POLICE REGULATION AMENDMENT BILL 2012
It gives me pleasure to rise to make a contribution on the Police Regulation Amendment Bill 2012. As we have heard from previous speakers in this house, this is an important bill. The work our police members do day in and day out is extraordinary. It should be acknowledged and applauded — at times it is done under the most difficult circumstances imaginable — particularly as it is done under the command and control structure of Victoria Police. Balancing the rights and interests of members of the police force with the critically important role of the Chief Commissioner of Police to perform his or her duties in the best interests of the force is always critical.
Such issues include employment conditions, including transfer and promotion arrangements, how members are dismissed, how members’ conduct during their employment is examined and dealt with and what processes exist for appeal. Members often work in very highly charged, sensitive and difficult circumstances in the discharge of their duties, and this is a critical and complex area, so it is profoundly important to get the balance right. This is an important bill.
In his contribution the member for Benalla spent much of his time on the enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) negotiations with police members. Understanding where members of the police and those who support them are at is critical, so we have had a wide-ranging debate about those matters. I will refer to some specific provisions that were touched upon by other members. To take up the points made by the member for Benalla, it is fundamental to the good conduct of Victoria Police that issues be taken into serious consideration.
Turning to the manner in which this bill has come before the house and the manner in which the EBA negotiations were conducted, I note the profound disappointment and anger reflected throughout the force during those long months of negotiation. One would have to say that this government has failed the most fundamental of tests about listening to and understanding the needs of policemen and policewomen who do such a fine job for this state.
The fact that this bill has come before the house when so much of its content was opposed by the government during its days in opposition demonstrates that the government has not learnt, or has not even begun to learn, the lesson of the importance of listening to, understanding and negotiating with police members and their representatives in the conduct of ongoing discussions about the future of policing and the importance of changes that need to be made. Members of the opposition agree that consultation and negotiation are critical, and we point to the fact that this government has failed significantly on a number of occasions.
Turning to the content of the bill, it has some important provisions. Again members of the opposition point out that many of these provisions were proposed during our time in government and were rejected by members of the then opposition who are now in government. Previous speakers have gone through these provisions, including those regarding the creation of the registration division to allow police members to return to Victoria Police at pre-existing seniority. This provision is very important in terms of the knowledge bank of the force and the work that needs to be done. Obviously the current functions of the Police Appeals Board will continue in its hearing and determining of appeals and reviews, and the professional standards division is very important.
Regarding the capacity for the chief commissioner to compulsorily transfer, demote or dismiss a member, changing those provisions is important.
The no-confidence provisions were very vague and broad, and it is important that members of the force have the capacity to have certainty about when a chief commissioner is using his or her discretion and to be able to appeal those issues when appropriate — that is absolutely critical. The bill also contains a provision which clarifies in legislation that the chief commissioner may make a compulsory transfer of a member to a specific work location but that the member can appeal that compulsory transfer if it is considered to be unjust and unreasonable. It is important that we balance the rights and interests of those within Victoria Police, who do such a fine job, with the capacity of police command to perform its obvious and manifest important functions.
Again turning to the importance of negotiation and understanding the issues facing the dedicated men and women of Victoria Police, when members of the opposition were in government and sought to modernise these provisions, that measure was vehemently opposed. One can only point to the conduct of the EBA and say it was an exercise in not listening and in not understanding, and it provided a source of grievance to those who, day in and day out, go out to serve and protect the community.
Let us also touch upon the fact of this government’s savage cuts to Victoria Police.
It should be very difficult for members of the government to stand up here and applaud themselves, pat themselves on the back and give themselves an A-plus when in fact they are ripping the guts out of Victoria Police to the extent of $65 million dollars. The impact of those cuts is widespread, and they are going to hit front-line services, as they must. This is another example of this government not living up to its rhetoric and not following through with negotiation, discussion and understanding, as some on the other side of the house would have us believe. The fact is that in a disdainful manner government members are ripping the heart out of the capacity of the organisation to do its core business of protecting the community. The fact that we are seeing increases in crime in this state for the first time in years also demonstrates that this government is not only dropping the ball on this issue but never held the ball to start with.
In conclusion, members of the opposition do not oppose the bill.
Many of its provisions were put before this house in the time we were in government and were resoundingly rejected by those opposite. The government should be held to account for that backflip. We will also be holding the government to account on the rhetoric we have heard in the chamber tonight about negotiation, discussion and understanding, because the feedback opposition members are getting from those in the force is that the government is failing on every measure to negotiate, understand and consult with those who do this front-line work, so opposition members will be holding the government to account on this issue. We will also be holding the government to account on the savage cuts to the Victoria Police budget, and we will be holding the government to account on the impact those cuts will have on services provided to the Victorian community.
Having said that, opposition members will not oppose this bill, because we proposed much of its content in the first place.
It is important to get the balance right between the many rights and interests of those who service the rights of police command to conduct itself and its organisation. However, we will be seriously — as we have been over these last two years — holding a magnifying glass up to this government and its many failures in regard to the men and women of Victoria Police.