Road Safety Amendment (Hoon Driving and Other Matters) Bill 2011

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I am pleased to speak on the Road Safety Amendment (Hoon Driving and Other Matters) Bill 2011. While there has been some talk about what the bill will do at the margins, in representing my electorate of Ivanhoe it is important to speak a bit about what has been done there in relation to hoon activities using the current legislation and how it relates to some of the proposals in the bill.

The critical aspect of any laws that are proposed in this place is how they are enforced in the community and who is responsible for that enforcement. That is critical to the expectations of the people in the Ivanhoe electorate, particularly the people in the Heidelberg West community.

The enforcement of laws in the community gives the community the confidence it needs to believe that laws made in this place will be upheld.

When people talk about hoons we think about cars. What are not discussed often are monkey bikes and other vehicles that are used illegally in the community and cause great risk to people in the suburbs. I know this as a resident of Heidelberg West and as a former councillor for that area. We had many meetings and discussions about the activities of monkey bike riders and hoons participating in that sort of activity in local streets and parklands — areas that are the province of bicycle riders and pedestrians, particularly along the Darebin Creek — and in other sport and recreation facilities that were being used and torn up by those riding illegal monkey bikes.

This caused a lot of concern for people. In the main it was young people who were riding the bikes.

They were not wearing helmets, and they were getting up to very significant speeds. They were a threat to pedestrians, a threat to bicyclists and a threat to other road users. Often they would duck around on local footpaths, and it was hard for police to apprehend them. It was difficult for residents, who were concerned about retribution in trying to track down where the riders were coming from.

A number of things were done. A report in the Heidelberg Leader of 13 May 2010 under the headline ‘Hotline help in Heidelberg West hoon haul’ talks a little bit about police, who had:

… swooped on hoons riding illegal ‘monkey bikes’ in Heidelberg West during a covert operation months in the making.
Heidelberg Senior Sergeant Roy Schipper said the success of the operation — which also recorded 27 other traffic violations — was largely due to the diligence of Heidelberg West residents.

The article quotes Senior Sergeant Schipper as having said:

We were able to build up a lot of info from people who have called 000 or the hoon hotline … Because of that we were really able to focus on specific areas where monkey bikes were operating. In some cases we even knew who was doing it and where they lived.

A number of things we did in the local community reflect the sorts of changes that are being proposed to strengthen legislation introduced by the previous Labor government and how it is dealt with on the ground in local communities.

In Heidelberg West we got together with the Neighbourhood Watch committees, the Heidelberg West Neighbourhood Renewal Committee and with local residents and the local police. We sat down with maps of the areas and asked residents to detail the times when they heard the monkey bikes. The problem was as much a noise pollution issue as the risk of collisions, antisocial behaviour and an amenity issue. The residents were able to detail the times when the activities were taking place — over weekends or on Thursday or Friday nights — and they were able to point out on the maps for the police the areas where there were significant issues.

This information was taken back by the police to allow them to run undercover operations through Heidelberg West to try to determine how they might apprehend these people.

Often it was about undercover police identifying monkey bike riders based on the intelligence provided by residents and radioing that information through to other police in marked vehicles who then went to the properties where the bikes were being stored. It was very much about being able to confiscate vehicles, as is the legislation we have had in effect for some time and we see outlined in the bill. It is about taking the vehicles from people. While a lot of the time we see the hoon issue relating to cars, in my electorate, monkey bikes are the most significant hoon issue.

Picking up on that issue, it shows how the community — staff at the Heidelberg West police station, members of the neighbourhood renewal committee and local residents through Neighbourhood Watch — can work together to get an outcome. A number of people were arrested, a number of monkey bikes were confiscated and the amenity of the area was improved.

It was made clear that if you ride monkey bikes in the area, the community will not put up with it and you will get caught.

While that has shown the effectiveness of the hoon legislation which was implemented by the previous Labor government and which will be strengthened by the government’s legislation today, what is of concern to me and the people in the suburb of Heidelberg West, which is in my electorate, is who will enforce these laws. We have had a good track record of how it has been done in the past, but some of the concerns that local residents have relate to how we will continue to successfully act against hoons if we do not have the police on the ground to act on the community’s concerns and enforce the laws made in this place, regardless of what legislation is passed.

That brings me to a letter I received from the Minister for Police and Emergency Services on 28 April in response to an adjournment matter raised by me in this place about the Heidelberg West police station, which had operated for 54 years — since the 1956 Olympic Games — until it was closed in December last year.

The police at the station provided support to the local community, gave them the opportunity to raise their concerns and took action on antisocial behaviour. I quote from the minister’s letter, which responded to my concerns that the police station had been closed:

I have sought advice from the chief commissioner, who has assured me that the West Heidelberg station will not close and the station remains able to be staffed as required.

The police station is closed — that is a fact. It has been closed since December. The minister went on to say:

The chief commissioner has indicated that the 80 hours per fortnight that were rostered to the West Heidelberg counter inquiries will continue to be used to service the needs of the Banyule community including through local patrols.

He said the 80 hours per fortnight that were rostered to Heidelberg West counter inquiries will continue to be used to service the needs of Banyule — but not at the Heidelberg West police station nor in the Heidelberg West community, where we have issues with hoon activity. The 80 hours per fortnight that were rostered to Heidelberg West counter inquiries are now filling gaps in other police stations in the Banyule community. That is not acceptable to the people of Heidelberg West. We can make whatever laws we like in this place, but if we do not have the police on the ground to give effect to the laws and to give the community the confidence that they will act on antisocial behaviour, they are not worth the paper they are written on.

The minister went on to say:

The decision —

he is not very clear about what the decision is, other than the fact that 80 hours per fortnight have been ripped out of the Heidelberg West police station, which has been closed —

reflects that the majority of inquiries by residents are being made at the Heidelberg police station, which is open 24 hours and is less than 3 kilometres away from the West Heidelberg police station.

I put it to this place that the reason more inquiries may be made at the Heidelberg police station is that if you go to the Heidelberg West police station, you will find it to be closed and you cannot make any inquiries there. No statistics have been provided by the government as to how many extra inquiries are being made at the Heidelberg police station.

The Heidelberg Leader of 22 March said:

Heidelberg West police station has been reduced to a filing cabinet, while the community cries out for a permanent police presence.
A Heidelberg Leader investigation found the Altona Street station is unofficially closed and is being used to store police records.
Victoria Police confirmed the station provided a counter inquiries service on weekdays during business hours when resources permit.

I put it to the house that the station has been closed since December. The government has made it clear in writing that the 80 hours per fortnight that were resourced and rostered to the station have now been allocated elsewhere.

The people of Heidelberg West are concerned that the police do not have the resources to enable the effective enforcement of the laws that have been in place around hoon driving and to continue to achieve the results they need in order to crack down on antisocial behaviour in Heidelberg West. We have had great results from working together. If the government wants to further strengthen these laws, it also needs to look at police resourcing in Heidelberg West to give effect to them.