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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 60

Senator JOHNSTON (12:45 PM) —This afternoon I want to talk about law and order in Western Australia. I bring to the attention of the Senate the fact that, prior to the last state election, the Labor Party made a policy commitment with respect to law and order to increase police numbers by 250 officers over four years. That commitment has been utterly broken. When you review the numbers the facts are that, on 30 June 2001, there were 4,993 police officers employed in Western Australia. As at 31 May this year there were 4,985. Since the current Labor government was elected police numbers in Western Australia have gone down and law and order has simply gone to the dogs. Labor in Western Australia is soft on crime. Police numbers is not the major issue. When you look closely at what is happening on the ground in Western Australia you find not only that each police district throughout the state is underresourced but also each station is operating below the authorised strength. As at September this year every one of the state's 14 police districts was operating below its authorised strength, some operating with up to 40 fewer officers than designated by the state Police Commissioner. As you might expect, the state Labor government thinks that Perth is the centre of the universe. Country areas are absolutely devastated by the reduction in police numbers and police resources. These reductions have occurred throughout each police district in Western Australia.

While doing constituency work, a habit of mine is to conduct a number of crime forums in Perth. I invite large numbers of people to come along to present their concerns and their anecdotal experiences about law and order and the performance of the police. I want to make it very clear that the performance of the police when they finally arrive and their performance in charging and prosecuting offenders is outstanding, but they have a Herculean task with the limited resources, the simply great neglect and the unsympathetic response they have received from this state Labor government to requests for increased resources and police numbers.

In the suburbs close to my office, residents have been calling out for the two most influential members in the Labor state government, Premier Dr Gallop and Deputy Premier Ripper, to provide greater resources for the embattled police officers in their electorates. With 4,591 reported acts of crime in their two electorates alone in the first seven months of this year, the police are asked to do an absolutely impossible task in combating crime and arresting offenders in those suburbs. It comes as no surprise that not one of the six metropolitan police districts was able to achieve the accepted response time for priority calls in the latest figures that the state Labor government has provided. By that I mean that, if you ring 000, you expect that there will be a police officer, a police car, a police response within a reasonable time.

In the 2003-04 fiscal year not one of the metropolitan police districts was able to respond to a priority 1 call within the target response time. Half of the districts did not meet response times for priority 2 calls, and five out of six metropolitan districts were unable to meet response times with respect to priority 3 calls. Response times are crucial in assisting victims. The south-east metropolitan region of Perth—a very substantial slice of the Perth metropolitan area—has the worst record for response times than anywhere else in the state, including, as I said, the electorates of the Premier and the Deputy Premier in my home state of Western Australia. Crime in this area has reached totally unacceptable and record levels, yet the two major police stations in this area, Kensington and Belmont, operate bankers' hours—8 a.m. to 4 p.m., five days a week. A priority 1 response time of seven minutes was the second worst in the metropolitan area. The target response time is five minutes.

A priority 1 response involves someone ringing up and providing information that an armed hold-up is in progress or that armed offenders are threatening life. When you ring 000 in this situation—being threatened by an armed assailant, and you expect a police officer there in five minutes—and you find that seven minutes is the average response time, it is totally and utterly unacceptable. The average response time for a priority 2 call, which includes incidents where life and property are being threatened, was 12.8 minutes, which was the worst in the metropolitan area. The target response time is nine minutes. A priority 3 call involves a situation where a person's welfare may be in jeopardy or there is an opportunity to apprehend an offender. A citizen who makes a 000 call, who has seen what has happened, with an offender close by, can expect a response time in Western Australia of 36.6 minutes before a police car will be there. That is utterly and completely unacceptable. The reason for that is simply that in Western Australia Labor is soft on crime. It is utterly outrageous that a person's life may be in jeopardy or that an offender may be able to be apprehended and the police in Western Australia do not attend for 36 minutes. That is law and order, Labor style.

In the south-east sector of the metropolitan area, which is a very large slice of the Perth metropolitan area, there is only one 24-hour police station, and that is located at Cannington. The people in the eastern states would be staggered to know what is going on with law and order in Western Australia. To have one police station covering such a huge area—from Armadale right through to Perth, and from Midland almost down to Lynwood; almost a third of the Perth metropolitan area—and two police stations that operate from eight o'clock to five o'clock is utterly unacceptable. It is absolutely outrageous.

These figures and these anecdotal accounts of what goes on in our suburban streets come to me in the crime forums we conduct. The local members, Dr Gallop and Mr Ripper, seem far removed from what is happening. Of most concern is that the victims of these crimes are the elderly. Home invasion and burglary are the principal modus operandi of criminals in these suburbs and the victims being preyed upon are our most vulnerable people—those over the age of 55. The Premier should come out of his plush, cosy high-rise office in St George's Terrace, get on the ground with his constituents and see what is going on.

Sixty-six people attended one of my crime forums and told me that the principal law and order issue of concern for them was home burglary, at a ratio of two to one to other law and order issues. Home burglary is the most threatening thing that happens to these people. Lawless behaviour, a lack of police presence and resources, graffiti, vehicle break-ins, home invasion, personal security and car driving offences were all matters which they either had personal experience of or whose neighbours or friends living near them had experienced. When I confronted them and said, `What do you think needs to be done to address this problem?' 88 per cent of them said they wanted greater police presence in the suburbs. How does this stack up against the promise in 2001 that `We will increase police numbers by 250', when, four years later, police numbers have gone down? This again underlines that Labor is fundamentally soft on crime.

At the Rivervale Crime Forum that I held the message I got was that ordinary citizens were absolutely fed up with opportunistic thieves and violent criminals. Most distressing to me was that most of these thieves and criminals were between 11 and 15 years of age, so kids are running riot. There is a deep and endemic problem out in the suburbs and the state Labor government has utterly failed to address it. In 2003, there were 783 reported acts of crime in the suburb of Rivervale—one small suburb of Perth. It would appear that 2004 is going to be worse. In the first seven months of 2004 there were 421 reports of criminal acts, including 277 cases of burglary. This is one suburb, one small part of Perth. In August and September of this year alone there were 57 burglaries and 20 assaults in Rivervale. A participant in one of my crime forums said to me that on nine separate occasions his home had been burgled or vandalised. His personal goods and his motor vehicle over the past 12 months had been interfered with. He had reported only two of these instances. So the real figure is probably three and four times greater than the figure indicated by the government's records.

Mr Acting Deputy President Marshall, you will not be surprised to hear the two things demanded by the 66 people who attended the Rivervale Crime Forum. They want a greater police presence and they want the Belmont police station to be open for 24 hours a day. Yet the state Labor government has consistently refused to resource and man this police station. Western Australia, under the Labor government, is a law and order basket case, put very simply. The per capita rate of home burglary in Western Australia is a massive 48.5 per cent higher than the national average, 32 per cent higher than in New South Wales and 109 per cent higher than in Victoria. This is cause for alarm. The home invasion rate in Western Australia is 104 per cent higher than the national average, 113 per cent higher than in New South Wales and a whopping 216 per cent higher than in Victoria. These figures are fact, and they are cause for great alarm. In my crime forums and when out and about amongst community groups, the No. 1 issue people raise with me is their concern about being safe in their homes. People are genuinely scared for their own safety and they want something done about it now. But the sad fact continues that Labor in Western Australia is soft on crime.

The problem is not confined to the metropolitan area. The problem of the Western Australian Labor government being soft on crime goes from one end of the state to the other, from Albany in the south to Kununurra and Broome in the north. The community newspaper the Southern Gazette reported on 2 November that a local Lathlain resident living near a suburb adjacent to my office in Perth had been burgled three times in the past 16 months. The resident said:

The first and second time they took all my electrical equipment and the third time they walked straight past my entertainment system and stole my clothes, golf clubs, mountain bikes and DVDs.

This person went on to say that he and his neighbour, who has also been burgled, have collectively spent $10,000 on home security. The local member is the Deputy Premier of Western Australia. He has come out with a plethora of garbled platitudes that will achieve nothing for his constituent. The local resident continued:

I do not feel safe in my home. These incidents, which have happened during the day, have made me feel unsafe to the point where I go home from work once or twice a day just to check on things.

This is an outrageous situation. It pains me to have to come to the Senate and say that hardworking police officers in Western Australia are not receiving the support, the resources and the number of policeman they need to do a good job protecting law-abiding citizens in Western Australia from rampant crime, criminals and criminal activity.