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MEDIA RELEASE: Youth advocates reject proposed new laws expanding PSOs into shopping centres and public spaces

Youthlaw, Victoria’s youth legal centre and YACVic, the state’s youth peak body, have condemned a Bill to expand the reach of Protective Services Officers (PSOs), saying that there is no evidence that PSOs improve
community safety, and that young people and Aboriginal Victorians are among those who will bear the brunt of the increased policing of public space.

The bill, expected to pass through Parliament on Thursday 17 September, amends the Victoria Police Act 2013 to expand the area where PSOs exercise their powers beyond the public transport network, to include places such as
shopping centres, malls and other crowded places.

Youthlaw and YACVic have rejected claims that expanded presence will improve safety, and criticised PSOs lack of training and accountability. The organisations have also questioned the timing of expanded presence
when the Victorian Government has yet to respond to the IBAC Parliamentary Committee Report into the external oversight of police corruption and misconduct in Victoria (2018).

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.

Quotes attributable to Ariel Couchman, CEO, Youthlaw
“There is no evidence that PSOs deter crime or provide community security, and no compelling reason to
expand their powers. We are calling for a review of the PSO program rather than expansion of their duties.”
“PSO training is grossly inadequate, with a mere 12 weeks of training, before they are able to carry lethal weapons into our most crowded community spaces, and have the power to detain and move people on.”

“We already hear about incidents at train stations involving PSOs and excessive fining of particular groups of young people those with mental illness and people of colour. The lack of training for PSOs, coupled with the
lack of an independent complaints system, leaves these kids open to unfair, over-policing.”
“Expanding PSOs at a time when Australia is reflecting on its own shameful history of Aboriginal deaths in custody is utterly tone-deaf.”

Media enquiries: Lanie Harris 0418 552 377 or

Quotes attributable to Katherine Ellis, CEO, YACVic
“Young people will be particularly vulnerable to over-policing post pandemic if PSOs are expanded to patrol shopping centres and main streets. 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.”

“A better and more strategic investment would be in more community activities, job opportunities and supports for vulnerable and marginalised young people.”

Kids who’ve experienced abuse need care, not custody

Children need love, care and protection to thrive, but the reality is that many Australian children suffer abuse and neglect, sometimes at the hand of people closest to them.

During National Child Protection Week (6-12 September) Youthlaw is urging police, lawmakers and other authorities to recognise the impact of childhood abuse and trauma on young people’s later behaviour.

A young person’s brain is not fully developed until they are 25. An experience of abuse during these formative years affects neurological and psychological development and impacts decision-making and behaviour.

Too many young people are acquiring criminal records they can’t escape from, and being fast tracked into youth detention for behaviour that is directly linked to their past experience of trauma, abuse, neglect and parental death.

Nationally, young people in the child protection system were 12 times more likely to be under youth justice supervision from 2014 to 2016 (AIFS, 2017).

The 2019 Crossover Kids report released by the Sentencing Advisory Council found that of all children sentenced or diverted in the Children’s Court in 2016 and 2017 (a total of 5,063 children), 38 per cent had a history of child protection That climbed to  a staggering 50per cent for children sentenced to youth detention (Sentencing Advisory Council, Report 1).

The Crossover Kids report also reveals that the younger a child is at first sentence, the more likely they were to have a child protection background. Of children first sentenced aged 10–13, 54 per cent were the subject of at least one child protection report, 38 per cent were the subject of a child protection order (168 children) and 33 per cent experienced out-of-home care.

Among those who have had contact with child protection, children that have been placed in residential care are arguably our most disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens, and need the most compassion and understanding.

For kids in resi care behaviours such as swearing, breaking a plate or acting out in other ways too often leads to police intervention.

If those children were living at home, parents would be unlikely to use police as a first option to manage those behaviours. As wards of the state, we have a parental responsibility to apply the same lens.

Youthlaw continues to work with relevant organisations and authorities to find ways prevent young people in residential care having unnecessary contact with the criminal justice system.

In January 2020 DHHS, Victoria Police, the Department of Justice, the Centre for Excellence in Chid and Family Welfare and the Victorian Aboriginal Childcare Agency jointly released a Framework to reduce the criminalisation of young people in residential care

The Framework represents a commitment to reversing the trends of ‘crossover kids’.  But the reality is that despite the release of the Framework we’ve yet to see any meaningful change to the way things are working.

Kids in resi care are still having unnecessary contact with police, which too-often escalates to arrests and charges, and triggers a cycle of criminalisation.

Resi care workers do an outstanding job, under often challenging circumstances, but they are under-resourced and ill-equipped to manage very challenging behaviours.

They need more support and training to be able to manage challenging behaviour without involving police as a first option. [SE1] 

We want to see coordinated, ongoing training for all residential care workers, for police and for members of the judiciary. Courts also need a way to flag all cases that involve crossover kids through the creation of a separate dedicated list of appearances, as per the recommendations of the Sentencing Advisory Council.

The drafting of a new Victorian Youth Justice Act is a rare opportunity to shift how we approach sentencing children to ensure that experiences of trauma are considered at every step. Until we fully acknowledge the nexus between adverse childhood experiences and challenging behaviour among young people, we will continue to see a pipeline of young people being funneled from resi care into our courts, youth detention centres and ultimately into adult prisons.

Policing COVID should be an opportunity to educate young people, not fine them


Victoria Police are being urged to help young people comply with the requirement to wear masks, educate them about the recently reinstated Stay at Home restrictions, and wipe fines issued to children to date.

Youthlaw, a specialist legal centre for young people, and other community legal centres have written to the Victorian Chief Police Commissioner, Shane Patton, urging him to instruct police to give children and young people a warning for the first COVID infringement and educate young people about the restrictions.

The letter also calls on Commissioner Patton to honour his public commitment to review and wipe COVID fines that have been issued to children under 18 year, where the circumstances which fail a common sense test.

Youthlaw community lawyers are currently helping a number of clients aged between 14-17 who have received $1652 fines for breaching stay-at-home directions, who in many cases didn’t know about the extent of the restrictions, and have no capacity to pay the fines. 

Youthlaw used the example of one client, a 16-year-old refugee living in Australia with extended family, who was walking with a friend in the early morning when he was approached by a stranger asking for directions.  Police fined the boy and his friend $1652 each for breaking the two-person rule.

Another client, a 17 year-old female living in residential care, was fined after going to McDonald’s with friends, despite not knowing about the restrictions.

“Instead of fining teens they come across not complying with current regulations, we are asking police to help them stay safe and comply by giving them information and a mask if they don’t have one.”  said Youthlaw Policy and Advocacy Manager, Tiffany Overall

“It’s pointless lumping teens with enormous fines that they’ll never be able to pay. How does this serve to keep the community safe?  It only serves to clog up the legal system, bring a lot of stress and anxiety to teens and their families in dealing with the fines, and bring young people into contact with courts.”

“The Victorian legal system permits courts to issue fines up to a maximum of $165.20 for children under 15, and for 15+ year olds, up to a maximum of $826, so the COVID fines are much greater than any young person could receive for an offence,” said Ms Overall.

Although there is a formal avenue to dispute fines like this, Youthlaw and other legal centres say that the internal review process applies a rigid assessment of whether an offence has been committed, with very little consideration of special circumstances relating to complex young people

Youthlaw says the lack of lack of transparency about COVID fines in Victoria is worrying, and that the number and nature of fines being issued should be on the public record.

“The public deserves to know how many fines are being issued for breaking COVID rules, the ages  and locations  of the children and what their circumstances are.

“While Victoria Police have advised they’ve stopped giving COVID fines to children under 15 years since April  – we just don’t have data to show this.  We want Victoria Police to make this information publicly available, as it is in NSW and other jurisdictions,” said Ms Overall.

Media enquiries: Lanie Harris 0418 552 377 or

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