Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Investigation Powers) Bill 2013. At the outset I congratulate the Attorney-General, the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, the Premier and others who have worked tirelessly on the government’s tough-on-crime agenda. I am pleased to hear that the opposition is supporting this bill.
It is interesting that opposition members have tended to rise in this house to talk about the great legislation we are putting forward in relation to law reform, and they have supported this important series of law reform bills.
When we bring in this type of law reform, and this bill looks at DNA testing and sampling, which I will get to in a minute, we do not do it in isolation. Rather, we introduce a complete set of tools to ensure that our constituents feel safe and we reduce the crime rate. The government has first and foremost been tough, in every sense of the word, on crime. But not only has it been tough on crime, it has invested significant resources in our justice system.
If we look at the money the government has invested in this area and if we look at police numbers, we see that all the government’s policies are important. I contrast that with the opposition’s performance. We have heard about the protective services officers, and members of the opposition have questioned this policy of the government. Reports in the Age in 2009 indicated that under the previous government police numbers failed to keep up with growth. The Age has reported that Victoria had the lowest per capita investment in policing in any state under the 11 years of Labor’s term in government.
We make no bones about what we do. We make no apologies for providing record funding to boost police numbers or providing funding for law reform to ensure that Victorians not only feel safe but are safe. That is what we are doing, and that is part of what this bill is all about.
The bill is about a vital tool for modern policing. By using modern technology with other investigation methods we can expedite police investigations and ensure that they have a higher success rate. The most recent crime statistics show that in a year 8000 murder, rape, robbery, kidnap and assault cases in Victoria remain unsolved, and many of these, but not all of them, have DNA evidence. If police are able to utilise modern technology and advancements in DNA testing, it will significantly help them to solve these cases. We have seen many examples of cold cases that have been solved when the police have used modern DNA testing technology and other investigation methods.
This bill ensures that police can take DNA samples for all indictable offences rather than just for specific offences. We are extending provisions in relation to DNA testing from murder and rape cases to theft, stalking, child pornography, drug possession, fraud, criminal damage and property crime cases. This bill gets the balance right and provides for proper safeguards by ensuring that once an investigation has concluded, any DNA profiles will be properly destroyed. When we are looking at this sort of thing, it is important to get the balance right, and this bill ensures that the administrative burden of compliance is reduced. It also ensures that there is certainty and clarity when it comes to collecting and disposing of DNA.
The Crimes Act 1958 allows for the retention of the DNA of suspects who have been found guilty and of those who have been found not guilty due to a mental impairment. Again the bill provides clear and precise directions in relation to the cases in which the police are able to retain DNA evidence, and as I have mentioned, under this bill there will be many cases in which police can retain DNA evidence. Some cases that have remained unsolved for years may now be solved due to modern technology.
In order for DNA samples to be retained, police must apply for a court order. This provides our police with better tools with which to fight crime. This is very important, and is a key element of this bill.
Prior to this bill coming before the house, there have been a number of uncertainties around expanding the range of indictable offences.
For example, police have not been able to take forensic samples from people convicted of theft or of handling stolen goods, but they have been able to take samples from those convicted of robbery or burglary. The bill provides consistency by saying that we can collect and use this evidence.
I refer to some of the work done by CrimTrac. CrimTrac retains a lot of samples, it works across jurisdictions and it carries out investigations not only in Australia and New Zealand but also in other parts of the world that cooperate with it. There have been many cases where the DNA that has been collected has then been matched with cases that have been outstanding for some time, and crimes have been solved. Victoria has often assisted in the collection of DNA and has been able to provide information to other jurisdictions to solve crimes. An example in the United States comes to mind involving a multiple rape case that had been unsolved for a number of years. Victoria was able to contribute by providing information which led to the case being solved.
There are instances where it is possible to utilise the advancements that have been made in DNA testing, and in the fingerprint sampling database as well, and provide that information for use in investigations. It is important when I mention technology to note that we obviously cannot be reliant on technology as a single and sole focus when undertaking investigations. It should be used in conjunction with other investigatory methods and other methods for the collection of evidence. Very importantly, a very small amount of DNA is required in order to be able to track that sample back to an individual — it is absolutely miniscule — but we need to be sure that we are not relying on that evidence alone.
This bill is only part of a very comprehensive amount of work that is being done by this government when it comes to law and order and ensuring that Victorians feel safe. We came to government, as many members are aware, on a law and order policy, and that was something that was lacking under the previous government.
We have been tireless in the significant work that is being done in this house, by the Attorney-General and others, in relation to law and order. This bill is something that should be considered not in isolation but as part of a comprehensive suite of activities to ensure that Victoria Police has the right tools when it comes to investigation and is able to utilise those tools when it comes to processing, prosecuting and solving crimes, ensuring that we get criminals off the streets and, most importantly, ensuring that Victorians are safe.
This is good legislation. I am glad that the opposition is supporting it. It is a pity that opposition members cannot get up and support it without having to take cheap shots about what we are doing in terms of our overall law and order policy, which is significant. When it comes to a law and order policy, it is something that should be supported from both sides of the house.
Policing, being active and being proactive is what we are about, and that is what we will continue to do on this side of the house.