get to the claim and counterclaim that often characterise the debates we see in this place. I am not quite sure where that 20 per cent figure comes from. I have been studying the crime statistics since they were released; I look at them every year. I have just been looking at them again, and I do not see the figure of 20 per cent anywhere, so Mr O'Donohue may wish to come back in and clarify where he gets that figure from.

Certainly it is concerning if you look at the crime statistics released just in the last year that the number of offences has increased by 10 per cent. Also very significant is that family incidents have increased by almost 6 per cent. It may be that it is the reporting of those incidents that is increasing, and we have discussed that many times in here as well — that it is a good thing that they are being reported so that perpetrators can be brought to justice. It is not a good thing that it is occurring. I think following the family violence royal commission and the recommendations that are being implemented by the government bit by bit the issue of family violence is being taken seriously across parties, by the Parliament, by the government and by the community to reduce the incidence of family violence and to change the culture that gives rise to it.

There are other offences that have increased, such as transport regulation offences, which are up by 43 per cent. That could be as simple as people riding on the public transport system without a valid ticket or without having touched on and touched off; I am not sure. You have to look a little more deeply into that. It is concerning to see robberies up around 24 per cent, theft up around 15 to 16 per cent and burglary and break-ins up 10 per cent.

Breaches of orders are up 10 per cent as well, and of course that relates again to family violence.

Another thing to say about the crime statistics is, if you look at the detail and the explanatory notes of the crime statistics, you will see that a number of offences have moved around in categories over the last few years. So it is not necessarily entirely possible to compare one year to the other. Hopefully that might settle down a bit and make it more comparable.

On the issue about whether police numbers have been cut, of course one side says they have been cut and the other side says they have not been. I will turn to the presentation that was made by the Minister for Police at the recent budget estimates hearings. A graph has been presented to the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, and I presume the information in that graph is correct. It refers to police graduations. What you do get from the graph is that since 2009–10 up until this year, certainly the number of graduations have gone up and down on a yearly basis. The lowest number of graduations was in fact last year, and the second lowest was in 2012–13 under the previous government.

On the anticipated growth in graduations, the government has said its budget allocations over the forward estimates will see the number of graduates increase from what it is currently, at around 360 or so per year, to an anticipated increase to up around 620 next year and then an anticipated increase in 2017–18 to more than 1300. Well, we will see if that happens. That is certainly what the government says it is budgeting for, but we will have to see whether that actually occurs.

The other interesting issue that came to light under the budget estimates hearings, and Mr Somyurek referred briefly to it in his rather hasty defence of the government's position on this motion, is the SAM model. It is the staff allocation model developed by Victoria Police and experts in modelling and resource allocation in consultation with the Police Association of Victoria. Using this new model, Victoria Police say they need 2729 new police to meet needs up until 2021 in the forward estimates. It is claimed that this will end the boom and bust cycle, and it will continue to be updated and refined using a range of data including 25 different offence types so it can forecast future needs and inform investment in police by government.

I thought that was very interesting, and as a spokesperson for police, I am actually going to follow that up. There was not a lot of detail provided at the budget estimates hearings about that. I think it sounds in principle like a great model — looking at demographics, looking at population growth, looking at crime hotspots and then deploying police and police stations based on that sort of model rather than what we have had in the past.

We certainly have had, in terms of education and the allocation schools, a lot of pork-barrelling that goes on prior to and in the election campaign year when governments and oppositions run around promising resourcing, grants for this and that, new schools, grants for upgrades to schools, upgrades to police stations and new police stations in areas which are either marginal seats or areas where they wish to shore up their presence. That is not the way that we should be allocating resources for police or schools. I would like to see this particular staff allocation model be more public and transparent. I will certainly be pushing for that, because I think that is a welcome development.

The fifth point is in regard to the comments by the Minister for Police about Victorians living in fear in their homes. Mr Somyurek said that was in the context of victims of crime being traumatised, and of course victims of crime are traumatised. We all understand that, particularly with aggravated burglary or other types of crimes that people have been subjected to. Of course it is frightening, it is terrifying and it is unacceptable that the community, as the minister said, has been shaken. It is probably not helpful necessarily to say that Victorians are living in fear in their own homes. Of course anybody who has been subjected to one of those aggravated burglaries in their homes, and their friends and family, will be living in fear. I accept that, and I feel very much for those people, but I am not sure that it is helpful necessarily to say that every Victorian is living in fear in their own homes.

The sixth point goes to whether the police minister is a part-time minister because she also has the water portfolio and that there is a part-time corrections minister with other related portfolio responsibilities. In fact I think the portfolios of corrections and skills actually do have a relationship in that one of the ways to keep people out of the corrections system is to ensure they have the skills to enable them to make their way in the community and to find work. The statistics are very, very clear on the fact that the large majority of people in the corrections system either have not finished high school or do not have any tertiary or vocational education and training qualifications at all.

In fact there is quite a relationship between those two portfolios.

But I just make the general comment that there are more portfolios than there are ministers, whatever government you are looking at and of whichever persuasion, so it is not uncommon for ministers to have more than one portfolio. Are they related? There may be lots of reasons why particular ministers are given particular portfolios and it may be to do with the background of that particular person in the particular area and their expertise et cetera, so I do not necessarily think that point is apposite to the wider debate about crime in the community and what we as a Parliament and a community need to be doing to address those issues.

Yesterday when I was speaking on the Corrections Legislation Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2017 I made the point that as well as talking about resourcing of the police force we need to be talking about justice reinvestment. That has the strong evidence base of having results, and that is by identifying the areas where the offenders who are incarcerated or who are on community correction orders or whatever come from. It is very clear in the evidence that more than half of them come from around six postcodes, and so the way to prevent crime — and that is what we need to be doing: preventing crime so that people are not victims of crime; preventing crime so that people are not offenders and they are assisted and supported to put their lives back on track — is to put more money into justice reinvestment. That means applying additional resources in terms of drug and alcohol programs and education programs to those areas to assist those communities to lift themselves out of the disadvantage that they are in. That is how we will make the community safer, but we still need police, protective services officers et cetera.

I am a little bit perplexed by this motion put forward by Mr O'Donohue. It is a hotchpotch of six points which really do not go to the heart of this important issue. If he were really serious and if the opposition were really serious, they would put forward a serious motion about this issue, that I understand is of concern and interest to the community, as it should be.