May 16, 2014  |  Second reading speech

Victoria Police Amendment (Consequential and Other Matters) Bill 2014

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise and speak on the Victoria Police Amendment (Consequential and Other Matters) Bill 2014, and also a pleasure to follow the member for Caulfield, who is one of my colleagues on the Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee.

Firstly I will pick up on a couple of things he said. I agree with him that this legislation is mainly about increasing transparency. When I worked at the Department of Justice during my legal traineeship, I spent time at Victoria Police at the World Trade Centre. While doing a legal traineeship at the Department of Justice, you look enviously at the World Trade Centre because you know that is where you will learn the most — on the front line with the Victoria Police combating law and order issues.

This legislation makes a lot of consequential amendments, which I will get to in a moment. I have had a brief read of the report on the inquiry into the command, management and functions of the senior structure of Victoria Police, which was commissioned by the State Services Authority and is known as the Rush report. As I speak I will touch upon a couple of the items in there and how the government has responded.

Essentially this legislation will make some consequential amendments to the earlier Victoria Police Act 2013. As the member for Caulfield said, it is a substantial piece of legislation — one of the major pieces of legislation passed since 1958. We would have to go all the way back to 1853 to learn about the establishment of the Victoria Police.

This legislation will change language introduced by the Victoria Police Act 2013 in relation to the Victoria Police and police officers, and update references to the Police Regulations Act 1958 that will be repealed by the Victoria Police Act 2013. The legislation will make the following consequential amendments to more than 180 Victorian acts: replace references to ‘the force’ with the term ‘Victoria Police’; replace references to ‘member of the force’ with the term ‘police officer’; replace references to ‘member of the police personnel’ with the term ‘member of Victoria Police personnel’; and where an act refers to a section within the Police Regulation Act 1958, the bill updates that reference to refer to the new equivalent section within the Victoria Police Act 2013.

As I highlighted earlier, where we are today has come about as a result of the work of the Rush inquiry and its report. Many people will be familiar with Jack Rush, an eminent QC who did a lot of good work on the Victorian bushfires royal commission. I have read through some of the items that Mr Rush reported on. His inquiry was commissioned following much media speculation about tension in the ranks at the highest command of Victoria Police, particularly possible tension between the former Deputy Commissioner of Police, Sir Ken Jones, and the former Chief Commissioner of Police, Simon Overland. To me, and from a distance, both individuals looked as though they were of good character.

The executive summary of the Rush inquiry’s report states:

Events immediately preceding the announcement of the inquiry highlighted a perception that the effectiveness of the senior command of Victoria Police was compromised by dysfunctional relationships of those in senior command positions.

Then in 2011 the former Office of Police Integrity tabled its report Crossing the Line, a report of an investigation into the conduct of a member of Victoria Police undertaking secondary employment as a ministerial adviser and his relationship with a deputy commissioner of Victoria Police. At this point, I will not refer to that inquiry.

Having read Mr Rush’s report, I have picked up on a couple of matters addressed in the government’s response. One refers to workforce flexibility. The Rush report highlights the
following two areas:

Victoria Police does not currently utilise lateral entry, the practice of recruiting police from outside its existing workforce to ranks above constable; and the right of appeal of sworn police to the Police Appeals Board against decisions concerning transfer and promotion.

I was pleased to see that the government picked up on that issue in its response to the Rush report and very much supports the recommendation. The government response states:

Lateral entry of police at rank into Victoria Police is already permitted under the Police Regulation Act 1958.

As part of the Allied Benefits MOU, the government has agreed to establish a Police Registration and Services Board to facilitate the lateral entry into Victoria Police of:

sworn police from other jurisdictions; and
the re‑entry of sworn police previously engaged by Victoria Police.

The establishment of the Police Registration and Services Board is a first in Australia.

Allowing lateral entry of sworn police will improve productivity, and benefit both Victoria Police and the community by broadening the pool of talent available to Victoria Police.

One of the things I noticed eading through the Rush report and the government’s response concerns the industrial relations system of Victoria Police, which to date has never been referred to the commonwealth, and the government obviously did not support its referral. I can understand why.

Recommendation 11 of the Rush report is:

That the government consider enlarging the referral of Victoria’s industrial relations powers to the commonwealth to enable Fair Work Australia to hear unfair dismissal applications by police and to deal with disputes about transfer, promotion, and discipline decisions concerning police. This reconsideration should occur in conjunction with the review of the Police Appeals Board recommended by the Office of Police Integrity in its report Enabling a flexible workplace for policing in Victoria

The government did not support this recommendation, stating in its response:

The government considers —

and I must say that I do agree –

that the nature of policing is a unique responsibility for the state which necessitates the retention of legislative power over those parts of the industrial relations process the Victorian Parliament has chosen not to refer to the commonwealth Parliament.

I can understand that, having seen at first hand what Victoria Police does on the front line in my own electorate. Moone e Ponds police station is a significant police station in my electorate and Avondale Heights is a smaller police station, and having been down there several times to meet with the sworn and unsworn officers, I know that they do a great job. They are in a unique occupation, and I can understand why we have our own disciplinary hearings and industrial relations matters regarding Victoria Police dealt with in a purely Victorian jurisdiction.

The member for Caulfield spoke about transparency. As I said, I happen to agree with him. The Rush inquiry report contains a section on Victoria Police and its relationship with government. It states:

The relationship between Victoria Police and government is at present poorly defined by a combination of convention, legislation, and adminstrative and financial accountability mechanisms. Currently, the communication of government policy priorities to Victoria Police is haphazard. Given that the effectiveness of the senior command is judged in the context of this relationship, there is a need for the government’s policy priorities to be communicated clearly to Victoria Police. There is a corresponding need for Victoria Police to be accountable for the achievement of those priorities.

To meet these needs, Victoria’s new police legislation should articulate clearly the relationship between the government, through the responsible minister –

who is here in the
chamber —

and Victoria Police, through the chief commissioner. It should enable the minister to direct the chief commissioner on matters of policy, while preserving the operational independence of Victoria Police.

Both sides of politics would agree that we want a very strong police force the adminstration of which is transparent and which is about protecting people in the Victorian community.

Some people may be cynical about Victoria Police. We realise the police do not always get it right. The United Nations recently delivered a scathing decision on the Victorian government and its police force regarding a breach of the Internation Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, after Victoria failed to compensate a woman who was viciously bashed by police. I saw a very disturbing report on this matter on ABC News. The issue has been raised with the minister and the government. We are all waiting to see how it will be handled. I was shocked when I saw the ABC News footage of the incident and what the woman, Corinna Horvath from Somerville, had gone through.

Full credit to Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre and Corinna Horvath’s lawyer, Tamar Hopkins, who for 20 years have pursued this matter. I hope that justice is done for Corinna and the right outcomes are reached.

In conclusion, we do not oppose this legislation. We wish it a speedy passage. It is very much in line with reforms that were initiated by the Bracks and Brumby governments. We were elected to office in 1999 very much on the back of a strong law and order policy and an increased police presence on our streets. Now that the Napthine government is following suit, I hope more resources can be directed to Victoria Police. I also hope that justice can be done for Corinna Horvath. I wish the Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre the very best in pursuing her matter.