Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I am pleased to rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Protective Services and Other Matters) Bill 2017. As previous speakers have said, this bill does a number of things, but its main objective is around expanding the powers of protective services officers (PSOs). As we have heard, it also addresses some of the issues around cash payments for scrap metal, and very importantly it implements the recommendations of the Victoria Police Mental Health Review to allow specialist psychologists to conduct Victoria Police’s psychological fitness for duty assessments. I think this is incredibly important. We are seeing a substantial number of police having to go on leave due to mental health issues. I know the Police Association Victoria has been doing some great work in addressing mental health issues, because these first responders are placed in incredibly difficult situations, and this will have a lasting effect on them no matter how much training they have. I welcome significantly any added support for the police.
I will be supporting the Greens’ amendments around the holding of children in police cells, and I am very concerned about this. I think it is of great concern. Being on the juvenile justice inquiry at the moment, I am learning a lot about the children who this will affect. These children are generally victims. They are victims of abuse; they are victims of neglect. They are children with mental health issues or intellectual disabilities. As I say, these are incredibly vulnerable children, and we need to ensure that they are protected.
I have been concerned about extending the powers of protective services officers. I would like to concur with previous speakers and add my appreciation of the protective services officers here at Parliament and at train stations. I am a public transport customer, so I am certainly well aware of the protection and the sense of security that they provide in these designated areas. That is what they were established to do — to provide a sense of security, to provide those extra eyes at train stations and around other designated areas and to ensure the security of members of the public using public transport. This was a very good measure, and I welcomed this measure.
However, I have considerable concerns about the expansion of the powers of PSOs that this bill attempts. As Jessie Taylor from Liberty Victoria stated on this issue — and I will paraphrase her somewhat — PSOs undergo 12 weeks of training at the Victoria Police Academy. They have got limited powers when on duty, and their primary function is to provide a visible presence — that is, in the community and, notably, as I mentioned, on public transport — to improve those feelings of safety and to prevent and detect crime.
Having people on the beat certainly has a crime prevention outcome, but this bill seeks to extend the PSO powers without, as far as I can understand it, extending the training that they undertake.
I note that in the statement of compatibility the minister acknowledges that this bill and the ability to allow PSOs to search without suspicion for weapons or without warrant for drugs does sit outside the charter of human rights. The government acknowledge that it is incompatible with our charter, yet they continue on with it. A PSO need not form a reasonable belief or suspicion that a person or a vehicle is carrying a weapon before conducting a search. Why would we not require suspicion? Why would we not require some motivation for doing it? This I do not understand. Obviously it is not in line with the charter, and I do not support that.
My particular concern is the power to apprehend children in respect of whom the Children’s Court has issued a warrant for the purposes of having a child placed in emergency care. I reiterate that these children are very vulnerable children. They are children —
Ms Crozier interjected.
Ms PATTEN — I will take up the interjection. These children are in a designated area. These children have not necessarily committed a crime. These children are under child protection legislation; they are not necessarily children who have committed a crime.
There is concern about the training of PSOs. IBAC reported just recently that there were 182 allegations of assault and excessive force and 71 of predatory behaviour by PSOs between February 2012 and December 2015. We have got a lot of training and a lot of work to do with our PSOs to bring them up to speed for the tasks that are already before them. Now we want to extend those tasks. Apparently the reason for that is that we have a police shortage. I sat on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, I read the budget papers and I saw the $2 billion that we are putting towards employing another 2700 police. Again, I am at somewhat of a loss to understand why, if we are increasing our police force by 2700, we need to expand the role of PSOs to give them fairly extensive police powers. To search people’s vehicles, I believe, is clearly outside their remit. They do not even need a reason to search a vehicle.
This is about making them de facto police, and while I again commend the work that the PSOs do, I am considerably concerned that we are giving them police powers when they have not been trained to carry out police powers. If we want more police at train stations, if we want more police in the car parks of train stations, then we should bring more police on or we should be training our PSOs to a greater degree, not just with 12 weeks of training. So while I commend parts of this bill, I cannot support others.