Closed-Circuit Television Surveillance

About this Item
SpeakersMeagher Ms Reba; West Mr Garry; Whelan Mr Paul; Cochran Mr Peter; Nagle Mr Peter; McManus Mr Ian
BusinessBusiness of the House


Ms MEAGHER (Cabramatta) [11.26]: I move:
      That this House applauds the Government for the introduction and trial of closed-circuit television in the area from Town Hall to Liverpool Street Sydney and the establishment of a closed-circuit television taskforce to produce a policy and strategic framework to strictly define the role and involvement of the police service in any community based closed circuit television initiative.

I congratulate the Carr Government on its crime prevention initiatives through the use of closed-circuit television. I also congratulate the Police Service on setting up the Police Service consultative task force to oversee the development of protocols for this system. That is, of course, in stark contrast to the record of the previous Government. The coalition Government neglected crime prevention for the seven long years it was in office. The people of New South Wales suffered as a result of the waste and mismanagement of the previous Government, which were particularly evidenced by the failure of the previous Government to ensure the safety of the community. The purpose of closed-circuit television is to prevent crime and encourage appropriate behaviour. I believe that the probability of being detected and the increased threat of apprehension or censure will act as powerful deterrents to persons inclined to commit street crime or behave in an inappropriate manner. I have moved the motion because of my interest in the recently announced trial of closed-circuit television in George Street and in light of current events in my electorate.

Honourable members would no doubt be aware that closed-circuit television is about to be installed in the Cabramatta and Canley Vale shopping centres. They would be aware also that drug dealing, extortion, gang activity and opportunistic street crime were allowed to flourish under the former coalition Government. In my electorate the neglect of that Government has generated an unacceptable level of community fear. Local businesses, residents and visitors to Cabramatta have the right to expect the three levels of government to work together so that the public can move about the community without fear of crime. However, for seven years the coalition ignored the policing needs of the people of my electorate.

My predecessor, the late John Newman, in this House constantly demanded greater resources and smarter policing initiatives. John Newman raised the subject of crime in this House on 26 occasions. His requests fell on deaf ears. Upon being elected, I wrote directly to the former Premier, the honourable member for the Southern Highlands. In continuing the late John Newman's calls for more police, I raised the community's concerns about the increase in crime and implored the former Premier to take some decisive action. His response was dismissive; he simply did not care. He advised me not to ask for more taxpayers' money. I was left with the impression that the concerns of the people of Cabramatta were low on the former Government's list of priorities.

When the Premier, the former Leader of the Opposition, called for the establishment of a joint Commonwealth-State task force to tackle gang-related and drug-related organised crime in Cabramatta, the response of the former Government was again disappointing. The former police Minister - who I am glad has come to the Chamber to listen to the debate - rejected the notion out of hand. He claimed that such an initiative was not appropriate or needed. Of course it was needed. The fact that Cabramatta is
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now regarded as the heroin capital of Australia alone is reason for its establishment. Local police had clearly stated that they "could not get above the footpath" in their fight against drug crime in Cabramatta. They could not get above the footpath because the resources they required were denied them by the coalition Government. There were other reasons for the establishment of a task force. Many of the crimes that appear to be occurring in Cabramatta are Federal offences.

Mr West: On a point of order: though I appreciate the desire of the honourable member to talk about matters that relate to Cabramatta, the motion the subject of debate relates to the establishment of closed-circuit television surveillance from the Sydney Town Hall to Liverpool Street in Sydney. I do not believe that extends as far as Cabramatta. The motion also relates to the establishment of a task force, which has nothing to do with the problems in Cabramatta to which the honourable member is referring.

Mr Whelan: On the point of order: the resolution refers to both a task force and the potential involvement of the Police Service in any community-based closed-circuit television initiative.

Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! The member is referring, I am sure, to a matter that is important to this debate. There is no point of order.

Ms MEAGHER: Members opposite did not want to talk about Cabramatta then and do not want to talk about it now. Matters such as prostitution rackets involving illegal immigrants and the importation of narcotics require the expertise of those Federal agencies that specialise in the detection of such crimes. Clearly, a coordinated approach was needed but was rejected out of hand by the former Government. As honourable members would be aware, the task force has since been set up. That is something else for which the Carr Government should be congratulated.

As a result of the arrogance of the former Government, Fairfield City Council established a town centre task force to implement closed-circuit television surveillance, and the proposal has won broad community support. The town centre task force initiatives have been undertaken in consultation with the police and have won the support of the local patrol as an excellent frontline method of detecting crime and catching criminals. In order to enhance the deterrent effect of closed-circuit television surveillance, guidelines regarding its implementation are needed. The issue of privacy must be considered, the community must be consulted and their effectiveness must be assessed.

Following the debate regarding Cabramatta town centre's endorsement of closed-circuit television surveillance, other local councils have expressed interest in installing cameras. Those councils will also seek and expect the advice and involvement of local police. At present local commanders have no specific guidelines or policy position on which to base their response. That is why I strongly welcome the introduction of the closed-circuit television task force of the Police Service. The task force will produce a policy and strategic framework to strictly define the role and involvement of the Police Service in any community-based closed-circuit television initiative.

The task force will take note of the trial now under way in the George Street entertainment strip. That trial is a model of the way in which closed-circuit television surveillance should be handled. As I have already said, I believe closed-circuit television surveillance has the potential to prevent crime. However, as I have also noted, privacy concerns need to be addressed. That will ensure that the crime fighting potential of this initiative is maximised. In George Street the trial is being conducted in conjunction with the Privacy Committee and the Council of the City of Sydney. I understand Chris Puplick, the head of the Privacy Committee, attended the launch of the trial.

I hope the Government can replicate the success of the Brisbane City Council in its trial of closed-circuit television surveillance in Fortitude Valley. I understand that the Queensland trial has resulted in a significant reduction in crime. However, equally important is the reduction of the fear of crime. People using the George Street entertainment area or visiting Freedom Plaza in the Cabramatta electorate should be able to move around without unreasonable fear and with the knowledge that if they are accosted or threatened, closed-circuit television monitoring will enhance law enforcement methods. I look forward to seeing the results of the trials and hope they provide a similar reduction in crime to that achieved in Fortitude Valley.

Mr WEST (Orange) [11.36]: It is appropriate that the Police Service has now introduced closed-circuit television surveillance in George Street from Sydney Town Hall to Liverpool Street. However, it is a matter of sheer hypocrisy for the honourable member to talk about the current Government establishing the closed-circuit television task force. The Minister for Police, who is in the Chamber, should check his records and the date the task force was established by the Commissioner of Police. It was established during my time as Minister for Police. The commissioner, senior police officers and I discussed those considerations because we recognised that George Street, which honourable members know has a large number of cinemas and games parlours, attracts many young people late at night and a large number of people had reported feeling unsafe in that area.

The George Street cinema area has been designed to cater for the entertainment of young people, and it attracts huge numbers. Those who visit the area for entertainment, like all citizens, are entitled to congregate there and use the entertainment facilities without fear for their safety. The commissioner and I had closed-circuit television surveillance under active discussion because it was considered to be a policing option appropriate for the area. I applaud his decision to allow it to occur.
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During her contribution the honourable member for Cabramatta referred to policing failures in Cabramatta and to the Chief Inspector Leek's remarks that the police could not get above the footpath. The patrol commander was really saying that it was not a question of police numbers but of how police used their professional resources.

Mr Whelan: You are not straying from the debate, are you?

Mr WEST: No, because you allowed the honourable member for Cabramatta to talk about policing in Cabramatta.

Mr Whelan: No, I did not.

Mr WEST: My word, you did. Chief Inspector Leek was indicating - and it was made clear in discussions that I had with the commissioner - that better use had to be made of the resources of the Drug Enforcement Agency and other crime commission activities. The Federal authorities were brought in to consult and a special task force was established in the Cabramatta area. Closed-circuit television surveillance was considered to be an option that could assist the task force in its operations. It was not a question of police numbers, nor was it a question of the Government ignoring the problem when I was Minister for Police; it was a question of working with the police so that they could solve the problems in a professional way. I know that the honourable member for Cabramatta had deep concerns about that, as did her predecessor and, undoubtedly, many other people in Cabramatta. I well recall discussing the problems and concerns with the mayor of Fairfield. I indicated to him and to the general manager of Fairfield City Council that I believed that the use of closed-circuit television surveillance would assist the police but that it needed community endorsement.

As the honourable member said, the use of closed-circuit television has privacy considerations. It is the Cabramatta locals - not those who enter the area to commit crimes - whose privacy needs protection. It is not the local people who should fear closed-circuit television surveillance; it is the criminals who trade in drugs and commit other crimes. They are the ones we are out to catch. Though there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in the motion, involving the establishment of the task force and the date of its establishment, the institution of closed-circuit television trials to assist police in their efforts to catch criminals who are invading our society in a number of communities is a worthwhile move that everyone in the State should support.

Mr WHELAN (Ashfield - Minister for Police) [11.42]: I do not intend to claim credit or to boast, but one thing is certain: it was the Labor Party, as a result of its intention to make the streets of Sydney safe, that agreed to the proposal that the previous Government had contemplated, at least prior to December 1994, but, for reasons best known to it, had not acted upon. When I rang Mr Puplick he commended me and said that I was the first Minister, let alone Minister for Police, who had contacted him about guidelines. It is simplistic to believe that the motion is an attempt to take credit for the closed-circuit television initiative. The honourable member for Orange is caught between a rock and a hard place; he cannot claim the credit. The coalition parties lost government partly because they turned a deaf ear to the real issues of personal safety confronting the people of the State. I thank the honourable member for Cabramatta for raising the matter in this House. I am very much aware of her concern for her constituents and for the local police.

On 12 May I launched the trial of the use of closed-circuit television, which is being conducted in George Street between Park Street and Liverpool Street. Closed-circuit television is also being trialed by Fairfield City Council in the electorate of the honourable member for Cabramatta. Closed-circuit television is a crime prevention strategy that provides a positive solution to community concerns about local threats and risks because it promotes a safer environment. Unlike the former Government, the Carr Government is committed to developing and assessing such innovative crime prevention measures.

The three-month trial of closed-circuit television in George Street follows consultations with Sydney City Council, local businesses and the Privacy Committee. As I said earlier, I consulted the Lord Mayor of Sydney and I am the first Minister for Police to consult the Privacy Committee on the issue. The previous Government did not bother to seek the committee's opinion, preferring to hold the closed-circuit television trial in reserve in case it won the election. It lacked the courage of its convictions. Given the commitment of the Police Service to the community that by the end of the decade New South Wales will have the safest streets in Australia, the option of closed-circuit television surveillance clearly demands examination. The purpose of closed-circuit television operations is to prevent crime and encourage appropriate behaviour. I believe that the probability of being detected and the increased threat of apprehension or censure will act as powerful deterrents to persons committing crimes or behaving in an inappropriate manner.

Many councils have expressed an interest in the use of closed-circuit television in their area as a response to local crime. The Government has set up a closed-circuit television task force, comprising police, local government and the Privacy Committee, to develop a standard management plan to assist councils considering the use of closed-circuit television so that the conflicting interests of breach of privacy and the right of individuals to go about their law-abiding business without television monitoring can be determined. Guidelines will be formulated not only for the city of Sydney but for other areas throughout New South Wales. Cabramatta police have taken a positive role by acting in an advisory capacity to both the council and the Cabramatta town centre task force.

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I congratulate the honourable member for Cabramatta on the part she has played in ensuring that the streets of Cabramatta are safer for her constituents. I believe that closed-circuit television can provide a positive community solution to local crime by promoting a safer environment - a safer environment to which each and every person in New South Wales has a right. To this end, let me assure honourable members that I shall seek progress reports on the George Street trial and closely monitor the development of the closed-circuit television policy. I shall keep the Opposition acquainted with the results of the trial. The views of the Privacy Committee, the city council and the police will be well heard in this Chamber because the use of closed-circuit television is an initiative that the Labor Party commenced soon after coming to government but that members opposite lacked the courage to take.

Mr COCHRAN (Monaro) [11.47]: The introduction of the new closed-circuit television technology will enhance law and order in the State. I join the former Minister for Police, the honourable member for Orange, in paying tribute to those responsible for the continuation of the former Government's program and offer some warnings to those who might become involved in it. As a result of my former occupation, I know some of the pitfalls involved in surveillance and privacy that the Minister for Police should heed. The honourable member for Cabramatta should be aware that John Newman called for additional police in the area; he did not call for additional Kodak. The need for more police in Cabramatta undoubtedly still exists.

The honourable member should not be duped into believing that additional cameras would improve law and order in Cabramatta. The problem is much greater than one that can be solved by the employment of television video systems. Closed-circuit television surveillance is a step forward and a step in the right direction but there are pitfalls. For example, the guidelines must contain a definition of "need to know" and a description of responsible persons who will have access to the tapes. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation needs to justify the implementation of any surveillance system, as does the special branch or any other police organisation. ASIO has to obtain a warrant from the Attorney-General in order to activate surveillance, and stringent provisions are made to protect the privacy of individuals in the street.

I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to my concern that tapes could fall into the wrong hands and be used by television news reporters for untoward purposes or to create hostility in the community. Unfortunately, the Minister has vacated the Chamber, but I would ask him also to make provision in the guidelines for the destruction of the tapes. Once the tapes have been scrutinised by the relevant authorities - those who need to know - they should be destroyed and not kept for future reference. Honourable members will recall the release by corrupt officers of the Department of Motor Transport to the general public and to advertising agencies of private information relating to licences and motor registry details. The leaking of that information was exposed through an inquiry, but it proved that public sector employees are, unfortunately, prepared to sell such information to the general public or to television news organisations that might be prepared to use it in some untoward activity.

The honourable member for Cabramatta, the Minister for Police and the former Minister for Police were correct in identifying the issue of privacy as being important. Unless privacy is addressed in the right way I have grave concerns about the future of this high technology method of detecting crime in Sydney. It is a step forward and will become prevalent, but we need to tread gently. Privacy for the individual in the street is of paramount importance and it will not be sacrificed lightly.

Mr NAGLE (Auburn) [11.51]: I congratulate the honourable member for Cabramatta on her motion. This is a matter of grave concern. The House has only to go back to the sad day when it dealt with the condolence motion for John Newman. For up to two weeks prior to his death, John Newman had a surveillance camera operating in his home. That would have been a deterrent. George Street between Park Street and Elizabeth Street is a busy area with a high crime rate. Yet many people frequent it because of its cinemas and business activities. I take on board the remarks made by the honourable member for Monaro about privacy and the misuse of information. If footage recorded by the cameras were misused, the Parliament would deal with such action severely by imposing appropriate penalties.

The use of surveillance cameras in George Street and by Fairfield City Council in Fairfield is only a trial. Fairfield City Council had to do something to protect its citizens. Ninety-five per cent of New South Wales citizens are decent, law-abiding people who need to be protected from the remaining 5 per cent. Closed-circuit television is an excellent crime prevention strategy that can be used effectively to develop crime prevention. Prevention is better than cure. Those who commit evil acts can go elsewhere, but areas in which crime is most prevalent will be protected through the use of surveillance cameras.

If privacy is breached in the three-month trial the breach can be dealt with. I congratulate the Minister for Police on an excellent project, the aim of which is to make New South Wales streets the safest in Australia and to reduce the crime rate. When I first became a member of Parliament the sale of heroin in the streets of Auburn was a huge problem. Two good police commanders and a good operating team were able to remove the pushers by either arresting them or chasing them into another electorate. A colleague of mine said to me, "What is the idea of sending all those heroin pushers to my electorate?" I said, "Bad luck. They are no longer in mine." That is how it goes.

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Auburn railway station is a scene of conflict in the mornings and in the afternoons when schoolchildren are going home. Friction has arisen between boys from a high school and boys from the local Catholic school. The use of a surveillance camera at the appropriate times could assist in reducing the conflict. However, I must commend the principal of Granville Boys High School, Mr Hargraves, and his staff, and the principal and staff of Benedict College for getting together to reduce the conflict. The local newsagent at the railway station complains continually that he is being harassed or that people are stealing from him.

If the trials of the surveillance cameras in George Street and Fairfield are effective, other areas where cameras could be used in an effort to reduce the crime rate can be considered. Police officers in Cabramatta have taken positive steps by acting in an advisory capacity to the council and to Cabramatta townspeople. I may be incorrect, but I think that Cabramatta townspeople put $200,000 towards the project, which shows how concerned they were to protect their customers and their business from criminals running out of control, for which the former member for Cabramatta, Mr Newman, gave his life. Closed-circuit television cameras have their downside. That is evident in countries where tyrants rule, where there is a dictatorship rather than the free, parliamentary democratic system we have. But in a country like Australia I recommend such a process. [Time expired.]

Mr McMANUS (Bulli) [11.56]: I congratulate the Premier on the introduction of such crime prevention initiatives as the use of closed-circuit television surveillance. I also congratulate the more recently elected honourable member for Cabramatta on bringing the motion before the House. I support the motion. I have recently been appointed the Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services. In the short time I have had this responsibility it has become clear to me that such initiatives are necessary to ensure community safety. Though the Minister for Police has made a commitment to increase police numbers by 650 over the next couple of years - in the last couple of weeks 100 police cadets graduated - there will always be a need to protect the community. Police officers cannot be everywhere.

It is obvious that the introduction of closed-circuit television is much needed in malls. The honourable member for Cabramatta has genuine concern for her electorate, as do all honourable members. Similar problems are occurring in the Illawarra. The Government in its infancy is dealing with the police shortage. Isolated places such as the Wollongong mall require ongoing protection. The community will become aware that it is under police surveillance. The perpetrators of crime, drunks and people who create a nuisance and disturb others in the mall who are trying to go about their business will be recorded by closed-circuit cameras.

Police will not have to be present at the scene of a crime and they will be able to look back some days later and recognise the perpetrators of crime or those prepared to disrupt the lives of the law-abiding and god-fearing citizens of New South Wales. Surveillance works two ways. In the past couple of years in other countries surveillance cameras in police vehicles have proved to provide a degree of protection. They provide records of police officers doing their duty pulling over perpetrators of crime or drivers speeding.

In recent times cases have emerged worldwide of police who were not of a mind to carry out their duties fairly and equitably being caught, brought before the courts and charged. Bleeding hearts may feel that the proposal put forward by the honourable member for Cabramatta will deprive citizens of their freedoms and privacy and spy on them. The positive aspect is that the Government and the Minister are taking crime seriously by appointing 650 more police and using closed-circuit cameras to ensure that the harmony of our society is not disrupted. I commend the Minister and the Government. I also commend the honourable member for Cabramatta for her action.

Ms MEAGHER (Cabramatta) [12.01], in reply: I take on board the concerns raised by the honourable member for Monaro. In terms of the Cabramatta experience, it is interesting that resistance to the use of closed-circuit television and concerns about crime have not been raised by members of the community but by commentators and academics who think they know what is good for us. When discussing the escalation of crime and the rights of the individual, it must be realised that there comes a time when a compromise must be made for the benefit of the whole community. That trade-off can be made with the introduction of closed-circuit television.

When I walk into a bank that has closed-circuit television I accept without complaint that it is for my safety. Recently State Rail introduced closed-circuit cameras to Cabramatta railway station without causing a murmur. People acknowledge that the cameras were put in place for their safety. It is not illogical to suggest that such a system should be introduced in malls and busy areas within our city. For that reason I am glad that the honourable member has supported the motion. I congratulate the Minister for Police on consulting with the Privacy Committee. It is important that the debate be aired properly and the majority of those concerns addressed.

I take up the issue raised by the honourable member for Monaro that the proposal is not a cure-all. I do not think anyone purports that closed-circuit television is a cure-all. But if it helps to reduce the fear of crime then it serves a valuable community service and is an important aspect of community policing. The honourable member is quite right: social issues and causes underlying crime must be considered. That approach would include better education; better literacy programs, especially in the Cabramatta electorate; and employment opportunities. A vast range of issues must be addressed. This is a good step in the right direction.

Motion agreed to.

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