By Kath Gannaway
More than 50 people attended the Yarra Valley Law and Order Forum hosted by Eildon MP Cindy McLeish and Evelyn MP Christine Fyffe at Woori Yallock on Thursday, 16 September.
Shadow Attorney-General John Pessutto and Shadow Minister for Corrections, Police and Community Safety Edward O’Donohue fielded questions around youth offending, failings of the justice system, plea-bargaining, jails, drugs, mental health, accountability, re-building respect for authority, police resources and local crime.
Former Victorian Police Commissioner, Kel Glare, also spoke, defending the Police In Schools Program he introduced in 1989, but which was ditched in 2006.
“It is essential to get kids early and educate them as good citizens,” he said.
He was also critical of VicPol’s approach to dealing with situations which he described as reactive and risk averse.
“The troops on the ground are working their backsides off, but are hamstrung at every turn; they are no longer allowed to make decisions on the street,” he said.
He said VicPol had become so risk averse that officers were scared to act and the hierarchy scared to make a mistake.
A retired Yarra Valley police sergeant supported Mr Glare’s call for a return to the Police in Schools Program, saying it built respect for the law.
He also urged Mr Pessutto and Mr O’Donohue to look at reform of victim restitution legislation to make court orders enforceable and send messages of accountability and deterrence.
The impact of drug, manufacturing, dealing, and using, was a recurring theme.
“With druggies, when do they go from becoming law-breakers to becoming victims,” one audience member asked.
He lamented the lack of discipline available to parents and others in charge of children calling for a return of corporal punishment.
Jeff, a member of a volunteer-run urban rehabilitation program, argued for more drug rehabilitation funding.
“We know a high percentage of people in jail have been drug-affected and of the scourge of ICE in the Yarra Valley,” he said.
He said the program, which got no government funding, was cost effective, working ‘quite well’ but that funding was too hard to get for such programs.
He also spoke of the impact of mental health on crime, saying a huge percentage of people entering drug rehabilitation have severe trauma backgrounds that have gone untreated.
Accounts were given, and concerns raised about the lack of police response in the Yarra Ranges, with a strong view that the region is under-resourced.
“What do you think (former Victorian Premier) Henry Bolte would do if he were here today?” some-one asked.
Then answered her own question to enthusiastic applause … “He would be tough, hard-nosed and make decisions … and he would not be politically-correct.
“He would ensure people of Victoria worked and lived in a state that was safe.”
Among a number of policies put forward under the Coalition’s Law and Order plan are a high-security youth detention facility for violent youth criminals, reinstating Neighbourhood Watch funding and giving victims access to criminals’ superannuation.
New offences would include two-years’ jail minimum for ramming a police vehicle, and scrapping cash payments for scrap metal.
The forum is part of a Victoria-wide Coalition campaign ahead of the 2018 State Election set for Saturday, 24 November, 2018.