Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:27): I am pleased to rise to speak somewhat briefly to the Police and Emergency Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. This bill does a range of things, as the previous speakers have mentioned and talked to: expanding the definition of the designated places for PSOs; enabling someone who is in jail for one reason to be questioned by the police and moved within the police station to be questioned on another offence; and certainly changing some of the abilities for sheriffs to serve applications for family violence, as well as amending some of the Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 in regard to district map references.
So again, two in one week—two omnibus bills in one week. The problem with omnibus bills is quite often you support parts of it but you are vehemently opposed to other parts of it. Now, I cannot say ‘vehement’ is the word I would use for this bill, but I am struggling with some parts of this bill whereas others I am completely comfortable with. This is the difficulty, and I think it was the difficulty that many of us found also with the previous omnibus bill that we debated this week—that there were certain aspects of it that many of us supported and others that we found difficulty with. And as we saw with the debate and the differences of opinion on that bill, that was very apparent, and again we are finding that with this bill as well.
I would like to speak predominantly around the expansion of the protective services officers’ powers. I know that some people might say this is semantics, and certainly I appreciate and thank Minister Neville’s staff for their briefings and answering of questions about this bill, but when we mentioned the expansion of powers they said, ‘Of course it’s not the expansion of powers of PSOs, Ms Patten, it’s just the expansion of where they can use those powers’. So I think there are some semantics there—that it is not an expansion of the power; it is just expanding where those powers can be used. That was raised with me certainly by Ariel Couchman from Youthlaw, who wrote to us, and I am sure wrote to many of us in here, asking I think the very good question: why? Why do we need to expand the powers of the PSOs? Why do we need to expand where the protective services officers can operate?
At this point I would actually just like to do a shout-out to the protective services officers here at the Parliament precinct, where I think is an extremely appropriate place for PSOs to be. Certainly as someone who catches public transport as well, I also would like to add my appreciation in those areas. I think they are doing what they were established to do in 1988. I am not convinced that where this bill takes them is actually where it was intended when they were established back in 1988. In some ways you would see this as a kind of bracket creep and very much a blurring of the roles of the police and the PSOs here. In fact I think it was only in 2017 that we were having this same conversation about yet other expansions of protective services officers’ powers, and we are back here again, three years later, talking about another expansion of powers of the PSOs—and this is concerning to us.
As other speakers have mentioned, PSOs undergo 12 weeks of training—12 weeks—and we are now expanding their roles to detain, to arrest, to apprehend and to use lethal force in shopping centres, in and around showgrounds, and in any large area, this bill says. So I do have concerns about this. I was also kind of surprised that all the people that were yelling at me on social media about the expansion of powers in the last omnibus bill that we debated this week are silent on this one—absolutely silent. In fact we are actually seeing some amendments from the opposition to give PSOs more powers, to expand these powers, and to ensure that there are more of them on the train stations, to see that they are travelling in pairs.
Mr O’Donohue: It is just maintaining the current model. It is not expanding it at all.
Ms PATTEN: Again, I think this is a matter of semantics—that ostensibly this bill is not expanding the powers of the PSOs. I think due to the pressure of a number of us in this chamber, the omnibus bill that we debated earlier this week was amended, because we saw that the expanded powers in that bill went too far. But this bill is not just about expanding those powers in a state of emergency; this is expanding those powers full stop. This is a permanent expansion. We have raised this, and IBAC has raised concerns about the powers of PSOs—about their use of them. The IBAC report in 2015 reported 182 allegations of assault and excessive force and 76 reports and allegations of predatory behaviour by PSOs between 2012 and 2015. The IBAC parliamentary committee inquiry into the external oversight of police corruption and misconduct in Victoria in 2018 made 69 recommendations that the government, sadly, never responded to about how we could improve the oversight. And I think in today’s newspaper again, there is talk about the lack of oversight and the lack of funding for IBAC to be able to appropriately do the investigation and oversight that they are appointed to do and that we would very much like to see them do.
When we go to the committee stage, I will be very interested in hearing the government’s response to the lack of training for PSOs, particularly when we are looking at some pretty significant expansions of powers. As I said, after just 12 weeks training, they will be able to use lethal force in a shopping centre, to use lethal force in a showground, in a sportsground or in any large area as specified by the commissioner or, I understand, the deputy commissioner. We know that when these expanded powers occur—and this was the concern that we had in the previous omnibus bill—that those powers will affect the most powerless. They will affect our Aboriginal community; they will affect our young people the most. And certainly when we are talking about spaces like shopping centres, like showgrounds, like those places, it is those most disadvantaged that will probably come into contact with the PSOs more often and more regularly certainly than you and I would in here.
I will listen closely to the further debate on this, but as I say, some parts of this bill I do find ominous. Interestingly those parts which I think are very similar to the bill that we debated on Tuesday evening and well into Wednesday morning, when we heard people saying how egregious those parts of the bill were and how they were going to be this incredible infringement on our freedoms, they are silent today on—silent. But in contrast to this, I am supportive of some of the aspects of the bill as they relate to Fire Rescue Victoria and the lodging of the updated boundary maps that take into account, as we saw, the recent movement of the CFA around Hoppers Crossing and the new station that is just opening in Tarneit. I think these are fairly commonsense amendments that do assist in that transition of the fire service reform. As I say, with a sense of ambivalence I will finish my contribution here, and I will listen to the debate closely.