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Police And Emergency Legislation Amendment Bill 2020

We should by now all be painfully aware in Victoria that allocating jobs to people who do not have the required levels of skill, training and oversight may seem convenient in the short term but ultimately causes more trouble than it solves, and that is why the Greens will be opposing this bill.

Dr READ (Brunswick) (16:39): Thank you to all the members who have kept their contributions short. The Greens will oppose the Police and Emergency Legislation Amendment Bill 2020, but I stress we strongly support the measures in the bill relating to recommendation 56 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence by authorising sheriff’s officers to serve family violence intervention order applications for a 12-month trial. We support all recommendations of this royal commission, so we are disappointed that this separate issue has been added to a bill relating to expanding the jurisdiction of PSOs.

The Greens have always been sceptical of the benefit of having armed PSOs with police powers but only a fraction of their training. There is essentially no difference between the powers of PSOs and police to stop and search, to apprehend and arrest, or to use force, including lethal force. So why do PSOs have so much less training? Putting armed PSOs into shopping centres is another incremental step following the direction of the United States, which is now suffering the consequences of a poorly trained, armed police force. As their range extends, PSOs will more frequently encounter some of the most vulnerable people in our society: children, people with mental illness and addiction problems, homeless people, people with disability and linguistically and culturally diverse people. We do not think that 12 weeks training is adequate to confront, question, resolve and de-escalate complex situations involving vulnerable adults and children across the state, which essentially this bill enables. We regularly see examples, including this week, where sworn, experienced police do not manage this without resorting to excessive force. This is not a criticism of PSOs but of a system where the level of skill and training is not commensurate with their power and authority, and the powers of PSOs have been broadened almost every other year while the level of training and the prerequisites for recruitment have remained the same.

But this is also about accountability. Police and PSOs disproportionately interact with First Nations people. One of the more common charges laid by PSOs is public drunkenness, a discriminatory colonial relic of an offence that contributes to the overincarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, an offence the government has promised will be gone by the end of the year but for which it still readily locks people up. But unlike other police forces around the world, we still do not monitor and report on potential racial bias in police and PSOs in whom they stop and question. However uncomfortable, we need to recognise parts of our shameful history since white settlement and what that means, and that means indeed that we should monitor and report the perceived race of people stopped by police. Today’s society demands transparency from those in power, and we should not run from it; we should welcome it.

We also have a police misconduct system in Victoria that even now lacks the independence or resources to properly investigate the conduct of police and PSOs. The government is still yet to respond to this point made by the parliamentary inquiry back in 2018. There is no acceptable excuse for failing to fix the most obvious, long overdue shortcomings in our anti-corruption agencies.

I do accept that PSOs have established themselves as having a role to play in community safety. Constituents say they feel reassured when walking home from inner-city train stations because of the presence of PSOs, and I have at times requested on behalf of constituents that PSOs operate in and around these stations because I accept that their visibility can help people feel safe, even if I also recognise the Auditor-General’s finding that there is no evidence that PSOs actually reduce crime. But is also my belief that this visibility could equally be afforded by PSOs or more highly visible Metro staff who are not armed with automatic handguns. We should by now all be painfully aware in Victoria that allocating jobs to people who do not have the required levels of skill, training and oversight may seem convenient in the short term but ultimately causes more trouble than it solves, and that is why the Greens will be opposing this bill.

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Dr Tim Read
Greens MP for Brunswick
22 September 2020



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