Community safety: government initiatives

I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the matter of public importance today. Before I begin my contribution I want to get one thing straight, and it is a fact that the Minister for Police and Emergency Services assiduously avoids acknowledging: the 1700 new police are Labor’s police. You can go back and see it there in black and white on pages 323 and 325 in budget paper 3 of the state Labor budget for 2010-11. Labor announced the 1700 police, and Labor funded the 1700 police. Under the heading ‘Recruitment of additional police’ on page 325 it says:

Funding is provided for 1700 net additional sworn police officers …

The police who come on stream are Labor’s police.

If this issue were not so serious, this matter of public importance would be a joke. There is nothing this government has touched in community safety that has not proven to be a disaster. Its flagship protective services officers policy is an utter shambles. There is the disgraceful and unprecedented undermining of the independent office of the police commissioner by those at the very top of this government — I notice the member for Benambra has left the chamber — and the lies the government peddled to rank and file police prior to the election last year in regard to their pay. Rather than congratulating itself on how well it is implementing its policies on community safety, the government should be apologising to the people of Victoria for the fact that it has made such a mess of things in less than 10 months and for its cowardly and disgraceful political interference with police command.

Let us start with what the Premier said on 30 November 2010:

There will be no hidden agenda, no spin, no secrecy. Accountability and transparency will be the principles that underpin our government …

What you will see is what you will get.

Fast-forwarding to the front page of yesterday’s Age under the heading ‘Lib MP in Sir Ken leak’, the article reads:

A senior member of the Baillieu government leaked confidential information that severely damaged the reputation of former deputy police commissioner Sir Ken Jones, an Age investigation has revealed.

Parliamentary secretary for police Bill Tilley leaked to the media — without Sir Ken’s approval — excerpts of a private email sent by the policeman to his wife.

It goes on:

… the Age has confirmed that Sir Ken provided the Liberal MP with a copy of his email soon after his February meeting with Mr Kapel.

… He later told Mr Tilley to keep it confidential. But Mr Tilley ignored this request.

These revelations confirm what the Labor opposition has been saying from the very beginning of this sordid affair. The unprecedented political interference with the independence of Victoria Police and the gross undermining of then chief commissioner, Simon Overland, was orchestrated by the Baillieu government from the very top. There was a relentless backgrounding of journalists against the former chief commissioner. The Premier’s most trusted adviser, Michael Kapel, was secretly meeting deputy commissioner Sir Ken Jones at his home, behind the backs of the chief commissioner and, apparently, the Minister for Police and Emergency Services.

There was also the Office of Police Integrity (OPI) investigation into the behaviour of the minister’s senior police adviser, Tristan Weston.

This government wanted to remove the chief commissioner, and in the end it got him. No gutter was too putrid for it to jump in. Political interference with the independence of Victoria Police command finally led to the forced resignation of the chief commissioner. Simon Overland knew that the government would not cease its campaign until he was gone. This unremitting and remorseless campaign the minister described back in June is an indictment of his own colleagues.

New information keeps surfacing, and I suspect this latest will not be the last. As I said, it relates to the leaking of confidential information by the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services. In question time yesterday on this matter, the performance of the Premier throughout the day was pathetic — five questions, no answer.

The Premier and the Minister for Police and Emergency Services refused to answer any questions. Even more bizarrely than usual, yesterday the Premier claimed this issue was of ‘precious little consequence’. He suggested to members of the media that, rather than asking him questions about the matter, they would be better off asking themselves questions on the matter. When asked if he had spoken to the parliamentary secretary, the Premier flippantly said that he had said ‘Hello’ at that morning’s party room meeting. How extraordinarily arrogant of the Premier! The Minister for Police and Emergency Services also refused to answer even the simplest questions.

It beggars belief that the Minister for Police and Emergency Services knew nothing. The minister’s senior police adviser, Tristan Weston, and his parliamentary secretary were up to their necks in undermining police command.

A leak directly out of the minister’s office — and these two individuals worked for the police minister — occurs in one of two ways: a deliberate leak with the approval of the minister or a leak behind the minister’s back. If it is the latter, then the person responsible is stood down and thrown out of the office. It would be untenable for a minister — for any minister — to work with someone in their office who leaks information behind the minister’s back. How much longer can the minister credibly claim he knew nothing?

How the minister dealt with Tristan Weston is an interesting comparison. Following revelations earlier in the year that Tristan Weston had had his secondary employment immediately revoked by Victoria Police following an OPI investigation into his behaviour, Mr Weston was tossed out of the minister’s office, and the minister made it clear that he was never, ever coming back. The reaction of the minister indicates that Mr Weston was acting at the behest of the Premier’s office and without the minister’s knowledge. The minister was ignorant of what his senior adviser was up to, and that adviser paid the price for his disloyalty and inappropriate behaviour. Having said that, Tristan Weston has been living a life of leisure for some months now. I am sure he is on a very high wage, but we have no idea what he is doing.

It was reported yesterday in the Age that:

… Tristan Weston, a former adviser to Police Minister Peter Ryan already implicated in the Sir Ken affair, leaked information to the media he obtained from Sir Ken and other police. This was done without Sir Ken’s knowledge.

Perhaps the minister found that out months ago. The public found that out yesterday, but perhaps the minister knew about that months ago.

If it is appropriate to stand down Mr Weston as a result of an OPI investigation, then why is the parliamentary secretary not being stood down now? Why is it that the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services, who has been caught red-handed leaking private and confidential emails of the former deputy commissioner, Sir Ken Jones, to the media, continues to have access to the minister’s office? Why is it that he continues to have access to cabinet and cabinet subcommittee documents? Why is it that he continues to have access to sensitive police operational matters? Why does this leaker, unlike Mr Weston, still work for the Minister for Police and Emergency Services? Either the minister knew of the leaks or the minister did not. If he did not, then I suggest the member for Benambra would not be the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services today — he would be out on his ear.

The newest revelations of political interference in Victoria Police are impacting on public confidence in our police force.

Further, and more profound, any prospective applicants for the position of Chief Commissioner of Police in Victoria will approach the position with great trepidation, because every single applicant will know that if they get the position, they will be dealing with a government that does not understand or respect boundaries. They know that they will be dealing with a government that will stop at nothing, that will not hesitate to get into the gutter, that will brazenly and inappropriately interfere with the independence of Victoria Police to get the outcome that it wants. It is hardly the kind of advertising that will attract the best, most qualified person for the job.

So while the Premier is in his own little world thinking the issue is of no consequence, the reputation of Victoria Police has been dealt a blow. The Baillieu government has scored a rare double — it has managed to undermine both the former chief commissioner and the one it wants to replace him with! That is bastardry and incompetence in equal measures.

As the editorial in the Age today says:

If Premier Ted Baillieu had hoped to dispel growing suspicions about interference in Victoria Police command by members of his government, his remarks yesterday are likely to do the opposite.

Victorians deserve to know why Mr Tilley chose to commit this breach of confidence, and why a former adviser to Mr Ryan, Tristan Weston, leaked … If Mr Baillieu and Mr Ryan remain silent, they will fuel suspicions that the government hoped to use Sir Ken’s reported comments to bring down former Chief Commissioner Simon Overland …

What was that about no spin, no secrecy and accountability and transparency?

This matter of public importance is a joke.

I turn now to the government’s protective services officer (PSO) policy. Again, rather than congratulating itself, the government should be condemned for its ineptness, its chronic lack of planning and the deep flaws in its policy and in the implementation of it. Let us go through the shambles that is its PSO policy — I have only 3 minutes left.

There has been a budget blow-out in excess of $85 million — $161 million has blown out to over $212 million for the recruitment, training and deployment of PSOs; and $20 million in capital works has blown out to just under $55 million courtesy of the scrapping of the premium station upgrades by the Minister for Public Transport. The minister promised that one-quarter of PSOs would be on stations in the first year.

We are 9 months — almost 10 months — into this government and the promise of 235 PSOs has been broken, with only 93 to be delivered — and we will not see them until February at the earliest. The minister’s promise that they would go to where they were most needed has been broken. In his second-reading speech, the minister promised that ‘the incidence of crime and public disorder’ would be ‘a key factor in determining placement’. No it will not. First we were told that they were going to go to the inner city — not to Frankston, not to Ringwood, not to Broadmeadows — and now we are told that the determining factor is whether or not there is a toilet, not the level of crime. If you have a dunny, you will get a PSO; but if there is high risk at a particular station, you may not get a PSO until 2014. The minister promised that PSOs would be rolled out to 13 regional stations in Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Latrobe Valley. No they will not. They will be rolled out to 4 stations, not 13.

We were told by the minister in the other place representing the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Dalla-Riva, that PSOs could work one up. With 12 weeks training a rookie PSO would be on a platform, undertaking front-line policing, by themselves. The minister said:

The advice I have is that there is no specific requirement for PSOs to work two up … obviously there will be times when one of the PSOs will not have to be there for whatever reason.

‘Whatever’, says Minister Dalla-Riva. We have pointed out that there is a lack of clarity about what ‘in the vicinity of’ means. If a PSO is in the vicinity, do they pursue an offender? Is the offence serious enough, and will an arrest be likely to be upheld in the courts? There was no clarity around that.

Minister Dalla-Riva said, ‘The advice I have is that it obviously depends on the offence’. Rookie PSOs will be on platforms with other rookie PSOs. The Minister for Police and Emergency Services promised that the recruitment standards for PSOs would be as high as they are for police officers. No they will not.

In less than 12 months this government has conducted the most disgraceful campaign against the independent office of the Chief Commissioner of Police in Victoria Police. Its PSO policy is an utter shambles, and the government has betrayed rank and file police in their enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations — —

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member’s time has expired.

 

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