I am pleased to follow a former Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services who is particularly familiar with interventions in high-level police command matters. In making my contribution to debate on the Crime Statistics Bill 2014 I note that the Labor Party has previously touched on these matters. The Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party believes that this plan has merit and is long overdue.
What is particularly interesting is that the Minister for Police and Emergency Services stated on 5 October last year:
There has been too much controversy over crime statistics in recent years.
These statistics have been criticised for the accuracy, integrity and accessibility. The chief statistician will play a major role in achieving the government’s intention to turn this around.
It is interesting that the police minister and the government are not interested in turning around any unreliable police crime statistics that continue to be published until after the November 2014 state election. It is of concern that after four years in office the government wants to clean up police crime statistics and the way in which they are reported but does not seek to do so before the election.
What is also of concern to the Labor Party is the $8.4 million that is required to set up the proposed agency to bring some integrity to police crime statistics. Given the $100 million in cuts to the police budget, how can Victorians have any confidence that the government will appropriately fund the chief statistician’s office and implement these integrity measures in relation to police crime statistics? It is cutting $100 million from the police budget and at the same time needs to find $8.4 million to appoint a chief statistician to manage and publish police crime statistics. Where is the government going to find that money, and how can Victorians have confidence that it will deliver on the proposal?
Speaking of crime statistics, I thought it would be useful to have a look at some recent crime statistics in my electorate of Ivanhoe. I point out that there are fewer front-line police officers in Ivanhoe today than there were three years ago. In fact in a recent media release I issued in my electorate I said:
In Ivanhoe front-line police numbers have been cut from 114 at November 2010 to 108 at 31 January 2014. This is a reduction of over 5 per cent.
In particular I pointed out that:
In Ivanhoe, criminal offences have increased under the Napthine government by 12.02 per cent, or 771 extra offences. From 6415 offences in 2010-11 to 7186 offences 2012-13.
What we know is that the closure of the West Heidelberg police station under this government’s watch and the scrapping of the burglary unit that operates at the Heidelberg 24-hour police station has meant that crime has increased in the Ivanhoe electorate and there are fewer officers to keep my community safe. In the collection of crime statistics the government needs to pay a bit of attention to how those statistics will be recorded accurately when you take into account that there is no police station operating in West Heidelberg, that there are fewer police and that one of the most critical services that is required in making sure police statistics are accurate, the burglary unit that operates from the 24-hour Heidelberg police station in my electorate, has been scrapped, closed down by the government.
I have written to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services in relation to those matters with particular reference to what has happened to the burglary unit, which is critical in keeping the community safe.
One of the key concerns members of local communities have is about someone breaking into their home. It is one of the greatest fears that people have. My letter to the minister of 2 October states:
During the 2012-13 financial year …
Local media, including the Heidelberg Leader, has reported on several burglary sprees across Banyule in 2013, including 20 in Bellfield and Ivanhoe between late May and early June. There was also a series of seven burglaries in one day across Heidelberg Heights on 11 July.
If extra police have been allocated to Heidelberg police complex, why is the burglary team being shut down?
Operational decisions of Victoria Police do not absolve your government or yourself, as the Minister for Police and emergency services, from holding your departments accountable for their decisions and their expenditure of taxpayers’ funds.
How are the government and chief statistician going to monitor the police statistics in the Ivanhoe electorate when the government is scrapping the units that are there to arrest offenders and keep the community safe? How are these statistics going to be managed? I would like some detail about the closure of burglary unit that has been able to provide a range of statistics about the increase in crime in the Ivanhoe electorate under this government’s watch. These are the great concerns we have.
Despite our protestations and the numerous times we have raised this matter — I still have an outstanding adjournment matter from April this year in relation to police statistics, in particular the reopening of the Heidelberg West police station — we have not yet had a response from the police minister in relation to the ongoing closure of that police station.
We also note that there have been recent homicides in the Ivanhoe electorate. Funnily enough they happened in West Heidelberg, the area where the police station was closed by this government. I raised these matters with the police minister on 1 April but I have had no response after two months. I have also previously raised in Parliament very serious concerns about homicides in the Ivanhoe electorate I said::
The Age reported that Mr Michael Jones, 47, was gunned down on the corner of Blackwood and Ebony parades in West Heidelberg shortly before 7.30 a.m.
He was found bloodied and dying on the road by a passing truck driver, who desperately tried to resuscitate him. Detective Senior Sergeant Stuart Bailey described the killing as brazen and high risk, given it occurred in a suburban area while children would have been leaving for school.
These are the day-to-day critical policing issues that are happening on our doorstep in West Heidelberg — a couple of blocks from my electorate office and a couple of blocks from the closed police station in Altona Street, Heidelberg West.
People are being gunned down in my electorate, and more than two months on from when I raised these matters in the adjournment debate the Minister for Police and Emergency Services has refused to respond. He has not responded to those particular matters, as he is required to do under the standing orders.
If we want to talk about police statistics, let us look at the increasing homicide rate in the Ivanhoe electorate. As outlined, back in late May people were being gunned down at 7.30 a.m. in my electorate, just blocks from the Heidelberg West police station. The government can add those homicide statistics to the increasing crime rate in the Ivanhoe electorate, where since this government was elected there are fewer police stations and a burglary unit has been closed while there is a burglary spree in Heidelberg West. I have touched on those figures here again for the government. I note also that according to the increasing studies and surveys being done by the RACV, Heidelberg West and the 3081 postcode now top the list of crime and burglary rates in metropolitan Melbourne. That again is reflective of why the government needs to reopen the Heidelberg West police station and stop treating the local community in Heidelberg West with contempt.
On 17 May 2012 I received a letter from Dean Stevenson, superintendent and divisional commander at the time of the north-west metro region, which covers the Heidelberg West area. The letter reads:
… As you are aware the Heidelberg West police station is currently under review and until a decision is made as to its future, the directional signage will remain in place.
That was in May 2012. We are now in June 2014. I do not know what has happened to the review Victoria Police was undertaking in relation to the Heidelberg West police station, but over two years on we continue to see people being gunned down in my electorate in Heidelberg West, just up the road from this closed police station. Some two years later Victoria Police claims it is still conducting a review into this police station’s future, and in the meantime we have signs up the road directing people to a local police station that is closed. How does that make any sense? It is dishonest on the part of Victoria Police and the government to claim that that police station is operating when clearly it is not.
Burglary rates in Heidelberg West are now amongst the highest in metropolitan Melbourne, as reported in the RACV’s recent surveys. We have seen the burglary unit closed, and there has been no determination from the government to have it reopened and no explanation as to why, if there are more police as the government claims, police services in my electorate are being closed down. We can have no confidence in the government’s decision to implement this initiative. It wants to hide it until after the election because it knows that crime is going up. There are more prison beds than hospital beds in Victoria under this government.