Second Reading

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (15:54): I am pleased to rise to say a few words on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Police and Other Matters) Bill 2023. I would not mind a dollar for every time I have risen to speak on a justice legislation amendment bill; there have been a few of them in my time. I endorse the comments of the member for Geelong and those before her. The member for Warrandyte and the member for Mordialloc I think also talked about the importance of this chamber supporting our police, and I absolutely do. This legislation is largely about police and police matters, and I particularly acknowledge the work of the police as we head into the holiday season, because they are among those frontline workers who, while the rest of us are putting our feet up and getting a well-earned break at the end of the year, are often the ones who are still on duty – indeed called to duty when all leave cancelled arrangements are in place. I say that particularly to my own family members. In one family in my wider family group there are currently five members of them in the police force. They do a great job, and I certainly thank them for the work they do.

Likewise I would like to acknowledge the work of the police in my electorate of Gippsland South. I will come to that a bit more in a moment, the work they do and the support that they need from the government. I acknowledge that it is a very thin blue line and they do a lot of great work in Gippsland broadly, in our small rural communities and in our larger regional towns. While I am there, I will give a little shout-out to Dale McCahon, a former sergeant at Leongatha who has just recently retired after 41 years in the force – retired from the force, I might add, but not from making a contribution to his community, which he is going on to do at Leongatha Secondary College, as I understand it. Dale was a great source of information and certainly a great community man in his time at Leongatha as well. So I wish him and his family all the best, and as I said, I wish to acknowledge the work of all the police officers as we head into the summer period.

This legislation enacts some aspects of the police discipline system and the code of conduct, and I certainly do not oppose that. I believe this was requested by the force itself. It did remind me of my time on the former IBAC committee two parliaments ago, when we looked at the issues of police discipline and police complaints given that, of the complaints made to police, only about 2 per cent ever end up with IBAC. I just want to mention it because there are still people now who will say that the system is broken and that police should not be investigating police. While I agree that should be the case for the most serious instances of police misconduct and corruption – absolutely that is a role for IBAC, and we on this side believe that IBAC should have both its powers and its resources strengthened to do more to root out corruption and misconduct in the police force – one of the things that we heard in the former IBAC committee as we collected evidence from around the state, around the country and indeed around the world was that police actually do need to investigate police on certain issues. At one extreme there is high-level corruption, at the other extreme there is the little old lady who says Constable So-and-so swore at me. Those sorts of things should not be going to an external body; they absolutely should be overseen by the superiors in the police station. Up to a level – and there is a fine line as to what that level should be – it is incumbent on police to manage their own in many respects, particularly on those more minor indiscretions. It is also incumbent that police have the understanding and the investigative powers and experience to actually investigate matters of corruption and matters of ill discipline and conduct by other police officers. Indeed many of the officers who work for IBAC uncovering the serious corruption will of course be former police officers. I just wanted to touch on that to ensure that we do not have an absolutist view of this situation.

I note there are a number of other aspects of this legislation, including changes to allow police to deploy vehicle-immobilising devices in a wider set of circumstances than is currently the case. Again that is something that I believe police have asked for, and I absolutely support that being used. Obviously there are difficult circumstances in which police would need to do that, given other traffic on the road, but it is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed. I know the issue of police pursuits is a vexed one, and a vexed one for the force and for governments all around the world, but I also know that there is frustration among serving and retired police officers at the current policies as they stand. Effectively, as soon as someone is being chased they know that if they put their foot down and make it a little bit dangerous, the police are going to back off. I think we probably need to look at how we better balance that, and perhaps this legislation, with the widened use of immobilising devices, is a good way of doing so.

There is another section in this bill with respect to firearms, and there are two aspects to it. One ensures that there is no issue with licensed firearm dealers accepting firearms that are being surrendered by people who may not have a licence as such. I guess it clarifies and gives some comfort to licensed firearm dealers. The second aspect of it relates to special conditions to be placed on the holders of category A or A and B long arm firearm licences, which includes my good self as a licensed firearm holder. I do not actually have any firearms, I quickly add, but I do have a licence so that I can, from time to time, borrow a rifle or a shotgun and bowl over a few of the rabbits that do appear around our place. But this special condition will state that a licensee cannot carry, possess or use a detachable magazine greater than five shots in combination with a bolt action shotgun unless it is for a purpose approved by the Chief Commissioner of Police. While I do not oppose that aspect of this legislation, I do hope that it has been sufficiently socialised with the law-abiding firearm community. It is sometimes a case of reform and regulatory creep when we talk about firearms regulation. I think this area is quite a narrow one, where I do not believe it will impact a lot of people. I note the second-reading speech indicates that this is proactive community safety reform, which is always good, but it also puts up a little flag for me, because I fear sometimes that the law-abiding firearm owners are the ones that can be impacted by this and it is actually the crooks that pay no attention to what we are doing in here and are breaking the law repeatedly. So I hope this does not have great impacts on our law-abiding firearm owners and hunters.

I might say too, with a couple of minutes to go and only an hour or so to go on the last day of sitting before we are back here in February, that I reiterate my support for duck season going ahead next year and for many years afterwards. This government needs to stand up to the radicals and make sure that it does not support the end of duck season. I think the new Premier has an opportunity to change the tone of what the government has been doing over the past few years with respect to the Greens, the Animal Justice Party and various others in the other place, and it needs to actually hold the line and allow Victorian men, women, children and families to go about a business that they have been doing for many decades and which, as the inquiry heard, has minimal impact on actual duck numbers. The scientists made it very clear that habitat, habitat, habitat is the crucial thing.

I know Field and Game in Victoria and my own local branch, Sale Field and Game, in particular do a magnificent job in supporting habitat and growing habitat. The Heart Morass wetlands in particular, just out of Sale, is one of the areas where they do a lot of great work to support wild aquatic bird habitat. We do not have any issue with this legislation, with the one exception that I raised – that concern about firearms. We do need to support our police. They are a very thin blue line, particularly in South Gippsland. I have called on the minister to do more, and I look forward to seeing this bill pass.

Stay up-to-date

Subscribe to Danny’s regular newsletter to stay informed about issues relating to Gippsland South.