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Police, Fire and Emergency Management - Media and Communications

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 9 September 2021

Tags: Police, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, it's very important to have clear and efficient communication with media outlets and from media outlets so that official information is available to the public, and without official and creditable news reports people can turn to other sources of news. Not only is that a problem if it is not correct, but it can potentially prejudice court cases because that reporting from other outlets isn't controlled as official news outlets are. How much is spent within DPFEM on media and communications, how many people are employed, and what hours do they operate?

Mrs PETRUSMA - I will definitely ask the commissioner to answer that one.

Mr HINE - We understand the role of media and communications. They do a great job; and I say that as not only are they listening to this broadcast, they also do a very difficult job in making sure the information gets out to the media and therefore to the community. We know the media is a critical stakeholder. We have a manager in charge of the area and we use that person's role to coordinate all our media and communications. We also have ex-journalists and people with journalism training -we have three of those - and another three people that support them in the media role as well.

Dr WOODRUFF - Are they all FTEs?

Mr HINE - There are six FTEs. They go above and beyond what they should do. They monitor our Facebook site, they answer queries, they are on call and normally they operate up until about 10 p.m. I know when they come to work bleary eyed the next day that they have had calls to assist our operational people. I highly value what they do, and they are an important part of our team. During COVID-19 we had a public information role and again, it was their role to get the information out to the community. They have an important role to gain the support of the media and to make sure we work with them, and also to let the community know what is going on.

Mrs PETRUSMA - When you sign up and get the alerts, it is a fantastic system because you get alerts all through the day. It is for the general public as well so it helps you to know what is happening. They offer an incredible service for the general community about what is happening in their area. I commend the work they do.

Dr WOODRUFF - Does DEPFM or Tasmania Police have a media policy? I note that New South Wales has had one since 2016. Does Tasmania Police have one?

Mr HINE - Yes, we have a media policy and guidelines. Last time I checked we had more followers on our Facebook site than any other organisation in Tasmania, and we keep that updated. Yes, we definitely have a media guideline and manual about dealing with media.

Dr WOODRUFF - Is that publicly available?

Mr HINE - Every document is publicly available but also it is an internal working document.

Dr WOODRUFF - It might be useful to understand what that is.

Mrs PETRUSMA - Is there something that you want to particularly understand?

Dr WOODRUFF - There is the timeliness of information that is provided to journalists. It's good to understand what the time frames are for responding to things and whether there are minimum standards. They are the sorts of things that are covered in New South Wales.

Mr HINE - I am happy to answer that. Every situation is guided by how the investigation is going. Sometimes the information is held on until it is the appropriate time because we do not want to compromise those investigations. Every situation is different. The media team works with the investigative team. For example, if you have a serious road crash and there are deaths we do not want to publish or give the media any information and they work with us really well I have to say.

Sometimes the families get the information via social media before we can get there and do those really sensitive notifications. The media team works with the media, and the media are really good at that as well. Every situation will vary about how we let the information out, what we do let out and it is working with the investigator or what is going on at the time.

Dr WOODRUFF - Other states have theirs online. Can we have a copy of the policy?

Mr HINE - It's an internal working document but I'm more than happy to provide a copy.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. I'll put that on notice.

Ms OGILVIE - Minister, could you please outline how much is in the Budget for the new Longford Police Station and the progress of this build?

Mrs PETRUSMA - The Tasmanian government has committed $103.4 million in the 2020 21 Budget and across the forward Estimates towards significant capital and infrastructure developments, which will provide emergency services personnel and Tasmanian communities with modern, functional, fit for purpose emergency service facilities and technology well into the future. The budget provides the final $2.7 million towards the new modern $5 million Longford Police Station.

I visited the construction site of the new station. It is on the corner of Cressy Road and Peel Street and the progress is fantastic. It was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be. It was pretty impressive. It is being constructed on a greenfields site; it's employing Tasmanian building and construction personnel; and it's well on the way to being completed prior to the end of this year.

It's also the site of our new Special Operations Group (SOG) facility which is also being constructed. That facility will be completed in February next year. The SOG facility is being delivered through a further investment of $1 million, and complements our commitment to recruit additional police officers with $8.9 million in funding for SOG police officers, who will transition to full time SOG after they've completed their work on COVID-19 duties to keep Tasmania safe.

Longford Police Station is part of the Deloraine division and it will become the new divisional headquarters when it's all up and going. There will also be additional police officers there and it will be renamed the Central North Division to better reflect their location and the local community that it serves. They have had very good statistics with crime rates - one of the lowest in the state. They're doing fantastic work, and I commend them.

Ms O'BYRNE - I'm extremely concerned about the issue of safety in Launceston. I will preface my question by saying I think the police in Launceston are working incredibly hard. There are some amazingly decent, hard working people doing a phenomenal job.

However, the demands upon them are becoming unmanageable. Over the last nine years the Launceston Police Division has had the highest victimisation rates and highest numerical incidents of crime of any of the 13 police divisions, in terms of total offences for public place assaults, offences against a person, serious crime, robbery, offences against property, home burglary, business burglary, motor vehicle burglary, stolen motor vehicles, fraud. Even in the data that you've just released, it is still substantially higher than any of the other districts.

What are you doing for Launceston to reduce the victimisation rates and incidents of crime across those crime categories? People in Launceston are getting pretty frightened. I recently had two car jackings blocks away from my home. It is all over the city and it is frightening.

Mrs PETRUSMA - Tasmania Police's resources in the Launceston area have been increased in June this year with 15 new officers allocated to Launceston who are now out on the beat. They also established the Firearms Task Force in the Launceston area which had fantastic results which included 62 searches conducted, 65 firearms seized, and 60 offenders charged with 266 charges. There were 3000 rounds of ammunition seized, 23.31 grams of ice seized, 1250 grams of cannabis seized, there were small amounts of MDMA and cocaine seized and approximately $150 000 in cash seized.

With regard to the crime in Launceston, there's been an 18 per cent decrease over 2020 21, that's a bigger reduction than the state level and I want to commend police in Launceston under Commander Wilkinson because that's the biggest reduction across the state. It's a fall by a massive 18 per cent, with most crime indicators falling and significant reductions in property crime. Serious crime has also decreased. As I said, firearms. Total offences are down 18 per cent, serious crime down by 2 per cent, public place assaults down by 7 per cent, offences against property down by 21 per cent, home burglary down by 20 per cent, motor vehicle burglaries down by 38 per cent and stolen motor vehicles down by 16 per cent.

I want to congratulate Launceston police for what they're doing.

Ms O'BYRNE - Minister, I'm happy to say that they're working very hard within the resources allocated to Launceston as they do.

Mrs PETRUSMA - But they've had 15 new police officers.

Ms O'BYRNE - They've had additional staff in the Uniform Division over the last four years out of the 125. You said 15, I thought it was 16 but I'll take 15 if you say that's the one.

That doesn't address the rates of serious crime and what we are still seeing, even with that reduction.

Mrs PETRUSMA - Serious crime has gone down.

Ms O'BYRNE - Even with that reduction, and you'd have to suggest that potentially COVID-19 lockdowns might have impacted on your overall figures. Putting that to one side, there is still a marked difference between the rates of these crimes in Launceston than with any other division across the state. If you look at just a few of them, in serious crime 119 incidents, the closest of any other division was 80. In offences against property for Launceston, 4615, the closest anywhere else got in the state to that was Hobart with 2291. These figures are replicated in all of them. Business burglary 182, a massive drop to 87 is the closest one. For motor vehicle burglary, 282 down, which is way above what is happening anywhere else.

What we are seeing, minister, is a significant increase, a significant difference in Launceston than anywhere else which must make you think that you need to put more resources in Launceston. My question is: how many of the 50 new staff that you've committed to will be based in Launceston?

Mrs PETRUSMA - That will be a matter for the commissioner to determine that but 15 new police officers went to Launceston in June so that was a massive increase out of the 44 that graduated in June, a big percentage, but I will ask the commissioner to add further to my response.

Mr HINE - It is obviously the Association which has raised those issues as well.

Ms O'BYRNE - And the community, to be fair, Commissioner.

Mr HINE - In relation to, not the 50 police officers, and I congratulate the Government in investing in an extra 50 police officers.

In the northern district the confidence in police through surveys is 86 per cent. I dispute that the community's losing confidence in the police, they're working really hard.

Ms O'BYRNE - I want to put on the record: I didn't say there is a lack of confidence in police. There is a concern in the community about safety. We all accept the police up there are doing an amazing job.

CHAIR - Ms O'Byrne, please allow the Commissioner to finish his contribution, and Ms O'Byrne, can we please finish this section without too many more interruptions. It is disorderly and we'd like to be able to move on.

Ms O'BYRNE - I didn't want the Police Commissioner to think I was commenting on the quality of his staff.

Mr HINE - Police satisfaction levels give me comfort that the police are doing an excellent job and the police perform their job professionally, 88 per cent; general satisfaction, 84 per cent; night-time safety, how they feel at home, 90 per cent; safety in a public place during daytime, 92 per cent; so again, I want to demonstrate, and I take your point, Ms O'Byrne about having excellent, hardworking police officers there.

With relation to the investment by the Government of the 50 police officers we are going to review the Capability Review and the Allocation model to make sure that we have those officers allocated in the best spot right around the state. We understand the Police Association and the community are stakeholders in this but again it's a finite resource. We want to make sure that we allocate them where the best place for them to go and I have to say, I've lived up there for a number of years and it's an excellent place to live as well.

Ms O'BYRNE - I think Launceston Police are stretched to breaking-point. Clearance rates are down. I've got a copy of the letter that your Premier sent to the Police Association, with an instruction to send it out to members. Anyone reading this letter would believe that a commitment was given to resourcing in the north. A commitment of staffing resourcing in the north. Similar to those that were honoured by your Government in 2014 and 2018 and whilst I fully understand the commissioner has the capacity to resource as he feels appropriate, my question to you, minister, did your Premier deliberately seek to mislead serving police officers about the resources that would be applied in the lead-up to the election?

Mrs PETRUSMA - Not at all, as the Premier in his letter says:

As you are aware the commissioner is responsible for determining the structure of the Police service and the allocation of duties? The timing of the allocations will be consistent with delivery over the period of the election commitments.

So, the Premier respects the role of the commissioner, as do I, where:

The commissioner is responsible for determining the structure of the Police service and the allocation of duties.

We have given the commitment of an extra 50 police officers. The commissioner is the one who will determine the structure of the police service. As the commissioner has already outlined, he is going to be doing a capability review and so I'll get the commissioner to outline what the process is under that capability review.

Mr HINE - Yes, I have the responsibility for allocation of numbers under the act. That is a responsibility that I have, as the commissioner. We are going to update the capability review. There has been significant investment by the Government that actually has changed the capability review. We will work with the association and with communities around Tasmania to make sure we have the right allocation. Between now and the end of the year, we'll be reviewing the capability review. Having a framework for the allocation of police officers - bearing in mind the various stakeholders and the Premier did note the association's suggested allocation of what, for want of a better word - and we'll work with them as stakeholder.

Ms O'BYRNE - My last question on this matter, minister, is to you. In 2014 your Government committed location-specific appointments of police officers out of the 113, and that was delivered upon, and in 2018 the same thing occurred with the 125. There were location-specific commitments given to the Police Association and thereby serving police officers in the State. You did the same with this letter. It does have a 'get out of jail free card,' but I think it would be reasonable to assume that anyone in the police force reading that letter would have believed you'd have honoured this commitment in the way you honoured the previous two. Will you, will your Government honour this commitment in the lead-up to the election?

Mrs PETRUSMA - We’re honouring the commitment of an extra -

Ms O'BYRNE - So, it's not worth the paper it's written on.

Mrs PETRUSMA - Additional 50 police officers to Tasmania Police. We also respect the role of the commissioner, as the Premier has outlined, to be able to be responsible for determining the structure of the Police service and the allocation of duties. The commissioner has stated that he wants to do a capability review, keeping in mind that we also are at the moment heavily involved in our COVID-19 response. We have a Commission of Inquiry that has also changed everything. The commissioner, at the end of the day, will allocate the police officers where he sees the police resources need to be allocated. He will be working, as he said, in conjunction with the Police Association in undertaking the capability review to determine that structure. The Commissioner of Police needs to be able to operate independently without interference from me.