Thurday 7 march, 2019
Mr GEPP (Northern Victoria) (15:05:43): It is with pleasure that I rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Police and Other Matters) Bill 2019. Can I say from the outset that I understand that there are quite a number of amendments to the bill and that the bill will be going to the committee of the whole for further dissection and conversation, so I will try to be as brief and succinct as I can be. Community safety is a top priority for the Andrews Labor government. We know how important the role of Victoria Police is in this state and the vital role its members play in keeping our communities right around the great state of Victoria as safe as possible. We work very closely with VicPol to ensure that they have the resources and framework that they need to undertake their vital work, and this bill continues that theme. There are a range of reforms that are covered by the bill and also a handful of additional technical amendments which I understand the minister will go through in more detail in the committee of the whole, so I will not attempt to cover those. There are some important aspects of the bill which do require a bit more fleshing out. On the streamlining of DNA powers, the reforms in this bill will provide VicPol with new streamlined powers to take DNA samples from persons suspected of committing or found to have committed a serious offence. The government believes that these reforms will have a very significant and major impact on crime in this state. VicPol’s own forensic services department has estimated that if Victoria’s DNA laws matched those of other states, within the first year the number of DNA reference samples in their database would increase almost tenfold, from approximately 8000 today up to 70 000. It estimates that with this additional evidence there would be an estimated 29 000-plus person-to-crime matches and 447 crime-to-crime matches, so you can see the effect that this one reform alone would have for crime in this state. We say that there are safeguards that have been put in place to ensure that DNA evidence is taken in the least invasive way possible and that vulnerable populations are protected in the process of taking that evidence. Mr O’Donohue touched briefly on the provisions in the bill that relate to protecting police, PSOs and police custody officers (PCOs) from harm. He identified a couple of recent examples that I think shocked everybody in the Victorian community. The footage that we saw just a couple of short weeks ago of some of Victoria’s finest being attacked in the streets of Melbourne and being subjected to what is a vicious assault in anybody’s language is unacceptable. I think everybody in this chamber, indeed across the Parliament, would have been horrified at the vision that we saw on the news that night of those terrible assaults. We should make every endeavour that we can in this place to provide a greater level of protection for those who protect us and police out there on the ground. This bill will provide some increased protections for police officers, PSOs and police custody officers and their families from offenders who harm or seek to harm them. The bill delivers the second stage of police harm reforms by establishing new offences and related criminal sanctions. The reforms will create a strong deterrent to engaging in behaviour that may harm or intimidate our police, PCOs, PSOs and their families. The bill is also proposing to extend a new offence of intimidating a prison officer. There can be no place whatsoever in our community where that sort of behaviour is accepted or tolerated under any circumstances. As I said, to ensure the safety of those officers carrying out their duties we are compelled, I think, as a Parliament to do everything we possibly can. The bill also introduces increased penalties for commercial drug trafficking. Currently there is not a large commercial quantity that is legislated for some drugs, such as heroin and the like, in our system. This bill will introduce some of those new levels. The change means there will be a maximum penalty for large-scale trafficking of some of these drugs, in an amount of 20 kilograms or over, rising from 25 years imprisonment and a fine of up to 3000 penalty units—which is the penalty for commercial trafficking—to life imprisonment and a fine of up to 5000 penalty units. It is very important that we send a very, very strong message, of course. We have heard lots of debate in recent times about pill testing and the like. Everybody seems to revert back to harm minimisation as the catchcry or the phrase that will best support the position that they have adopted in that debate, whatever it might be. Fundamentally, what we all know in this state is that there can never, ever be any safe use of illicit drugs. Any use of illicit drugs is unsafe. I had the pleasure of sitting on the drug law reform inquiry last year. Despite the examples that we have got around the world today in relation to pill testing et cetera, the one message that everybody agreed on was that there is no safe level of illicit drug taking. The reforms that we offer up in this bill, we think, send a very strong message that that is still the case here in the state of Victoria. The bill will also introduce powers to close second-hand dealers and disrupt organised crime. It will enable police to address and disrupt suspected serious criminal activity among second-hand dealers, including the auto-wrecking and scrap metal industry, often used by organised crime. This bill will provide for the interim and long-term closure of these dealers operating without the required registration or where police suspect they are engaging in serious criminal activity. These reforms have all been developed, I have got to say, in conjunction with VicPol and others. These reforms will give them the necessary powers to do their job. There are other things in the bill, but I am sure other speakers will cover some further elements of the bill as we go through. I just want to reiterate that this government, since its election in 2014, has been absolutely focused on reducing crime in this state and particularly delivering police the resources that they need in order to carry out their job. It is important that the Parliament recall some of those changes. Since November 2014 we have increased sworn police full-time equivalent numbers by 1738, a change of 13 per cent. We have increased PSOs by 27 per cent, PCOs by 100 per cent, and so it goes on. I could go through and talk about all of the changes right across regional Victoria, but time will not permit it. Contrast that with the previous government’s record between 2010 and 2014. Not one additional police officer was added during the previous government’s term. So when people opposite get up and are now the most passionate supporters of a crime-free Victoria, remember that when they had the chance they did not resource it. They went the other way. They slashed and they burned, as they did with most programs under their control. We are committed to reducing crime. Crime is coming down in this state. We are providing the additional resources for VicPol. I look forward to the conversations and discussions that will happen during the committee stage, and I commend the bill to the house.