Secretary Wayne Gatt
Putting our members’ safety front and centre
January is generally meant to be a quiet period of transition into the new year, but this year due to the prominence of issues of law and order in Victoria, it’s been anything but.
Last year The Police Association worked to shine a light on an issue our members have told us rates highly on their list of priorities, and understandably so – their safety at work.
Our successful campaign to bring about new laws that will bring those who ram police cars to justice was just the beginning of a wider focus on police safety.
Unless you were away in January, you will have seen and read a series of profile stories that highlighted just how badly our members can be let down at court when they are victims of vicious assaults at work. Two cases that were brought to public attention show how the system can fail our members and the wider community.
We saw an offender who punched one of our members several times, causing her serious facial injuries, walk away with just 200 hours of community work, a sentencing decision now subject to appeal proceedings.
We heard about the experience and saw graphic evidence of the injury another member suffered after he was kicked square in the face by a young attacker, who was granted bail despite pleas from the bar table for the court to consider the community interest.
These are not isolated incidents and the reasons for outcomes such as these are many and varied.
It’s why much of our work in the coming year will continue to focus on keeping you safe at your work. We will keep telling your stories until this issue is satisfactorily addressed.
Through the Protecting Police Harm Working Party with Government and Victoria Police,The Police Association is advocating strongly for changes to elements of sentencing law to close the wide gaps that allow offenders to avoid mandatory jail time that should attach to matters where police are injured in assaults at work.
We are also advocating for legislative change to ensure that situations where police or their families are threatened or intimidated can be dealt with more readily, and that greater attention and deterrence is attached to the assault of police with weapons. We also need to focus on processes and decision making that sees lesser charges preferred or plea deals struck in cases like these, as it ultimately undermines the sentencing potential open to courts.
Debate about Youth Crime
This period also generated much political debate regarding street-gang-related crime by young offenders. It was a debate fueled by a string of incidents that highlighted issues that our members confront daily.
For years, our members have done considerable work in an attempt to control and curb youth offending. As I remarked in a recent opinion piece in the Herald Sun, ordinary Victorians have sadly had to witness what many police are challenged by every day.
There is no trendy fix to this problem and it’s not one that police alone can solve. It’s an issue that police know requires other institutions to buy into. It’s imperative that our courts recognise the gravity of criminal offending when it occurs, and that our state and federal governments look at ways to better support and address the social issues at the heart of this current problem.
When it comes to the role of our members – we believe that Victoria Police needs to refocus by placing a far greater emphasis on increased visibility and responsiveness within the community. It’s what the community wants and expects of us.
Too often there’s a temptation to focus purely on a taskforce-related approach in response to new and emerging crimes, to the point where we become bogged down in a vicious cycle of `catch and release’ policing. All the while, the area most depleted in our force in recent years has been at the front line, where crime is prevented.
We will monitor the Staff Allocation Model with a focus on this need, but we will also continue to call on Victoria Police and the Government to introduce meaningful measures that provide minimum service delivery, as detailed in our five-year policing priorities document in December. This document, entitled Your Safety: Our Priority is available for members to view on our website.
Provisional Acceptance of Mental Injury Claims
Another key issue articulated in this document is the need for reform to the WorkCoverprocess to better support the needs of police who suffer mental injury. The current system is adversarial and often impedes a member’s access to proper diagnosis, support and treatment that is so critical in assisting recovery.
We have advocated to the Government the need for urgent reform and the benefits that could be achieved by adopting a process of provisional acceptance for police mental injury claims. In this current environment, where the obvious pressures of policing continue to mount on our members, we hope that this dialogue leads to timely improvements that support those who deserve so much more than they are currently receiving.
In early preparation for the 2019 Enterprise Bargaining (EB) round, The Association will be visiting members in over 100 workplaces across the state from between April and June to further discuss our planning and progress. We will also be conducting a survey of members to gauge opinions and views following our first round of member consultation visits held last year, and the many focus groups that have been conducted with members to date on key issues.
We want our next EB log of claims to reflect your views and for the outcomes of negotiations to meet the challenges you confront at work every day. To ensure that it does this, we encourage you to complete the survey once it is released and make every effort to attend a forthcoming meeting so that you can tell us how we can best represent you in the process.