I rise today to make a contribution on the Police Legislation Amendment (Road Safety Camera Commissioner and Other Matters) Bill 2019 that is before the house. I note that this bill addresses primarily three matters. Firstly, it seeks to redress the unlawful execution of warrants by protective services officers operating on the rail network. Secondly, the bill responds to the road safety camera commissioner’s recommendations following the 2017 ransomware virus attack on a number of the state’s speed cameras, and lastly, it makes it easier for Victoria Police to dispose of unclaimed lost property.
The first aspect of the bill is perhaps the most delicate, dealing as it does with the granting of retrospective powers to protective services officers to execute warrants. Laws made after the fact should always be dealt with with the utmost caution. It is perhaps one of our most potentially dangerous powers as elected representatives and legislators to create or amend laws that apply to past actions or omissions, and it is a power we should exercise with great care. I agree with the government, however, in this instance and believe that the retrospectivity is appropriate. When protective services officers were granted the powers of arrest in 2012, I accept that it was intended to include the power to arrest people who were the subject of an arrest warrant and I accept that the oversight that led to protective services officers acting unlawfully when executing those warrants was an unintended consequence of that legislation. The oversight was somewhat mitigated by the fact that when protective services officers executed warrants they almost always immediately transferred those arrested and in their custody over to Victoria Police in any event, or as soon as it was possible for them to do so. The officers acted in good faith, believing, as they had been trained to do, that they were acting lawfully. The fault lay in the legislation, not the actions of those charged with maintaining a safe and secure environment for the state’s commuters. So, again, I am comfortable with that amendment despite its retrospectivity.
In 2017 many of us were introduced perhaps for the first time to the notion of ransomware—malicious computer viruses that infect a target computer and lock its data behind a near-impenetrable encryption. The creators of the virus typically then demand payment to decrypt the data, usually in the form of so-called untraceable cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. Just such an attack affected dozens of cameras on Victoria’s fixed digital road safety camera system in 2017. A subsequent investigation by the road safety camera commissioner highlighted inadequacies in the reporting of information by the then Department of Justice and Regulation, now the Department of Justice and Community Safety, and the private sector contractors. As outlined by the Minister for Police, these amendments will authorise the department and private camera operators engaged by the department to disclose information in response to a request by the commissioner; further, it will actually compel them to do so. We are all painfully aware of the dramatic spike in the road toll this year. The number of lives lost in 2019 to date has risen by a third compared to the same period last year—218 people tragically snatched from their family, their friends and their community. In the Greater Shepparton region we have lost seven people this year; for the entirety of 2018 we lost four. Something is terribly amiss on our state’s roads. This highlights the very important role of the road safety camera commissioner, especially when it comes to speed. While reporting requirements and data transparency can be pretty dry topics, we cannot forget the purpose of the commissioner and the road safety camera system. They are there to save lives.
Ultimately the purpose of these amendments is to improve the system and strengthen its ability to make Victoria’s roads safer. In Shepparton we had a visit from Minister Pulford during the course of July on her mission of going around the state to discuss road safety issues and to elicit from the community what they saw as the issues. I must say that at the Shepparton RSL club I was really pleased to see such a large number of people come in to talk about road safety issues. It was about the state of the roads, it was about drug testing, it was about drink-driving; there was a sensitivity about the issue of suicide as it pertains to road deaths. I would say that a lot of very useful information was gathered at the session in Shepparton, as I do not doubt it was throughout the state, as those sessions took place in many other regional and metropolitan areas.
I see little controversy in the amendment that allows Victoria Police to dispose of unclaimed lost property and acknowledge their storage capacity for such items is really being tested at the moment. When I recently visited Shepparton police station I noticed the room that they have off to the side with all the lost property in it. My goodness me, it was so full, and it was so full of such random things—bikes, prams—I cannot think of all the different items that were there. It imposes a burden on the police in terms of cataloguing it and maintaining it, and I imagine that even trying to locate people who may have lost things or matching people up to the items that have been regarded as lost must be a big challenge for them. Where space at the Shepparton police station is at a premium, I am sure police will be glad to be able to turn over that property one way or the other much more quickly. A lot of these amendments are really very practical, commonsense ones. I support the bill before the house.