Annual Report of the Department of Police and Emergency Services
Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Madam Acting President, I stand to note and consider the Annual Report of the Department of Police and Emergency Services as well. I will not prolong this because much of it has been covered by the member for Windermere. I put on the record the excellent work of Commissioner Darren Hine and his senior team, and Tasmania Police in general, particularly in view of the cuts to their budget. I am sure it is often a thankless task and officers' families also suffer and deserve our thanks. How often do officers get the respect they deserve for the job they undertake? I am sure it is not often enough.
The report refers to the number of public place assaults and I know this was mentioned in detail by the member for Windermere. I too question the figures reported. Living in the city I hear about these regularly. Often many go unreported because there is a feeling that offenders will not get caught and if they do get caught, the penalty is so low that the victim suffers more. In fact a member of my own family was assaulted in the early hours of the morning earlier this year. He was visiting from interstate. He declined to report the assault. He was just grateful that he was able to get up and walk away. But as he said, first, if the offender is caught, what will happen to them? Second, if it goes to court he would have to come back from the mainland for the court case and then the sentence would likely be a slap on the wrist. I question the figures in the police report.
I am also interested to read that people in Tasmania feel safer walking locally at night than in other states. While this has decreased from 2008-09, it certainly is something that I am not hearing when I am out and about. In fact, people who are revisiting from other states say quite the contrary. They are surprised that in my area of Launceston they feel quite unsafe. I wonder whether we should be looking at statistics for walking in cities as opposed to the statistics that they use for walking locally. They may feel safe walking locally in their suburb, but do they feel safe walking in the city in Hobart and Launceston?
Family violence figures are mentioned as being down. Is it that they are simply not reported? In some cases are they not listed as a report if a victim decides not to proceed with the charge? I am not sure whether they are given a report number or whether it is listed if someone attends and they decide not to go further with it.
Does the fact that we have fewer police mean that there are fewer officers to follow up on calls? Do lower reports and statistics then justify lower police numbers to the Government? That is a difficult thing because if we do not have it in the report and it looks like the police are doing a great job, do we need more numbers?
The member for Windermere mentions abusive language. This is a real issue in cities and often results in people, particularly the elderly, feeling unsafe. I know it is difficult for police because I have been told many times by them that many of the words that were once considered offensive are now commonplace. The police say, 'We really cannot pull them up and we really cannot do this.' Many older people I talk to in the cities feel quite uncomfortable, as if it were not a safe place to be.
Excessive noise is a concern. Again, with city living being encouraged it is difficult. I have had many complaints as member for Launceston and as an alderman; people ring me late at night with complaints about noise saying that they have phoned the police. It was discovered that many times when people would phone the police they were not given a report number. It was only discovered later at a Launceston Save the Community Partnership meeting, of all things, that there had not been reports or there did not appear to be reports about noise. What we discovered was that sometimes the officer on the end of the phone was a bit reluctant to give a report number. If a report number was not given then it was not listed. We need to insist that report numbers are given. If you are not aware of that and you just ring up and think a police officer has listed it, and then you go to a meeting to discover there are no reports of noise, you have to start questioning how that can happen. It all relates to the statistics and the reports.
With cuts to our police force, it has to be difficult for police to concentrate on what would have to be considered less important issues, such as noise and language, when there are serious matters such as murders, burglaries, assaults, not to forget vehicular accidents. Talking about accidents brings me on to drink-driving and drug-drivers. I was advised recently that drug-drivers are the new norm with bookings. Some drivers are more likely to take drugs rather than drink because they think you are more likely to be breathalysed than drug tested. I was also advised that in hotels people will often take an ecstasy tablet, or whatever they take, and they can drink water all night and have the same effect at a much cheaper rate than drinking alcohol. They feel they are much less likely to be tested when they leave, which is rather frightening.
I was advised that the cost for testing for drugs was about $44 as opposed to a breathalyser. I was told that police are more likely to test someone when they do a check of someone's record; if that person has a record for a drug-related offence then they will not be breathalysed - they will be drug tested. I was also advised that they have changed how they do their random breath tests and with their lower police numbers they are more likely now to sit near licensed establishments, and watch for vehicles leaving those establishments.
I accept that all departments want their annual reports to show they are performing well, but I do have difficulty believing the statistics that I read in the current report, as I am sure a large number of offences are simply not reported. The concern I have is with an annual report looking like things are improving and that the budget is on track; it makes a good case for the Government to reduce numbers and that is a problem in itself, but well done, Tasmania Police.