Mr NORTHE (Morwell) — I am pleased to rise this afternoon to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Protective Services Officers and Other Matters) Bill 2017. I wish to refer my comments to two aspects of the bill, including the banning of cash payments for scrap metal. As other members have noted, it is pleasing to see that the government is adopting coalition policy. This is a sensible provision. It is something that the coalition announced on 10 April 2016, and I know it enjoys wide support from a variety of sectors, stakeholders and industries, including the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce.
Ms Thomas interjected.
Mr NORTHE — I can tell the member for Macedon that I know that because I was Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs at the time. That is why I support such a very good policy. It does make sense, and when you have a look at the high number of incidents where cars are stolen in Victoria, it is really just a shame that car owners have to contend with that. I am sure I am not the only member of Parliament who has had their car nicked in previous years. It is a very unsavoury, awful feeling. It leaves a really empty pit in your stomach when you realise that somebody has stolen a vehicle of yours. I well remember as a young fellow saving quite a bit of money during an apprenticeship and purchasing a HX Holden Kingswood. It was a bright red station wagon. It was very visible.
An honourable member interjected.
Mr NORTHE — Not the Kingswood! Exactly right. I came out one morning and realised that it had been stolen from the front nature strip. It was a very unsavoury feeling. Unfortunately I am only one of many thousands of Victorians who have had that awful experience. Any measures we can put in place to deter the stealing of vehicles and the subsequent selling of them to scrap metal dealers make sense. I certainly advocate for that provision of the bill.
I want to refer to other elements of the bill which I think are very important, particularly for my local community. These are around the protective services officers (PSOs) and making sure that they have more flexibility and that there are more of them. In the Gippsland region we have PSOs based at the Traralgon railway station. I was proud to be a part of a coalition government that initiated the rollout of protective services officers, despite some cynicism and criticism in certain quarters. I do not think anybody could deny what a great success they have been not only across the metropolitan area but also in some areas of regional Victoria as well.
Mr Watt interjected.
Mr NORTHE — I was just reminded that certainly on this side of the house we did not refer to them as plastic police. They play a very important role at our train stations. To provide the PSOs with greater flexibility is really important. Indeed today we have in the gallery the Latrobe City Youth Council. I know from speaking with the team earlier — they came down on the train today — that safety on our public transport system and at our train stations is absolutely critical. It gives reassurance to many of our passengers, commuters and those at railway stations that the PSOs are there. If you have a look at the number of infringement notices they have given out over the past period of time — they are only relatively new, having been rolled out in 2012 effectively — it is quite amazing. Imagine life without them now. It is pretty hard to fathom. I congratulate all the PSOs for the work they do in the community, and I certainly support the rollout of more in our community.
Members of the Latrobe City Youth Council are here today, and to Nathan, Dancy, Lucas, Sarah and Bella — and to Andrew and Abby, who are looking after them today — we say thank you, because it is important to hear feedback from our younger people. What they have told me today is that coming down on the train they want to feel safe. Having PSOs not only at the stations but being able to be on public transport more generally is critically important. Indeed we come to this place to advocate on behalf of our community. It is not just the youth councillors that are here today; I have received some correspondence in recent times. I am sure that Phillip will not mind me mentioning his name.
Mr Angus — It is too late!
Mr NORTHE — It is too late now, is it not? Phillip is a bus driver in the Latrobe Valley. He has written to me recently about his concerns over what is happening on bus-related public transport in the Latrobe Valley at the moment. As a bus driver, unfortunately he observes fare evasion on a very substantial basis. He sees and witnesses antisocial behaviour on buses, and he believes it is a massive deterrent particularly for elderly people in our community to get from point A to point B simply because they are too scared and do not want to put up with some of the rubbish that occurs on those networks.
I am sure we are not alone in our regional community. Phillip has written to the Minister for Police and the Minister for Public Transport requesting a meeting to discuss a proposal that he has. He firmly believes there is a win-win situation here. It talks in part about the provision in the bill I am talking about today — that is, giving PSOs more flexibility and the ability to be on bus networks to not only patrol but keep people in check, making sure there is enforcement and making sure people are paying their fares as well.
If he can do that in our situation in the Latrobe Valley at the moment and potentially recruit local people into the position of PSOs, there is a win win here. I am in principle very supportive of Phillip’s proposal — I think it is worth contemplation — but as I say, I am pleased to see that part of the bill deals with better flexibility for our protective services officers.
Just on Sunday I received an email from a concerned parent about his travels with his son and his son’s friend on a V/Line service. It was pretty horrible reading the email. I will not mention this gentleman’s name, but he talks about the aggressive and antisocial behaviour of a commuter on a V/Line service coming into Traralgon. He concedes his seven-year-old son had simply laughed rather loudly, but a fellow commuter then determined that it was okay to go and abuse and chastise and be aggressive with not only the seven-year-old and his friend, but everybody else who wanted to know.
The reason and rationale and excuse that was provided to this parent was simply not good enough. To say that nothing could be done to the aggressive person, the person who has undertaken this antisocial behaviour, is simply not good enough, and it is not an experience that anybody should endure.
I again make the point that if we can have the flexibility for PSOs to actually be on trains, with authorised officers if need be, and conductors, then I think it gives our commuters more confidence to use the system, unlike this particular parent, who has written to me and said he will never go on a train again with his family. That is simply not fair. Travelling on public transport should be a good experience and should be a positive experience, particularly for children, but there are no excuses for having to put up with that type of behaviour.
If this bill helps give more flexibility to PSOs being on public transport, then that is a good thing, but we must make sure that the government rolls out similar initiatives like this in the future. One of the things the coalition said when we were in government was that we wanted to make our public transport system safer. I believe we did that with the rollout of the PSOs, but if we can do even more with initiatives and legislation such as what we are discussing today, then I am sure that is a positive thing, particularly for the likes of Phillip, who has written to me, and the parent who wrote to me about his seven-year-old son’s experience. Hopefully that can be adopted so that these types of behaviour can be eradicated.