Mr NORTHE (Morwell) — It is a pleasure to rise this afternoon to speak on the Victoria Police Amendment (Merit-based Transfer) Bill 2016. As many members have said about this bill, it seems to contain sensible provisions. As per the second-reading speech, basically at the moment we have a situation where all the general duties positions are currently filled by an expression of interest process. I suppose those involved in the police force and the Police Association Victoria do not necessarily like the notion that the police officer at the top of the list gets the job in many cases. As part of the 2015 enterprise bargaining agreement and in agreement with the Chief Commissioner of Police and the police association the bill essentially provides that general duties constable and senior constable positions at country locations should be filled via a merit-based selection process. That is a sensible initiative and is one that I think all of us are very supportive of. From a country and regional perspective it is important that we do get those police members who have the adequate expertise placed in those regional locations across the state. I might say that I am a proud supporter of the police in this state. I think on the whole they do an outstanding job in very traumatic and difficult circumstances in many cases. I know when we came to government in 2010 one of the key features of our policy was ensuring that Victoria did not have the lowest number of police per capita. It was a record that we did not like to hold, and it is something that we changed with the recruitment of 1700 new police officers and 940 protective services officers. From a local point of view, I have five police stations in my electorate or part thereof, and I clarify that the jurisdiction of the Moe police station is shared between me and the member for Narracan. Mr M. O’Brien interjected. Mr NORTHE — He is a good Nationals member for Narracan. The Morwell police station and Traralgon police station are major police stations which operate 24/7 in relatively close proximity. We also have the Churchill police station and the Boolarra police station, which is a one-man station. I might say for the record I know a number of local police officers very well, and I commend the work that they do. As I said, they do a great job. I know from talking to a lot of local police members and getting their feedback that prior to the 2010 election those police stations were really struggling with vacancies. There certainly were not enough police officers. They needed more and it was a real struggle for those stations to fill vacancies. I well remember a conversation I had with a senior sergeant from the Traralgon police station in 2009. At that particular time there were 30-odd vacancies at the Traralgon police station, and I suppose it was little wonder that police members were suffering from burnout. It made it very difficult for local police members, and I think that with that came a lot of resentment. They resented doing the job that they initially started out loving and wanting to do. They had wanted to make a difference in their community, but a lot of them lost that desire purely and simply because they were overworked and overstressed. I am really proud, as I stand here today, of the difference the coalition government made to increasing police numbers. Today those police stations are reasonably well resourced and certainly a lot better than they were in the past. I think it has made a difference to those police members and the whole vibe around the police stations, and for those within the ranks there is a lot more positivity around, purely and simply, because they do have those resources available to them. One statistic from the Morwell electorate which I am not that proud of is that we score well above average in terms of crime rates per capita, and therefore the work the police do is critical. It is a very high workload that they have, as I said, in difficult circumstances. It does not matter whether that includes attending accidents, bringing criminals to justice, dealing with family violence issues or working around entertainment precincts, the work they do in protecting and serving their community is probably not appreciated enough, but from my personal point of view of course I do. Indeed I work with the police in many forums, probably like many members of Parliament. We all work with our local police services. In Traralgon there is an entertainment precinct and we have what is called the Traralgon CBD Safety Committee. We meet regularly at the Traralgon police station, obviously with the police but also with the council, the local business community, including the entertainment businesses, and the community more generally. Over time the police have done a great job in directing some initiatives that have really made a difference in terms of some of the violence that had unfortunately occurred across that entertainment precinct over a period of years. All members of the committee have done a great job, but the police have been driving it, using additional CCTV, holding some blitzes and using the additional resources they have available to them. They have been able to make a difference to community safety in that precinct. In the family violence sector many regions have a specific family violence section of the police force that does a great job. While we cannot police our way out of family violence, it is an important component of dealing with it, and the police, I think, on the whole do a great job in addressing those particular issues. From a road safety perspective I have been chair of the local L2P program, which helps disadvantaged youth to get their 120 hours of learner probation driving. They are linked with mentors, and I know that police are very much part of that program locally. I was proud recently to be part of the establishment of a multidisciplinary centre in Morwell, where victims of sexual assault can come together on the one site. I think there are five or six centres across the state now. Having talked to the local sexual offences and child abuse investigation team members of the police force I know their workload unfortunately is very, very high. They are able to work out of that facility with the Centre Against Sexual Assault staff and departmental staff. If you think about the impact on them of the types of things they have to witness when they are trying to prosecute people for sexual assault, you can only admire them. They do a fantastic job and a lot of work. Just last Saturday morning I was out at Boolarra. I mentioned earlier that there is a one-man police station there. I was at the folk festival. I was not singing, but I was out there having a look around. I ran into the local officer of the one-man station, Gary Mills. I think Gary is indicative of a person who has great respect in the community. Gary has been in the police force for over 40 years now and will be retiring in June of this year. We had a good chat about events, incidents and accidents along the way. He is a great person, and he will be very difficult to replace. I did ask him that very question: ‘I hope you are going to be replaced, Gary, because we do not want to see the demise of one-man police stations, particularly in that community’. He assured me that was not the case. People like Gary are the salt of the earth. They love their jobs, and they want to make a difference in their communities. That is why they do the job in the first place. Gary is a prime example of this bill, helping to make sure that police officers are put in positions in country stations on a merit basis. It is important that we do that. Hopefully I will get back on Thursday night to a police service medal ceremony on my way home. It will give me, and hopefully other members of Parliament more generally, an opportunity to recognise the efforts and contributions of our police members, particularly in our regional areas, where they give so much to our communities.