Justice Legislation Amendment (Body-Worn Cameras And Other Matters) Bill 2017

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) — I rise to contribute to debate on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Body-worn Cameras and Other Matters) Bill 2017. Modern, high-tech, well-resourced police — that is exactly what the community want, and under the Andrews Labor government that is exactly what the community will get.

In preparing for this bill I did have a look at an article published in the Balance on 8 July 2017, and it was from a police officer, Timothy Roufa. Timothy, in this article, looked at advances in technology in his time serving with a police force, I believe, in the United States and made some reflections on the evolution of technology that he has seen in his time. It states:

The world of law enforcement is very different now than it was when I entered in 2001. In just a relatively few short years technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, changing the way police officers do just about everything. When I first became a cop we didn’t even have computers available to us to use at our stations, much less in our cars. But technological advancements are changing law enforcement.

Now, the unimaginable has not only been imagined but manifested. And there’s no slowing down. From drones in the sky to microcomputers in our glasses, technological advancements abound.

These advancements are here to stay and will only continue as we go on into the future. I think if we look at policing through the lens of time, it is certainly worth noting those significant improvements in the way we are able to investigate crime — to track crime and the way that technology has played a very important role in solving crime. If you take social media and the way law enforcement officials engage the public, these tools are particularly important for making those critical arrests and doing those things that really matter. The use of tablets in cars, the use of smart phones, automatic tag and licence plate recognition readers for police and of course the use of GPS — members will be very familiar with most of these.

We know that every day criminals get more sophisticated and more clever in the way they behave and the way they plan and carry out crime. What is also important is a well-funded police force. The $2 billion from the Andrews Labor government to recruit an additional 3135 new police is a significant investment by this government and something that I am very proud and pleased about. I was particularly pleased to see that 89 new police officers are to be deployed in the Fawkner division of Victoria Police — 36 of them will be in the Hume police service area, which covers Sunbury. This is a new model, an important model that looks at the way that staff are allocated, and this is certainly something that is being very well received by the community. The Andrews Labor government is committed to supporting our community’s police with the resources they need to do this very important work.

I would like to briefly take this opportunity, before I go to a number of specifics contained in the legislation, to thank all of the hardworking men and women of Victoria Police, particularly those who serve in my electorate and communities through Sunbury, Diggers Rest, Bulla, Gladstone Park, Tullamarine and Gowanbrae. They are all working hard to keep the community safe.

This bill amends the Surveillance Devices Act 1999. It will ensure that body cameras can be lawfully activated by Victoria Police when undertaking law enforcement activities and will protect against unauthorised publication of footage captured by these cameras. It certainly is an area that can cause great debate on how and when the footage is recorded and who is saying what at what time, and these are important elements to be considered. This is a well-put-together, well-considered piece of legislation.

The bill amends the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958 to clarify that information about sentences in sexual offence cases can be shared between the courts and entities carrying out statutory functions, including the sex offenders registry operated by Victoria Police. This is a change that I will discuss later in my contribution.

Body-worn cameras are small and battery powered, and they are obviously an advancement. Take a smartphone, which I mentioned earlier, and something like a GoPro — they represent all of that technology in a very small but powerful device. It is this evolution of technology that has made the cameras smaller, stronger and lighter, something we would not have seen 20 years ago. The cameras allow for the capture of audio and video of interactions between police officers and members of the public and real-time capture of video evidence at the scene of a crime. These devices are already used by a number of police forces in jurisdictions throughout Australia and overseas. Currently it is proposed that Victoria Police will begin a trial of the body-worn cameras for general duties in two locations in April 2018. This will be followed in June 2018 by a more in-depth trial.

The use of body-worn camera footage in most circumstances is already permissible under the same laws that govern the use of CCTV footage. Often if you talk to people about that kind of footage, they will raise questions in terms of access to it: how you can access it, who can access it and at what time. However, a body-worn camera used as intended may from time to time inadvertently record private conversations, and this is where this legislation becomes important, particularly when used by police attending an incident at a private residence. Under the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 such instances may constitute an offence, so to address this issue the bill amends that act to ensure that the use of body-worn cameras is explicitly permitted. The bill does not provide a blanket exemption for the use of body-worn cameras. The exemption will only apply to the overt use of body-worn cameras or to use that is incidental to their overt use or is otherwise inadvertent.

It is important to recognise that there are always situations where these issues will be looked at closely, and first and foremost what comes to mind are matters before the court. We know that in those circumstances the use of these cameras will be looked at closely, and it is important that the legislation reflects the needs of Victoria Police but is practical and allows our hardworking men and women of Victoria Police to do the very important work that they do 24/7, 365 days of the year.

In the final couple of minutes I have left I want to discuss information sharing in sexual offence cases. Currently courts are required to provide details of sentences and determination of appeals relating to the registration of a sex offender to the Chief Commissioner of Police as soon as practicable. However, the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958, which I mentioned earlier in my contribution, restricts a person from publishing information that is likely to lead to the identification of victims in cases involving sexual offences. This has led to sentencing remarks being anonymised before they are provided to the sex offenders registry. Redacting court documents imposes a significant administrative burden on the courts; it is also the cause of undue delay in the provision of details to the police, making it difficult for the sex offenders registry to execute its duties in a timely and efficient manner. The bill amends the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act to facilitate disclosure of information to the sex offenders registry, which is incredibly important. These amendments will enable courts to share sentencing remarks with the sex offenders registry without the requirement to redact them first.

The Andrews Labor government want to see a modern, high-tech, well-resourced, well-funded Victoria Police. That is why we funded 3135 new officers with a $2 billion investment. It is a significant investment that will see our communities become stronger and fairer. This government will ensure through this legislation that we make the rollout of high-tech body cameras practical and accessible, and I very proudly commend the bill to the house.