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8th February 2024 15:13
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

Rachel PAYNE (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:13): 

I rise to speak to the Justice Legislation Amendment (Police and Other Matters) Bill 2023. I would like to speak specifically on the amendment to extend the statute of limitations for the duty of Victoria Police not to access, make use of or disclose police information. This reform comes in the wake of the Victorian Inspectorate special report about IBAC’s referral and oversight of Emma’s complaint about the Victorian police.

This report shone a light on serious police misconduct, a systemic misuse of police information and a 12-month limitation period that prevented those affected from being able to take action. This reform comes at a time when one in six women have experienced stalking in Victoria and 39 per cent have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. The need to extend the limitation period stems from countless case studies showing that access to and the use and disclosure of police information is often only exposed well after being used to stalk, harass and control.

The amendments are a good start, but they do not address the systemic issues of police accessing the law enforcement assistance program, or LEAP, and using the database for unauthorised purposes. As my colleague Mr Ettershank detailed in his contribution, LEAP is an outmoded system with no proactive checks to flag suspicious activities – for example, when an officer searches for information about an ex-partner. In the hands of an abuser unchecked access to the LEAP database has terrifying consequences.

Time and time again there are instances of women having their and their families’ personal information accessed by police officers. It is unclear just how many police officers have had unauthorised access to the LEAP database, which is really concerning, but anecdotal evidence from those who have worked with survivors of family violence – specifically that perpetrated by police officers – indicate that in almost all cases LEAP had been used and weaponised to control and abuse victims.

We know that Victoria Police do not lack the resources to improve systems and protect those being targeted by police. Further restrictions on access to information via LEAP and the ability to flag suspicious searches in real time could go a long way to preventing harm before it occurs. I hope that this bill is just the start of proactive improvements by Victoria Police to ensure police information is not misused.

This issue is something that is close to my heart. I am the granddaughter of a police officer. My grandfather was actually a senior officer, and he was also an incredibly abusive man to both my grandmother and his children, my mother and her sisters. This abuse did not go unreported. It did not go unnoticed, particularly by my grandfather’s colleagues.

However, nothing at that time was done to stop this. No apology has ever been made, and it took my grandmother years to flee this violence and feel safe to be able to do so. It was long after my mother and her siblings had moved out, and it was after years and years of insidious abuse.

Thankfully, we live in a different time now, and we do aim to do better – something that I have reflected on when remembering these stories of my mother and of my grandmother. I do applaud Emma especially for her strength and her courage. Her unwavering tenacity to keep fighting to be heard, to be supported and to push and shift change is so commendable.

[ENDS]

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