POLICE COMPLAINTS AND DISCIPLINE BILL

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 6 July 2016.)

Ms CHAPMAN ( Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:44): I rise to speak on the Police Complaints and Discipline Bill 2016. Again, this is a bill that has been introduced subsequent to substantial investigation and inquiry and lengthy recommendations presented for consideration in reviewing the manner in which we deal with police complaints. The gestation period of review is so long I can hardly remember when it started, but I will endeavour to find my notes on this.

What I do know is that, as a result of there being a comprehensive inquiry, the opposition took the lead to introduce the Police Complaints Bill 2016 when we had heard nothing from the government as to the advance of a new system. That bill remains in Private Members Business. As I have indicated, now that the government has finally produced this bill, we will agree to consider its advancement. If successful, once passed, this bill will produce a new regime for dealing with police complaints and, in those circumstances, I indicate that I will withdraw my bill.

The complaint procedure in respect of police conduct has had a bit of a rocky road in recent years. It is true that we had a police complaints commissioner, then we had a Police Ombudsman and currently we have an Acting Police Ombudsman. They provide annual reports to us here in the parliament, as do most other integrity bodies. However, even from their own reports, it is clear that they have identified flaws in the way that complaints have been dealt with on occasions and the failure for them to actually be progressed in a manner which is acceptable, mainly to the complainants.

When this happens, it sometimes brings these institutions into disrepute, sometimes unfairly. However, what is absolutely critical is that we have a process or a scheme governing the making of complaints about public administration and the oversight of police conduct that the public respect. If it fails then that can be very concerning because the last thing any of us want is for our police to be undermined and the confidence of the public to be diminished in their operations.

In short, the laws governing police complaints were proving to be inefficient and clearly in need of reform. Members might want to view the annual report of the SA Police Ombudsman 2013-14 by Ms Sarah Bolt. That report painted a very negative picture, stating that the Office of the Police Ombudsman was unable to perform its functions and role efficiently and effectively. It was apparent the relationship between the OPO, ICAC and the Office of Public Integrity could be improved.

Some of that relates to the fact that there had been the mushrooming of other public integrity agencies and sometimes there would be the question of overlap. As members would know, we have a State Ombudsman who largely deals with complaints in the public sector area. In recent years, we have had a separate ombudsman regime for health and community complaints, and they cover not just public sector agencies but also the independent sector and non-government sector. However, for all relevant periods we have had a separate agency to deal with police complaints.

I think everyone shares a view in this house that, particularly given the nature of police work regarding the accumulation and use of criminal intelligence, the need to keep information securely stored and to ensure that there is not any breach of information to be released that might otherwise affect the lawful investigation and prosecution of cases, it is necessary that the police have a separate complaints agency, and I fully endorse that.

Apart from Ms Bolt saying herself as Police Ombudsman that all is not happy in Rome and that we need to have some reform, the Attorney-General also had requested Commissioner Lander from ICAC to conduct an inquiry into the oversight and management of complaints about police, and generally about the receipt and assessment of complaints and reports about public administration. He reported to the parliament on 2 July 2015.

Additionally, the Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee heard submissions from the South Australian Ombudsman, Mr Wayne Lines, in March 2015 in which he outlined that legislative change would be required to reduce duplication and inefficiencies in the receipt, assessment and resolution of complaints for public administration. They reported on 30 June 2015.

It was apparent from many inefficiencies resulting from the misdirecting of serious complaints between the Ombudsman and the Office of the Police Ombudsman and the matter of who owns responsibility for these complaints that we had a problem in the efficiency and effective delivery of the process and we had an overlap which needed to be sorted out.

The recommendations in respect of police complaints by Mr Lander were quite substantial. The recommendations in respect of other public administration were considerable, but I need to just state that the ICAC report in the conduct of his review reported on 22 July 2015 with 29 recommendations including the rewriting of the police complaints legislation, the abolition of the Police Ombudsman, bringing police oversight within the Office of Public Integrity and giving South Australia Police, via the commissioner, the primary responsibility of assessment of complaints and reports about police.

The bill that I have referred to as a private member's bill largely incorporated the recommendations of Mr Lander. The government took the view that they had prepared this bill based largely on the recommendations of Mr Lander. One would think that that would crystallise into some prompt agreement into accepting this bill, but herein lies the problem which, in short, reflects the fact that we get told one thing and then we find out that the situation is very different.

The Police Complaints and Discipline Bill we are currently discussing was issued in a draft and at first blush appeared to pretty much cover matters raised by Mr Lander. There were significant areas of omission but there was some level of consistency. We then find, in July this year, that the Police Association of South Australia, being the union for a significant number of the police force, was very unhappy with the terms of the bill. The thing it was most unhappy about was the fact that it had been shown one bill and what turned up in the parliament was something very different.

This then raises a question of trust. It raises the question of being able to rely on the government that, when it says something, it can be taken as accurate. It undermines our capacity, as legislators, to rely on the government to do what it actually says it will do. The government's own stakeholders in this case, is a body which clearly has a very significant interest in this bill because it relates to how complaints about their members are going to be dealt with and also what disciplinary action should be taken in respect of those.

That is not to say that the union for the police officers needs to have some sort of controlling contribution over how this structure should operate because the police commissioner, during the course of the reviews, gave evidence about his view as to how these things should be managed and there is no question that Mr Lander's approach was somewhat different, not hugely different but somewhat different.

This bill, reflecting Mr Lander's approach that there be some continued supervision of the smaller complaints to be dealt with through the police commissioner's structure as such, could be accommodated. We are not saying that, just because the Police Association represents members that are going to be managed through this bill say something should happen, that should happen. It is just very concerning to us when it appears that a level of goodwill is undermined by concerns that information has not been fully forthcoming and that when we are told that there is comprehensive consultation we find that there are aspects of this that have not even been discussed, or claim not to have been discussed by the Attorney-General. It is very disturbing.

In general principle, we accept that some of the more minor matters can be dealt with internally, just like they are in the education department. If there is a complaint about a particular matter in a local school, there is a process of complaint through the education department and, if it is not resolved, then of course there are other options, for example going to the Ombudsman's office.

If there was a complaint that a police officer did not attend, within the regulated time, a residence when a complaint was lodged about a suspected break-in, that might be something that needs some explanation. It may warrant an apology to the householder, but it would not necessarily mean that we would need to have a file opened down at the Police Ombudsman's office. Clearly, however, if more serious matters are raised then we need to have those matters viewed and considered and determined and acted upon by someone who is absolutely independent of the police force, including from the commissioner's office.

We agree that there should be a separate and revised police complaints structure and we agree that minor matters could be dealt with internally within the police force via the commissioner. Otherwise, the matter should be under the scrutiny and gatekeeping of the Office for Public Integrity. We need to have a structure that will give a fair determination for the complainants, and maintain the respect of the public and the police force, and also ensure that a police officer who is exercising a duty or failing to exercise a duty that requires some discipline is brought to attention and acted upon.

When I read the Police Ombudsman's report for this financial year concluding in June 2016, it was with a good deal of concern that I read of the number of complaints that had been raised against the conduct of police officers; one of them was the concern of the Police Ombudsman that have there had been repeated searches of motor vehicles by police officers without having formed the requisite intent for that purpose.

He made statements in this year's report about his concern about that occurring on multiple occasions and, furthermore, that he had made the same complaints in the previous year's annual report, so it is not as though we do not need to have a complaints procedure. We also need to make sure as a parliament that, whatever the structure, if the Ombudsman brings to our attention some action or inaction on the part of the police that is not acceptable—especially if it is two years in a row—we do something about it, that the Minister for Police does something about it, that the cabinet does something about it and, as I say, if necessary, that the parliament does something about it.

All these things require that there will be some action and consequence for unacceptable conduct. I say to the parliament that if the Minister for Police does not give a satisfactory response to matters that are raised by the Police Ombudsman to this parliament, we should be asking the minister to make some account for that. It is not acceptable that these agencies, as integrity bodies, report to us and then nothing happens about it. That is not acceptable. In any event, I will not go through all the issues that have been raised, but often there is quite a number.

I think it is fair to say that when we look at last year's annual report we see the shocking revelations of conduct towards a young Aboriginal man by a police officer and what was described by the Police Ombudsman as being a completely inadequate response by the then commissioner of police in sending the police officer away for some retraining program—a completely inadequate response to the conduct of that police officer towards the young man in question. Shocking threats were made; I do not need to detail them all again, but I make the point that, unless there is some follow up on these things, then all these new structures mean nothing.

I urge members to keep our ministers accountable as well when they have considered reports from our officers of integrity—in this case, the Police Ombudsman. We have an acting ombudsman at the moment, and I am assuming he will not be replaced until there is a new structure in place anticipated by this legislation. We have some amendments which have apparently been developed and tabled by the Attorney to cover a number of outstanding issues which I understand have at least been agreed to between the Police Association and Mr Lander's office as reflecting the review's recommendations. I am advised that at the very least the Police Association has other concerns about matters that have been omitted or are inadequately described even in these amendments. We will hear further from them in between the houses.

This bill has been a long time coming, so I am certainly not going to hold it up. From our perspective on this side of the house, we will support the passage of the bill through this parliament. We will receive these amendments and reserve our right to make further amendments when the bill is dealt with in another place.