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Victoria -building a police state on the quiet

Talk’s cheap but the Vic Gov’t is walking to the same old beat

American states are beginning to reckon with violent and dysfunctional police departments; taking initial steps to respond to demands for funding to be moved away from heavily armed police departments, and into community programs and infrastructure.

But here in Victoria, Daniel Andrews continues to build the police state.

Sworn operational police increased by over 500 over 2 years ( 2015-17) . Add in unsworn police (which includes PSOs ) this increase was 1,232 to over 14,000 operational police in Victoria.

In 2018, 42 “Youth Specialist Officers,” were funded by the gov’t to target high impact serious offending youth across the State. Without public accountability they have morphed into generalist police and showing a concerning interest in low offending but vulnerable youth .

 Now we are seeing the push to expand the reach of Protective Service Officers (‘PSOs’) to shopping centres and main streets. These police have much less training and carry weapons a toxic mix that will easily escalate in confrontation with vulnerable citizens .

This expanded role for PSOs will come about if the Police and Emergency Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2020, is passed & will make armed PSOs a permanent fixture in our shopping centres and other community spaces we cherish without any evidence for why this is necessary. 

Lisa Neville, Minister for Police and Emergency Services, asserts in the Bill’s second reading speech that PSOs deter crime and provide community security.  But a 2016 Victorian Auditor General’s Officer report on public transport safety found no evidence PSOs on trains have improved community safety and reported that Victoria Police did not have an “effective performance monitoring regime in place to support ongoing development or future advice on the program’s efficiency or effectiveness.”.

PSO’ training is grossly inadequate.  They complete a mere 12 weeks of training, before they are able to carry lethal weapons into our most crowded community spaces. There is no place for guns in our shopping centres, or train platforms and never will be. PSOs should be disarmed (at the very least; indeed, there is a strong case that they should be abolished).

Like police, PSOs are not screened at entry with the view to selecting candidates that will help build a culture that respects human rights.  They are not required to have tertiary qualifications.  And they are subject to grossly inadequate accountability; with all but a small percentage of complaints against them being internally investigated.   It’s a pretty low entry bar for a public service role that bestows significant powers of arrest, search, and use of force.

We should heed the experience in the USA of poorly trained and managed police officers ( with weapons) .

We know that police and PSOs police Indigenous Australians and people of colour disproportionately.  On 3 June 2020, Dan Andrews tweeted that “it’s time to talk less and listen more” citing the powerful words of Bangerang/Wiradjuri woman, Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, and, Taungurung Traditional Owner, Marcus Stewart, who called on the Andrews government to “take a knee” and not forget the names of Aboriginal people who have died in custody.

It’s easy to tweet about listening.  But actions are more important – and they are missing.

Following the horrific death in police custody of Yorta Yorta woman, Tanya Day, who was arrested on a train, for public drunkenness, Andrews promised to abolish the offence (which PSOs disproportionately police).  But a bill has yet to materialise; instead he quietly introduces a bill to expand PSOs reach, without improving accountability. There should be no expansion without first striking the offence of public drunkenness off the statute books and disarming the PSOs.

Andrews has also failed to implement a single recommendation of the parliamentary inquiry into the external oversight of police corruption and misconduct in Victoria (2018). The report recommended independent investigations of police and PSOs be carried out by a dedicated Police Corruption and Misconduct Division within the Independent Broad-based Anti Corruption Commission (IBAC).  Two years later, this (and other critical recommendations – there were 69 in total) has not been taken up.

Indeed as noted on ABC radio yesterday (18/6/2020) by Kim Wells, MP, Shadow Special Minister of State and Chair of the Committee that initiated the inquiry, the government has not even responded to the Inquiry’s report, despite being required to within 6 months of it being tabled. 

Far from independent investigations, we retain predominately internal police investigations, with occasional ‘oversight’ or investigation by IBAC. But the independent ‘watchdog’ is asleep in its kennel.  It does not even list PSOs or Police as an organisation you can complain about, on its homepage.  If you went to its website, you’d have to second-guess you were in the right spot at all.  It’s as though its actively discouraging complaints being made to it about police and PSOs. 

Victoria needs investment in public housing, in community.  Not in police.  We need to support people, not create a police state that funnels people into the criminal justice system.  Victoria is the most progressive state in the country and it’s time to rapidly reflect on the role of police and PSOs, reduce the scale of their reach, and make sure there is proper accountability for what they do and independent investigations when things go wrong and complaints are levelled by the public, against them.

While we do have PSOs, they should be disarmed.  There’s no place for guns to encroach our shopping centres, train platforms and other public spaces.  We need to abolish public drunkenness, quick smart.  We need to implement independent investigations immediately.   We aren’t America and we should be doing everything we can to steer away from that dystopian, violent police state future where sections of our community live in fear of the very state that’s meant to protect them.  Andrew’s push to expand PSOs’ reach is an absolutely a retrograde step and must be fought.

Sophie Ellis, Lawyer, Youthlaw

Youthlaw opposes push for PSOs in shopping centres & main streets

Victoria Police and Government want Protective Service Officers (PSOs) to be allowed to continue to patrol shopping centres and main streets beyond the pandemic.

Youthlaw opposes this:

PSOs have limited training – only about one third of the training of other police officers.  Yet they have a significant powers including carrying guns, issuing fines, searching & detaining & exercising move on powers.

The lack of training for PSOs, coupled with the lack of an independent complaints system, leaves vulnerable groups open to unfair, over-policing. It is disappointing that one of the major grounds of arrest during the state of emergency has been drunk in public place – especially when the government has committed to abolishing this offence.

We already hear about incidents at train stations involving PSOs and excessive fining of young people with known vulnerabilities. Young people will be particularly vulnerable to over-policing with PSOs patrolling shopping centres and main streets post pandemic. These are some of the few public places that young people are able to gather together in relative safety, and which don’t cost any money.

We call for a review of the PSO program rather than expansion of their duties. 

We also call for independent investigation of all misconduct complaints against PSO and police.

We’re still here to help you during COVID-19

Youthlaw is here to support young people during COVID-19.

You can contact us for help if :

  • Are confused about what you can and can’t do under the new COVID-19 rules
  • Feel unsafe at home. Or, you are worried about the safety of someone in your family during the COVID-19 isolation measures.
  • Want advice about a fine you got for being out and about
  • Have to go to court
  • Were treated unfairly by police
  • Are having trouble paying your rent or bills because you lost your job or aren’t working as much

Although we are not currently running our drop in clinics or face-to-face appointments you can still get legal information and advice, Monday to Friday 9am- 5pm by:

Calling us to speak confidentially to a lawyer on 9113 9500.

Or sending us an email to

We know that family violence can get worse during these times, especially when people are home together, all the time.

Family Violence includes:

  • Someone physically hurting you in any way (hitting, kicking you etc) ;
  • Using the Coronavirus to control or frighten you;
  • Stopping you from getting medical treatment that you need;
  • Restricting your movements around the house for example, saying that you can only stay in one room; or
  • Monitoring your mobile and/or email.

If you are in immediate danger, please call 000.

If you are not in danger right now, but would like to talk to a lawyer or a youth worker about family violence, you can speak to our family violence program by calling our main phone line on 9113 9500, or emailing us at

Please note: We are not a crisis service.

  • If you feel unsafe or threatened or fearful for yourself, a child or family member, please call 000.
  • If you are in a crisis, call Safe Steps, Victoria’s 24/7 family violence response line on 1800 015 188.
  • If you need an interpreter, call the Telephone Interpreter Service (24 hours) on 131 450. They will connect you with the service you want.

Young people are being punished for being victims of childhood abuse & neglect

Sentencing Advisory Council Crossover report

28 June 2019

The Sentencing Advisory Council Crossover Kids report into vulnerable children in the criminal justice system  released yesterday,  is a powerful analysis of a historical & current failure to adequately address the trauma of childhood abuse & neglect.

This is a timely report given the recent Vic Government budget announcement of expansions & new prisons to be built.

It is quite clear from this report that adequately addressing the trauma of childhood abuse & neglect would substantially reduce prison numbers.

The report tells us that young people are being fast tracked into the criminal justice system. They are being punished for being abused in childhood.  Of all children sentenced or diverted in the Children’s Court in 2016 & 2017 (a total of 5,063 children) 1938 or 38% had a history of child protection.

  • 58% of those offending between 10 & 15 had a child protection history. Previous studies have found early offending to be a strong predictor of re-offending & adult imprisonment
  • A high proportion of young people on remand have a child protection history.
  • 1 in 2 in youth detention had a child protection background
  • Multiple placements in care was a prominent feature (1 in 2 had 5 or more placements )
  • Residential unit care was a prominent feature ( 58% in residential care /10% in other care )
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) young people were over represented by a factor of 11.5

It is time that the trauma that children have experienced is adequately recognised and addressed.

There are simple actions the Victorian government can take:

  1. Early and adequate therapeutic care, counselling & support for all children experiencing childhood abuse, including at opportune moments such as early offending.  We note a similar recommendation from the Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos (Always was ,Always will be Koori Children – 2016 )as well as many other recommendations, in regard to Koori children in the child protection system.
  2. Improved care in child protection – Residential care and multiple placements are clearly inadequate and very harmful. The Vic Gov’t has signalled intention to move young people out of residential care; however more needs to be done. It can’t be temporary /inadequate fixes such as caravan park accommodation.
  3. Review of bail laws and guidelines to ensure that young people with a child protection background are not disproportionately impacted because of lack of a home to be bailed to.
  4. Legislative guidelines to all courts sentencing children that they must take into account the child’s experience of abuse, trauma & neglect, parental death, loss, removal from family or experience of out-of-home care and how these circumstances relate to the child’s offending; the need to ensure that the child has a safe, stable and secure place to live; or the need to protect the child from harm or the risk of harm. Currently NO such requirements exist in sentencing guidelines
  5. Government initiated protocols to reduce involvement of police in residential homes, those results in charging of young people.
  6. Raise the age of criminal responsibility

Taking action will reduce youth crime & prisons numbers. What could be better for the gov’t and the community?

The report is 1 of 2 to be released. The 2nd will drill down to the type & extent of abuse experienced by those in the criminal justice system.  We expect this will reveal that often those most severely sentenced in the criminal justice system are those who have been most severely abused.

It is important we all recognise that most young people with a child protection history do not offend. The number of child offenders with a child protection history was 1,938 over the 2 years studied whereas in the year 2015-16 there were almost 15,000 substantiated child protection cases and close to 10,000 children were removed and placed in care.

Find the report at

Ariel Couchman

Young People’s Legal Rights Centre (Youthlaw)