Crime Statistics

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Crime Statistics Bill 2014. The bill before the house delivers on an election commitment which the coalition took to the 2010 election. The commitment was made to improve access to crime statistics, because under the former Labor government a series of fudged figures were very carefully manipulated to ensure that the message sold to the Victorian public was that the situation was better than it actually was. One thing that can be said about the Napthine government is that it has been tough on law and order, proactive on policing and has delivered in every sense of the word, from delivering 1700 police to 940 protective services officers. We are getting on with the task of ensuring that Victorians feel safe.

The purpose of the Crime Statistics Bill is to ensure that, with the appointment of the chief statistician, crime statistics are put through a rigorous process so that the public has confidence in the statistics that are put in front of them. The chief statistician will publish crime statistics information in the form of quarterly and annual reports. The chief statistician will take over this function from Victoria Police and work independently of Victoria Police.

We have seen reports from the Ombudsman that criticised former governments for failing to deliver in this area. The Ombudsman’s report in 2011 suggested that under the former government a key factor that contributed to the resignation of the former Chief Commissioner of Police was the publication of crime statistics. In his annual report to Parliament the Ombudsman, George Brouwer, said that the establishment of an independent body was long overdue. He previously recommended the establishment of an independent body for this purpose in 2009, but the former government neglected to act on his recommendation.

The report said that there was an unusually high number of complaints about FOI requests, many of which were made by MPs; that many of those requests could not be processed sufficiently; and that there were long delays in implementing changes to the way this sort of information was handled and processed. In terms of data integrity for police, it is important that we have transparent information that the Victorian people can go by.

The report also suggests a number of other reports had looked into this, many of which dated back to the late 1990s. The 2011 Ombudsman’s report says that before the last state election — and this is the real kicker — the crime statistics taken to the election by the previous government were misleading, and the then chief commissioner, as I say, resigned after they were released. The report says we should never put politics in the way of policing in our state, and through other bills we have brought before the house we have amply clarified a separation of powers between what police do and what government does. We certainly need to provide the necessary resourcing, but we need to ensure that operations are carried out by police, and that is what we will continue to do.

This agency will ensure that there is transparency, and the legislation will ensure that there is proper scrutiny. The bill provides for the opportunity for due process if anything misleading comes from the agency. The bill provides protections around the Crime Statistics Agency using potentially sensitive law enforcement information received from Victoria Police. It does this by creating two offences of unauthorised access, use or disclosure of such information. The bill is thereby protecting those individuals about which information will be handed over. This is very important: when we are handing over sensitive information to an independent agency, we want to make sure this information is properly protected.

First, then, the bill creates a summary offence of a regulated person — the chief statistician, an employee or a consultant — without reasonable excuse, accessing, using or disclosing any information obtained in the performance of functions under the proposed act except for the purposes of the proposed act or otherwise in connection with the performance of functions under the proposed act. It will be a reasonable excuse that a person took reasonable steps not to access, use or disclose such information. The maximum penalty for the offence is 240 penalty units or imprisonment for two years, or both. Second, the bill makes it an indictable offence for the chief statistician, an employee or a consultant to access, use or disclose any information if they know or are reckless about whether the information may be used to endanger the life or physical safety of any person. If that is done, there is a penalty of 600 penalty units or five years imprisonment, or both. That is very important because it provides the necessary protections of the very sensitive information being handed over.

The bill also amends the Commissioner for Law Enforcement Data Security Act 2005, including by expanding its purpose to include the promotion of the use by the chief statistician of appropriate and secure management practices in relation to crime statistics data. It also amends the functions and powers of the commissioner to allow him or her to establish standards and protocols to conduct monitoring activities in relation to crime data held by the Crime Statistics Agency.

This is, then, a very important bill because it goes to the heart of delivering transparency in our policing and in the law and order area. The members of the Victorian public want to be confident about the data published by the government and confident when looking at relevant statistics about, for example, increases in certain crimes, such as crimes against the person.

The previous opposition speaker was speaking about family violence incidents, and we have specially targeted resourcing to allow police to create specific units to deal with family violence issues and incidents. We are putting resources in. We are equipping police with budget resources to ensure that more officers are out there policing. As I have said before in this house, when more officers are policing, this leads to more people being caught doing the wrong thing, more arrests and more processing of criminals. Protecting the public and making sure that people feel safe are the most important issues for our community.

The final important point about this bill is that it is not possible for a government to know about the best resourcing options for police unless it is provided with clear and transparent information. That is what this bill does. It provides that independent function of transparency, allowing the government to ensure that it is able to resource appropriately. Also, the important policing arm is not tied to the government, is not to be the hands and legs of the government or to manipulate figures for the government’s privilege and benefit. That is what we are ensuring. We have deliberately ensured that there is a clear separation of powers. That is what we have done with the Victoria Police Amendment (Consequential and Other Matters) Bill 2014, which introduced the biggest changes to policing since 1958.

Now we are providing transparency to ensure that the sort of shenanigans that took place under the previous government do not recur. We have transparency, and we will ensure that we publish the right figures, which are independently provided and monitored. They will not be what a police minister has handed over to a police commissioner to distribute before an election. That is what we will ensure does not happen in the future. We are getting on with delivering on crime statistics, just as we have with the Independent Broad‑based Anti‑corruption Commission and with all areas of policing. Law and order has been at the forefront of our policy of ensuring that Victorians are safe.

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