It gives me pleasure to rise to speak on the Police Regulation Amendment (Protective Services Officers) Bill 2010. It was introduced by the government at the behest of the opposition, and I believe it was forced by us to do the second-reading speech in December last year. The government was not prepared to do it, and perhaps part of the reason this matter was rushed into the house late last year was because we shamed the government into doing so. It was not at the media-friendly sort of time it would have liked to have had it introduced.
I note that the focus has not been on the headline of the bill but, rather, on the content. The content has been kept away from us, just as it was kept away from the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee last year. It was brought into this place without the opportunity for the scrutiny that that committee provides. Some scrutiny is provided that we all welcome and value, and that is important for the quality of the legislation that comes before this house.
I want to make it clear that no-one is questioning the value of the work that protective services officers (PSOs) do in our community. They provide an important service in their protection of public officials and in their securing of places of public importance such as the Shrine of Remembrance, the courts and this very Parliament. Their work is valued and it is important, but to thrust PSOs into a position where they will need to provide protection to people in the community without adequate training is not acceptable.
When compared to the training provided to serving Victoria Police officers over 23 weeks, the 8 weeks that would be provided for PSOs, who would then be asked to patrol train stations and deal with the challenging issues in those places, causes me significant concern. I am concerned that they are not going to receive enough training and support to be able to do the job outlined by the government.
I note that an issue raised when talking to Ivanhoe residents is that they are concerned about the undermining of the police force. The government is increasing the cap on the number of PSOs that can be employed but is not looking at that in relation to the extra police that people in the community of Ivanhoe are telling me they would like to see on their streets. These are the kinds of key issues that are important to people in the Ivanhoe electorate.
I have recently been down to the Rosanna train station, a place in the middle of my electorate, where the local traders talked of their concerns about antisocial behaviour at the station and the precincts surrounding it. We have worked with the local traders association to try to give people greater confidence around the issues they need to deal with. What is not clear in relation to the bill is the areas that are going to be patrolled by these PSOs and whether the community can have confidence if issues arise outside of the train station precinct, whatever that may be. We have a station at Rosanna which has shops built around and on top of it. These are the parts of the area that the traders are concerned about. The traders want to know if the PSOs who are going to be on the train stations will be able to respond to any matters that the traders need dealt with.
It creates confusion for people in the local community in Rosanna and the traders association because they have not been provided with clear information from the government through this legislation about whether they should be relying on the PSOs and expecting them to deal with those matters or if the PSOs are restricted purely to train station areas.
One of the other concerns that has been raised by people in the Ivanhoe electorate is that in a situation where there are problems on a train station and PSOs need to contact police about arrest matters — given that they do not have the same powers of arrest as Victoria Police, and that is very clear — who are the PSOs going to call? In the electorate of Ivanhoe they are not going to be calling police at the West Heidelberg police station because it has been closed by this government. I hope that is a mistake — something that has been overlooked by the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. I hope it is something Victoria Police command has done without reference to the government and it will be addressed by the new government. It is something that is of great concern to people in the Ivanhoe area, particularly in Rosanna where the traders are, because they are thinking, ‘If there are going to be PSOs on the station, and they have closed the West Heidelberg police station, who are these PSOs going to call about very serious incidents that may occur on the rail system or in the shopping strips in the electorate of Ivanhoe?’ These are the concerns that people have, and these are matters that have not been made clear. If they are meant to call local Victoria Police officers, who are they going to call? They cannot call anyone at the West Heidelberg police station because it has been closed.
One of the things that the previous government did to try to make our transport system safer was investing in the services at those stations and increasing patronage. That is another way in which you promote community safety on public transport. You can only do that by investing in the services and encouraging more people to use public transport. It has been a way to create a greater level of commitment from people to use local public transport services. Yet only this very week the 549 bus service in my electorate has come under threat of closure because of the review of bus services by the government. People are concerned that this undermines those who want to use public transport and who get to the train stations using the buses that we are now looking at closing. All this does is undermine public confidence in the safety of our public transport system, because the investment and growth in patronage numbers by the previous Labor government that needs to be sustained and supported is lacking.
I note that we have not been able to get clear advice on this bill from the government, but I will quote from the Victoria Police website, which you can go to. Residents in the Ivanhoe electorate are asking me what these PSOs will do and how they are different. People are suspicious about why we cannot just have Victoria Police officers, whom we are meant to be dealing with. The Victoria Police website says:
- Protective services officers are not empowered with the same powers of arrest as police.
What does that mean they are meant to do? In my electorate in particular concerns have already been raised by members of the local traders association. They want clear advice about who they are to contact when issues arise.
We are not talking about a train station out in the middle of nowhere; this is a train station that is part of a community area with local shops and a library across the road. There are a range of issues that need to be clearly explained. The government needs to enunciate clearly how people are going to be able to access police services when the local police station has been closed.
We also know — and this is straight from the Victoria Police website — training for PSOs ‘covers elements of the Victoria Police constables course’. What elements in particular does it cover? That is what I would like to be clear about. Does the training cover antisocial behaviour or dealing with people who might be drug affected? Are they elements of the course, which is conducted over 8 weeks as opposed to the challenging 23-week course that Victoria Police conduct? Which elements in particular are the PSOs going to be trained in so they can deal with the challenging issues that arise on our public transport system from time to time, particularly given they are going to be armed?
I want to be confident that the PSOs can meet the commitments of the role they are being required to do because they have been given the appropriate level of support and training by the government as outlined in its plans.
I also draw members’ attention to an issue that was raised in this Parliament, and that is the 2011 Victorian Families Statement, which includes pictures of Victoria Police officers on public transport services. We are talking here about putting extra PSOs on our train stations, yet we run photos of Victoria Police. If there is to be community confidence in this legislation, we need to make sure that the community is clear about what sort of obligations are going to be placed on PSOs so we can make sure that we have Victoria Police ready and available to respond to community concerns in our electorates, whether that be on train stations or in local shops.
These are the sorts of issues people have raised with me locally.
People in the Ivanhoe electorate cannot get local police services at the moment because the police station has been closed, so I do not know who the PSOs are going to call in the Ivanhoe electorate. I hope that matter will be addressed by this government.