MEDIA RELEASE – 13 October 2020
Youthlaw, Victoria’s free legal service for young people, has criticised new laws to expand the reach of armed Protective Services Officers (PSOs) that are expected to pass the Legislative Council this week, saying many laws were being introduced “under cover of COVID”.
Youthlaw’s CEO, Ariel Couchman, said it was inconsistent to listen to community concerns on some proposed laws, but not others, after the State Government last week amended the Omnibus Bill (COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020) before it was introduced to the Legislative Council.
“The Victorian Government listened to community concerns, and rolled back elements of the Omnibus Bill that would have allowed unspecified authorised officers to detain people on a ‘reasonable belief’ they would not comply with public health directions,” said Ms Ariel.
“And yet in the same week as the amended Omnibus Bill we will see a Bill enter the Legislative Council which will permit armed PSOs, with just 12 weeks of training, to operate in any public space – including shopping centres, roadways, public entertainment venues and sports grounds – with powers to detain, arrest and search,” she said.
“This Bill represents a significant blurring of the roles outside of the original parameters of the PSO program which saw them only deployed in and around the transport network. We can now expect to see more and more PSOS carrying out the work of the Victorian Police Force.”
“Under cover of COVID, the State Government is effectively building a second-tier police force, with a fraction of the training and no independent accountability,” she said.
There is wide held concern this Bill will expose already over policed cohorts of Victorians including young people, Aboriginal people to further engagement in the criminal justice system.
And it comes at a time when Victoria lacks any adequate accountability for police or PSO misconduct and has failed to respond to the IBAC Parliamentary Committee Report into the external oversight of police corruption and misconduct in Victoria (2018)
“If passed this Bill will only heighten the feeling the Victoria is the police state. We commend the Victorian Government for listening to community concerns and amending the Omnibus Bill, and we urge them to do the same with the PSOs Bill.
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Youthlaw is a community legal service providing free legal advice and representation to young people under the age of 25. Youthlaw is a fearless advocate for young people, and strives for a just and equitable society for, and by, young people. It does this by addressing systemic legal and social justice issues in Victoria through community education, advocacy and law reform.