Justice Legislation Amendment (Protective Services Officers And Other Matters) Bill 2017 Second Reading

20 Jun 2017

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I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Protective Services Officers and Other Matters) Bill 2017. I want to start off by first of all agreeing with something that the member for South Barwon said in his speech. Yes, there has been a range of justice legislation bills brought before this Parliament by this government. Many of those bills the Greens and I do not necessarily agree with, and while they have been government bills, they have been coalition policy, and it is pretty clear that the government in its approach to justice is now adopting many of the coalition’s policies. It is not necessarily the approach that I would agree with, and certainly I would be urging the government to take a different approach. As someone sitting on the crossbench, it is as clear as day what is occurring with justice legislation in this state: they are government bills but it is coalition policy.

To the detail of this bill: it gives protective services officers (PSOs) certain police powers in designated areas, which the Greens have concerns about and do not support; it extends the police custody officer supervision powers; it provides for psychological fitness for duty assessments of police officers and PSOs; it establishes the role of police custody officer supervisors in police jails; it allows for children to be held in police cells to facilitate the transport of children in police custody to and from courts and youth justice facilities, which we do have some concerns with; and it regulates payment for scrap metal to undermine criminal organisations involved in this area, which we think is a good reform and is something that we support.

As I said, we do not support the expansion of PSO powers. There is no need to be doing this. The government have not provided any good evidence or good reason as to why this is actually necessary, and there have been some very serious concerns put to us by a range of groups about expanding these powers. Liberty Victoria, the Law Institute of Victoria, community legal centres, the Human Rights Law Centre and Youthlaw all oppose the increase in powers for PSOs, and the Greens share their concerns.

This bill effectively makes PSOs de facto police officers, which does not reflect the confined role they were originally given. The arbitrary weapons search powers are even acknowledged in the Minister for Police’s own statement of compatibility as being incompatible with the rights to privacy and protection of the best interests of children — those are the minister’s own words. Such powers should be used sparingly and judiciously, so they should be used only by Victoria Police. There is certainly very little justification in the minister’s second-reading speech or statement of compatibility for this bill being compatible with the rights of the child.

In terms of training, which has been talked about by other members, the PSOs do not have the same level of training as police officers and they do not have the benefit of working closely with senior and more experienced members of Victoria Police. Despite the fact that PSOs are given these extra powers by this bill, the length of time that it takes to train a PSO remains unchanged at 12 weeks. Surely one would think that if you were going to give additional powers to PSOs, you would give them more training and that that training would take a longer time overall.

I would also point out that a recent IBAC report on transit protective services officers noted that there were a number of complaints made against PSOs. There were 233 overall. There were 182 allegations of assault or excessive use of force, 76 allegations of predatory behaviour and 18 allegations of unauthorised access to or disclosure of information. Obviously these sorts of incidents occur in all sorts of law enforcement and will give rise to a number of complaints, but they should give us pause to consider the risks involved in giving police powers to a workforce other than police officers. A number of organisations are concerned that these new powers will lead to an increase in the harassment of children and young people and the arbitrary targeting of vulnerable young people. Many agencies that work directly with young people are hearing too many stories of young people feeling targeted by PSOs and harassed for their personal details.

In terms of search powers, the police minister says that PSOs must conduct the least invasive search that is practical in the circumstances and that the search must be supervised by a police officer, which begs the question: if there is a police officer there, why not just have the police officer do the search? There is no actual reason for the PSO to be involved at all. Since the establishment of PSOs there has been an expansion of their powers, and there may very well be further expansion into more police powers, but at the same time as the government is increasing the powers of PSOs it is also increasing the number of Victorian police. If the issue is that there are not enough police officers to carry out their duties, warranting a need to expand the powers of PSOs, how is this not addressed by the increase in police officers? As I said, we have got some serious concerns about the increase in powers of PSOs, and we do not support that provision.

We also have some concerns about the provisions of the bill relating to children being held in police cells and children being transported to and from courts and youth justice centres due to court complexes not having enough cells. The bill states that a child must be kept separate from adults who are detained in a police jail, but it says only that a child:

is entitled to be kept separately according to the child’s sex …

Given that a child can be held in a police jail for up to two days, it is absolutely essential that they are kept separate according to their sex. So rather than ‘entitled to be kept separately’, the bill should say ‘must be kept separately’, and where the bill says a child:

is entitled to be advised of the child’s entitlements …

when placed in a police holding cell, our feeling is that that should actually say ‘must be advised’ of their entitlements. Certainly we will reserve the right to move amendments in the other place on that matter.

The Office of Police Integrity report Policing and Human Rights: Standards for Police Cells, published in December 2008, states that as part of the standards:

Detainees are segregated on the basis of gender.

It also states:

Each detainee is provided with information, in a format he or she can understand, about the reason for his or her detention and the rights and responsibilities of detainees.

That would certainly back up our thoughts that that particular wording should be changed.

There is another change made by the bill with regard to providing psychological fitness for duty assessments for police officers and PSOs, and we certainly note the concerns raised by Police Association Victoria and individual police officers, as well as by lawyers and even psychologists, about the need for the government to enact legislation whereby post-traumatic stress disorder is recognised as an occupational illness so that officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will get access to treatment early and will be greatly assisted in recovering sooner. We certainly urge the government to do this in the interests of the welfare of police officers who are on the front line dealing with traumatic incidents day in and day out to protect the public.

Just to conclude, this bill has a range of provisions, but it is the provision that expands PSO powers that the Greens oppose, and because of that the Greens will not be supporting this bill.

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