Justice Legislation Amendment (Body-worn Cameras and Other Matters) Bill 2017


Resumed from 7 September; motion of Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture).

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) (10:58:26) — I am pleased to rise this morning to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Body-worn Cameras and Other Matters) Bill 2017. I say at the outset that the coalition parties support the bill. We believe that creating a legislative framework for the use of body-worn cameras by members of Victoria Police, which also includes in the definition in the bill the use of tablet devices such as iPads and phones with cameras and recording devices. I think they are reasonable additional tools to be made available to Victoria Police, and accordingly we are going to support the bill.

The bill is quite a small bill which seeks to amend the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 to allow for the use of body-worn cameras and tablet devices to record certain private conversations without a warrant, being conversations which a police officer is not a party to and where the recording of those conversations is incidental to the overt wearing of a camera or carriage of a tablet device.

The bill also amends the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958 to allow for disclosure to prescribed bodies of certain protected identifying information relating to convicted sex offenders. The bill is relatively straightforward in what it seeks to do. The main provisions of the bill are clauses 4 and 5, which allow for the use of body-worn cameras and tablet devices by police and certain other prescribed persons to record private conversations to which they are not a party when the conversations are inadvertent, unexpected or incidental to the course of their duty. Currently the provisions of the Surveillance Devices Act essentially create an offence for a person to record a private conversation in which they are not a party and create some fairly substantial criminal penalties for doing so. This amendment to section 6 of the Surveillance Devices Act by inserting additional exemptions from the provisions of section 6(1) to provide for the use of these devices by police will allow for material that is collected by these cameras and tablet devices to be used by police in the course of their duties.

Clauses 6 and 7 of the bill extend the definition of protected information under the Surveillance Devices Act to include information obtained through the use of body-worn cameras and tablet devices and make it an offence to communicate or publish this information except for permitted purposes. Clause 8 of the bill allows for the disclosure of information to any prescribed person or body for the purpose of enabling them to perform a prescribed statutory function.

So the provision of this capability to members of Victoria Police by the removal of the current prohibition that exists in the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 is one we believe is appropriate. We believe that the use of cameras and tablets devices by Victoria Police are a useful tool for the gathering of evidence but also are probably more relevant to the recording of events and circumstances in which members of Victoria Police find themselves. Many of the environments in which Victoria Police members are required to participate are matters involving conflict and matters involving dispute, often physical dispute and violence, and to be able to use devices to record those events so there is an indisputable record of what happened, who was in attendance and what the events were is a valuable addition to the suite of tools available to Victoria Police.

This is not just from the perspective of Victoria Police being able to use information for pursuing prosecution of criminal matters. It also provides a protection to the parties who engage with Victoria Police as to what occurs during an incident or during an interaction. One of the things we can say about Victoria Police is they have a very strong reputation for integrity in this state, which has stood over a very long period of time. That is not necessarily something that can be said of police forces in other jurisdictions outside of Australia.

Barely a month goes by where we do not see stories circulating in the international news, particularly from the United States — some of their state police, some of their county police — where abuses by those police forces and misconduct by members of those police forces come to public light, often through a camera worn by a police officer or in a vehicle driven by a police officer or recorded by a third party. We have seen certainly in international jurisdictions a number of instances where there has been police misconduct which has been identified by the use of camera technology.

Fortunately that has never been a feature of Victoria Police over a very long period of time, but the availability of this tool will of course provide further certainty for police who may be accused of misconduct that their conduct attending events is recorded and can therefore be used by them to demonstrate there was no misconduct, and where people believe that they have been the subject of misconduct there will also be a record. So we believe this is a sensible step in providing the list of amendments which will require the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 to allow the use of cameras for the recording of private conversations which would otherwise be prohibited by the current provisions of the Surveillance Devices Act.

The coalition, however, believes the bill does not go far enough. The bill is limited basically to the creation of an exemption for members of Victoria Police against the current provisions of the Surveillance Devices Act. We believe that the same provisions should apply with respect to other first responders. We believe that the provisions should be extended, for example, to people who are custodial officers working within Corrections Victoria and to emergency workers more broadly beyond Victoria Police, including people such as protective services officers, operational members of Ambulance Victoria, people employed by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, people employed by the Country Fire Authority (CFA) in operational roles or members of CFA brigades in their various definitions, other firefighters who are employed within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, which of course do a lot of the public land firefighting, and those people who have operational roles within the Victoria State Emergency Service and other emergency management structures. Of course there is the overarching emergency management framework above the individual agencies.

We believe the technology is useful in the gathering of information and providing of a record of what occurs at events, and we believe that is equally as important for other emergency first responders and corrections officers as it is for Victoria Police. The coalition proposed amendments in the other place when this bill was debated in the lower house. The shadow Attorney-General, Mr Pesutto, proposed a suite of amendments which would extend this framework to the other emergency workers and first responders, and it is our intention to pursue those amendments here in the Council. I would ask if those amendments could now be circulated.

Opposition amendments circulated by Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) pursuant to standing orders.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS — We note that Ambulance Victoria has also recognised the value of body-worn cameras in its operations, and of course regrettably we have seen an increasing number of instances where ambulance first responders have been subject to attacks when they have attended emergency incidents and other call-outs. That has become an increasing feature of their work environment in recent years, and the capacity for ambulance officers to carry and use body-worn cameras to record their attendances, their responses and what reception they receive is an important opportunity.

Accordingly, Ambulance Victoria is currently undertaking a trial, which I understand was announced in December of last year and commenced on a six-month basis in June of this year. So Ambulance Victoria have already commenced their own trial, and what is baffling of course is that the legislation before the house today from the government actually does not provide for that trial. The legislation provides only a framework for Victoria Police and does not pick up a framework which would accommodate Ambulance Victoria.

We believe the fact that Ambulance Victoria has launched its own trial supports the need for the coalition's amendments, which were, as I said, first proposed by Mr Pesutto in the other house. When the bill moves into committee we will be moving our suite of amendments to expand the scope of this bill so that it is available for ambulance officers and it is available for those other emergency services first responders that I outlined, along with custodial officers.

We have seen, as the house will be well aware, a significant number of incidents occur within the custodial corrections system over the last couple of years — violence issues in the youth justice system as well as in the adult prison system — and to have the capacity to use body-worn cameras to again put beyond doubt what is occurring in responses and what is occurring in incidents we believe would be a valuable addition to the tools which are available to custodial officers.

We will be seeking to add that as part of our amendments when the bill goes into committee.

We think the framework is a good one for Victoria Police and we support that, but we believe equally that the technology and capability should be available for other first responders. Given that the ambulance trial is underway already, we are baffled that the government itself did not include ambulances in the bill. It is yet another demonstration of where we are seeing half-baked legislation from this government. We will accordingly move to include Ambulance Victoria in the bill along with those other first responders. We look forward to this bill passing in the Council today expeditiously.

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