Highlights from the report
The 2019–20 bushfire season and coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have presented unique and significant challenges for Victorians and the department. The response of our people to both emergencies has been outstanding and is a clear reflection of the professionalism and commitment of our staff and volunteers to serving our community. The 2019–20 summer bushfire season started early in Victoria and conditions in many parts of the state were consistently severe or extreme. This resulted in fires burning over 1.5 million hectares of land over 98 days. Our emergency service organisations and emergency management personnel across the state worked tirelessly to contain 3,500 fires between 21 November 2019 and 27 February 2020.
The department responded quickly to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with the successful implementation of policies, technology and other measures to support office-based staff working from home. In frontline workplaces such as prisons and youth justice centres, the department supplied staff with personal protective equipment (PPE) and enacted policies and processes to continue safely delivering essential services to the community. In addition, frontline staff unable to work because they were required to self-quarantine with coronavirus (COVID-19) or frontline staff who were caring for a family member who had to self-quarantine were given access to special leave entitlements. Fixed term staff had their contracts extended to 31 December 2020, to provide them with stability and security in unprecedented times.
The State Control Centre (SCC) is Victoria’s primary control centre for the management of emergencies such as bushfires and pandemics and is the hub of a network of regional and incident control centres across the state. During 2019–20, the SCC was activated for 268 consecutive days (to 30 June 2020) from 6 October 2019.
Despite the challenges of bushfires and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the department has implemented significant reforms and responded to emerging issues. It has also continued planning and delivery of key initiatives and increasing services across the state.
Several key pieces of legislation were passed in Parliament throughout the year. The Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and Other Matters) Act 2019 was passed in 2019–20, making workplace manslaughter a criminal offence in Victoria. Also passed was the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Act 2019, enabling trans and gender diverse people to nominate the sex listed in their birth registration. In addition, the Wage Theft Act 2020 established new offences for employers who dishonestly withhold wages and other employee entitlements.
The new Police Assistance Line and Online Reporting Portal for non-emergency matters was successfully launched in July 2019. This new service enables Victorians to call 131 444 to report non-urgent crimes, greatly improving the public’s ability to connect directly with Victoria Police regarding non-urgent crimes from any location.
In August 2019, the final bollards were installed in the Bourke Street Mall to complete the CBD security upgrades. Along with the street furniture and planter boxes, the bollards form a protected pedestrian zone on each side of the thoroughfare and shopping strip.
The department has made significant progress with its infrastructure projects across the state, with the completion of the 10 bed Piper Detention Unit at Barwon Prison, the 35 bed Management Unit at Fulham Correctional Centre, and the new Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) venue opened in Oakleigh. Construction for the Chisholm Road Prison project began in 2019-20 and the department commenced its tender for the Barwon in-fill expansion program.
Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) continued to support Victorians with advice to more than 223,500 callers. It also responded to over 68,000 written and online queries and received more than 3.6 million visits to its website in search of resources or advice. This is in addition to the to the Financial Counselling Program which supported 25,560 Victorians with free, independent and confidential telephone or face-to-face financial counselling support.
As committed in the Victorian Government’s Community Safety Statement, the department delivered the Embedded Youth Outreach Program, the Forensic Drug Intelligence Capability Program, and work was undertaken by industry and government agencies to increase the safety of patrons at music festivals.
The Youth Justice Strategic Plan (the plan) was launched in May 2020, setting out how the department will deliver a more effective youth justice system in Victoria. The plan’s vision is to reduce offending of children and young people by providing genuine opportunities for them to turn their lives around.
On 1 July 2019, the responsibility for day to day management of public prisons moved to Corrections Victoria from the department’s Regional Services Network (RSN). The success of the transition over the past 12 months is a testament to the dedication of both Corrections Victoria and the RSN in ensuring the process was careful and considered.