Department of Police, Fire & Emergency Management, Annual Report 2018-19, consideration & no
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the member for Windermere for again raising the police annual report. It is always worthwhile -
Mr Dean - But not Launceston?
Ms ARMITAGE - I appreciate when you say 'Launceston' continually, you do not only mean the electorate of Launceston, that crimes happens in many areas of the greater Launceston area.
It clearly has been a busy year for the Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management with a number of programs implemented both within the department and in conjunction with other stakeholders.
Since the annual report was published, so much has happened in our world that relates to the police and emergency management that I would like to take some time to speak about it. This motion has been on the Notice Paper for a while, and I have changed this speech quite a few of times over the last few weeks, so I am glad we are actually doing it today, otherwise I might have had to change it again.
Over the last weeks, we could not turn on our televisions without seeing the shocking footage of the riots occurring across America and the world in response to the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer whose mandate was to protect and serve, no doubt exacerbated by the coronavirus restrictions that have been imposed.
For the most part, these riots, and the incidences of peaceful protest, are an expression of grief and the desire for change. In reflecting on these matters, I consider how lucky we are in Tasmania and in Australia. This is by no means to say that our system is perfect, but in times of great tragedy in Australia, from the Port Arthur massacre to the bushfires that recently ravaged our country, Australians come together in unity in the spirit of cooperation and reveal our best selves.
It is said that no-one hates a bad cop more than a good cop; in the overwhelming majority of cases, police are good people who serve their communities with good intentions. I emphasise my support for our Tasmania Police, our good cops, who consistently do the right thing for communities and for each other.
So much has changed in Tasmania and the world throughout this coronavirus crisis. There has been an effect on crime, criminal behaviour, emergency response, management and mitigation.
I note that in April it was reported that crime rates had dropped across the state by around 10 per cent over the preceding month. The Examiner reported that serious crime had also decreased although business burglaries had remained steady compared to the same time last year.
Tasmania Police is to be congratulated for its outstanding work during the coronavirus pandemic, with its officers being required to take on additional roles over and above their usual day-to-day duties. The same is absolutely true of our other emergency response units, whose jobs have become more complex and stressful owing to the pandemic taking hold.
Another issue that the coronavirus lockdown has revealed is something that perhaps is not unexpected, and that is the significant reduction in public place assaults involving alcohol and drugs, down 89 per cent, and the issuing of liquor infringement notices, which has also gone down by a similar amount.
Obviously, the closing of pubs and clubs has had this result, but a reduction in these types of offences is something we ought to strive for in any case. I am sure the department will be looking into how this momentum can be maintained as we ease our way out of the restrictions we have all been subjected to over the past weeks and months.
A further but probably not an unexpected side effect of the lockdown has been the immediate slowdown in Tasmania's road toll. According to The Advocate, Tasmania had a shocking start to the year in terms of road toll deaths recorded being higher than the previous year, but noted an immediate downturn in road deaths once the lockdown was implemented. Again, Tasmania Police has my overwhelming appreciation and gratitude for taking the changes required by the coronavirus in its stride and by implementing lockdown checkpoints in a manner that aimed to prevent the spread of the serious disease and not necessarily to punish people for not staying home.
Now, more than ever, being a police officer has never been so significant and so fraught. Only a couple of weeks ago, the Launceston Police Headquarters literally came under attack when a Molotov cocktail was thrown in the direction of the diesel storage tanks located just outside the building. It is believed to have been in response to a criminal investigation relating to drugs and stolen property. To attack the police headquarters is also to attack our community, and I wish to convey my serious support for Tasmania's police, particularly those stationed at Launceston headquarters. I hope the judiciary applies an adequate penalty to the offenders when they are caught.
A lot has been happening for the department throughout the year with an important milestone being the implementation of the multi-agency component of the emergency services computer‑aided dispatch - ESCAT - which was rolled out for Tasmania Police in October 2017, the Tasmania Fire Service in September 2018 and Ambulance Tasmania in June 2019. This provides a more effective and efficient information-sharing platform. I note that in June 2019, Tasmania became the first Australian jurisdiction in which police, fire, SES and ambulance services are on the same computer-aided dispatch system. I am sure that is a lot better, member for Windermere, than it was during your time and certainly would be a lot more efficient.
Mr Dean - Pardon?
Ms ARMITAGE - It would have to be a lot more efficient now than it was during your time. I am talking about the computer-aided dispatch system.
This is a huge achievement and I congratulate all involved, as the benefits this will provide to emergency management will be significant. Likewise, a successful migration to a new triple zero platform was implemented to manage emergency calls to the fire service, police and ambulance Tasmania in early 2019. This new platform also bought noise reduction, simplified operator interfaces and a sophisticated queueing system to manage these calls. I further congratulate the department for this successful outcome.
In a similar vein, the establishment of Project Unify, a strategy to replace a number of legacy and ageing policing information system within the department was initiated. I understand the new Atlas system is now in the process of being implemented with phase 1 of Project Unify being launched in October 2019.
I think we can all comprehend the challenges that come along with implementing largescale changes in big organisations. I hope the process is proactive and transparent to ensure proper positive implementation. The $300 000 provided by the Tasmanian Government to the department to implement initiatives to reduce shoplifting - and I agree with the member for Windermere that the word 'shoplifting' does not have the same thought or connotation as the word 'theft'. It really does not. As you are aware, I am an 'independent person' with Tasmania Police and many times you have people come in, young people under 18, for shoplifting. They really do not see they have done anything particularly wrong. It is a real issue; I certainly agree with you on that point.
To reduce shoplifting from Tasmanian businesses has already brought positive results despite program delivery being in its formative stages. The annual report notes there has been a 4 per cent decrease in shoplifting, from 2489 offences in 2017-18 to 2380 in 2018-19. It is still far too high, particularly with the way businesses are now suffering with COVID-19. It obviously needs to decrease far more. A holistic approach has been taken to tackling the issue of shoplifting, including engaging retailers in plans to protect their businesses and proactive campaigning by Crime Stoppers Tasmania to work with members of the community to identify offenders and disrupt their behaviours.
I was interested to read about the progress of the Safe Families Coordination Unit which engages in the identification of high-risk family violence offenders. Tasmania Police is the lead agency for this unit. It takes a multi-agency collaborative approach to tackling family violence and works with the departments of Justice, Health, Communities Tasmania and Education to provide assistance to victims of family violence through the provision of timely and targeted actions.
I look forward to the preliminary results of Project Vigilance, a collaboration between Tasmania Police and the Department of Justice in trialling electronic monitoring of high-risk family violence perpetrators. It is hoped an ongoing policy response can be devised by the Department of Justice for the ever-increasing problem of family violence.
However, this being the case, it is still disheartening to know the number of family violence incidents in Tasmania during the 2018-19 year was 3579. This is above the year before, well above the national average of 3285 reports and continues a trend of rising incidents over the past five years.
The annual report states the increased levels of reporting may suggest a change in culture in the community with greater levels of awareness and reduced levels of tolerance for family violence. This may very well be true, but I believe this would be worth investigating further and finding more concrete reasons for the continuing rise rather than a suggestion of changing culture or reduced levels of tolerance.
Having a more solid idea would additionally assist the Safe Families Coordination Unit to best target the resources to most effectively address this scourge in our community. I encourage the department to devise a way to gain a better understanding of this. I note I made this exact point when noting last year's annual report and I am disappointed nothing still seems to have been done about this.
Another big development for Tasmania Police during the 2018-19 year was the implementation of Project Authenticate, which delivered body worn cameras to frontline police officers statewide. The benefits in this have been two-fold: first, total offences against police have been reduced; and, second, this technology has enabled police to better collect contemporaneous evidence at crime scenes to support investigations and prosecutions.
This has continued not only with police, but also with parking inspectors in Launceston, who also wear cameras. Having spoken to them they tell me they are having many fewer confrontations with people complaining about parking fines and meters when they are wearing the cameras, so the cameras certainly benefit many.
The 2018-19 year saw more progress being made by way of enhanced recruitment and proactive care of police officers in the force. The pledge by the Tasmanian Government to increase the number of full-time equivalent officers by 125 FTEs to a total of 1358 FTEs across the state has made progress.
A mix of new recruits and accelerated training program members joined Tasmania Police, which boosted the total number of FTEs to 1286 by the end of the year. As this recruitment continues to be rolled out, I am optimistic about the capacity for qualified candidates to join Tasmania Police and have a positive effect on our communities.
Project Wellbeing is a further initiative to proactively address health and wellbeing of the emergency services workforce across the entire department. This wellness program will prove more options for staff and volunteers and their families to access resources and information on general health and wellbeing. The establishment of a new wellbeing unit within the department is a very positive step forward and shows care for emergency services staff is a priority, as it should be.
The annual report also indicates the result in the National Survey of Community Satisfaction with Policing, which shows that 85 per cent of Tasmanians are generally satisfied with policing services. That is comfortably above the previous year at 79 per cent and the national average for the current year of 80 per cent. Has any analysis been done on what this score can be attributed to?
What measures have the department and Tasmania Police taken more generally to engage proactively with our community so the satisfaction levels can be maintained and perhaps even improved upon?
It is also a welcome development to see broadened diversity within Tasmania Police, with 34 per cent female participation in the Sergeants Qualifying Program and 44 per cent female participation in the Inspector Qualifying Program over the year.
I am fully aware of some of the very talented and able women who serve the community in their work with Tasmania Police. I wholeheartedly support any initiative that supports them to succeed and thrive in a position which greatly benefits from their input.
A further welcome development is the recent announcement of a $7 million refurbishment to the Launceston Police Headquarters, which is one of the oldest police stations in the state. I can see the Launceston headquarters from my electorate office window.
Mr Dean - In fact you can see your whole electorate from your electorate office.
Ms ARMITAGE - I probably could if I stood on the top of Henty House.
Ms Forrest - Good call, member for Windermere, I am with you on that one.
Ms ARMITAGE - I accept that I, like a couple of the other members here, are fortunate to have smaller electorates in size, but obviously we have the same number of constituents. I am very fortunate that I do not have the amount of travel that some members - such as the member for McIntyre - have. She has a lot of travel, and she does it very well.
Ms Rattray - And she loves it. She speeds around -
Ms ARMITAGE - I do not know that she speeds around. As I said, I have been in the car with the member for Windermere when we have been travelling within the suburbs and his car has told him on regular occasions -
Ms Forrest - Gets up to 100 there, does he?
Ms ARMITAGE - His car often tells him that he is going over the speed limit.
Ms Forrest - I will ring the commissioner.
Mr Dean - Who needs friends like Rosemary?
Ms ARMITAGE - He has even named her. I am just trying to remember her name, member for Windermere: is it Mabel? You have named that lady who tells you that you are speeding. What was her name?
Mr Dean - Yes, I have - Lois.
Mr Willie - And you want to pull the signs down.
Ms ARMITAGE - For those who do not know, my nickname in this place is Lois - but that is not because it is me.
Ms Forrest - Yes, it is; it truly is.
Mr Dean - She is nagging me all the time.
Ms ARMITAGE - We should not be laughing about such a serious subject.
As I said, I can see the Launceston headquarters building from my electorate office window, and I can confirm it could definitely use some tender loving care.
I regularly attend the Launceston Police Headquarters as well for my work as an independent person. I can certainly attest as well that the inside of it certainly can do with some tender loving care, particularly the interview room where I sit with the young offenders. It is just a little box with cameras in it. It really is very primitive. I am pleased to see they are giving it some attention. The officers have to work in there. I am not too worried about the offenders having to be in there, but the officers are continually working in these small rooms. They certainly could do with better facilities.
According to the Tasmania Police Northern Commander Brett Smith - Brett, I have to say, does do a very good job; we catch up regularly for debriefs - this station houses 210 staff, a far cry from the original 120 staff that the building catered for when it was first built, probably back in your time, member for Windermere.
Mr Dean - I was not there when it was first built.
Ms ARMITAGE - I look forward to work getting underway, and for the police working at Launceston headquarters to have upgraded, more fit-for-purpose facilities to ensure that police can get on with the vital work they do.
The 2018-19 year for the Department of Fire, Police and Emergency Management has been a very big one. While it was not without its challenges, there is certainly much to be optimistic about, seeing the progress which is being made towards internal wellbeing and community protection. I look forward to seeing further progress being made towards proactive steps to care for those most vulnerable in our community - the elderly, women and children in particular - and the best managed emergencies when they do occur.
In closing, I very much appreciate the work of Tasmania Police. Its members do a fantastic job. I think, as we have heard said in this place times before, they run in when everyone else is running out. I think that sometimes we might be driving along the highway - I certainly agree with the member for Rosevears, I am extremely grateful and always make sure that every car I have has adaptive cruise control. Even going through small towns, you hit an 80 kilometre per hour speed zone or you hit a 60 or 50 one. I must admit I put it in the 80 to 60 to 50, because it is really easy to start thinking about something and just forget the speed you are doing.
All jokes aside - I do make a bit of a joke and give the member for Windermere a bit of a hard time - but it is difficult in the modern cars. They are so quiet and they speed so easily that you really do not know. I really appreciate Tasmania Police. I have asked the commander on a couple of occasions if I could have a couple of lights, even just a little flashing light, on my car coming down to Hobart. So many times you see people, when you are doing the speed limit, just speeding past you at the speed of light. I said to Brett, 'If I could just have a flashing light, I am sure it would slow them down.'. But unfortunately -
A member - No flashing light.
Ms ARMITAGE - No, no flashing light, not even a police siren.
Mrs Hiscutt - I have a pair of handcuffs if you want.
Ms ARMITAGE - I am not sure if you are even allowed to have handcuffs, so I could not pull anyone over. I really appreciate the work of Tasmania Police. It will soon be time for the next report to come out, but I appreciate and I note the report.