24th November 2020

The Inquest into the terrible tragedy that unfolded in Bourke Street Melbourne on 20th January 2017 has now concluded, and we acknowledge the difficulty that the Coroner, Her Honour Jacquie Harkins, faced and her sensitivity in handling a significant and challenging inquest.

The CAA has restrained comments on this terrible episode; however, it is now appropriate that we should raise our concerns that can be considered as an adjunct to the Coroners recommendations.

We acknowledge that the findings of the Coroner are generally sound, but we are of the view that they have not gone far enough. Technology-based protection, the issue of Victoria Police Culture, as it then was, and the culpability issues have not been fully addressed.

The CAA is disappointed that the opportunity to use technology has been again overlooked. Since 2016, the CAA has been encouraging the State of Victoria to adopt new technology to avoid just this sort of incident.  https://caainc.org.au/the-g-tag-a-new-paradigm-in-community-safety/.

The technology we refer to can stop or disable a vehicle that poses a public risk. The technology capable of this already exists in many new vehicles and the components that function well, have been in the commercial space for many years, it only needs coordination to achieve this resource for the community good.

The application of this technology will save lives now and into the future.

The Bourke street massacre was predictable and inevitable. Given overseas experiences that vehicles would be used as a weapon, either against an individual or many. Whether motivated by ideology or mental instability, there will always be the risk of somebody deciding to use a vehicle as a weapon, and it will happen again. Likewise, it cannot be discounted that criminals will resort to the vehicle as a weapon in certain circumstances.

We again call on the Government to look seriously at the CAA G-Tag proposal.

We were also concerned at the focus of the Coroner on the lower ranks of Victoria Police when referring to a negative culture.

We think this criticism avoids the real problem within Victoria Police that contributed substantially to police failures but has not received the attention the failure deserves.

The coroner overlooked the equation of 452 + 1 + 40 x 10 = 0, even though it looks wrong.

That equation represents the number of Commissioned Officers in Victoria Police, plus one Chief Commissioner who had a staff of forty at the time who must have known of this incident or should have. The ten represents the duration of the event in hours and the zero, the number of Officers who took command.

It beggars belief that with over four hundred and fifty Commissioned Officers of Inspector and above within Victoria Police, not one felt that they should take command, or inquire who was in command of a serious incident that spanned some ten hours.

It was left to an Air Observer in the Police Helicopter to issue decisive instructions for action in Bourke Street. Not an Officer to be seen or heard.

Every Police Commissioned Officer should accept a moral responsibility to refer to their diary and determine what they were doing for that critical ten hours. Then where appropriate, reflect on their failure to the Police members involved, all Victorians, and in particular the six who died, the twenty-seven injured and all those adversely impacted by this incident because of a lack of leadership.

Then each Officer should then undertake some serious introflexion as to whether they have honoured the Commission they hold and the Force they serve.

Therein lays the cultural flaw, a failure to take responsibility, a failure to take command and a failure to accept responsibility. The officers are paid the big dollars in the organisation but are exposed to the least risk, which must change.

Leadership must be reinstated.

The much-hackneyed phrase, ‘a creeping assumption’ has eroded the Command and Control that the operational police are entitled to expect from their Officers and leaders‘, that erosion has caused the Commissioned Officers role to morph into one that avoids accountability and responsibility, both traits they expect their subordinates to display.

This phenomenon is the root cause of the overall problem, and the responsibility for allowing this assumption to evolve rests with only one person, the Chief Commissioner of that day.

The removal of all Officers from direct operational Supervision has been a major structural failure. There is no longer direct command support of senior police to the operational realities faced on the ground by police day in day out. This disconnect has an adverse effect on the organisation as the senior ranks lose touch with the issues faced by their staff.

It is disappointing that the Coroner did not lay the blame where it should lay instead of generally skirting around accountability.

This disaster is falling into the big basket with a number of other substantial failures of Government and or its agencies where nobody is held to account.

The failure to hold people to account for their actions, or lack thereof, is a disgrace.

Did Victoria Police apologise for failing the victims?

Yet again, it was left to a Senior Constable during the Inquest to deliver the sort of apology that the victim’s relatives needed, and to which they were entitled.

Chief Commissioner Ashton should have issued that apology at the Inquest in person, and it will be to his eternal shame that he did not.

It may bring the downfall of a few Departmental heads and their Political masters before the penny will drop that their comfortable jobs and huge salaries are not a gratuity from the people whose taxes provide the largess they enjoy. We expect a quid pro quô; do your job and make sure the part of the organisation you are charged with leading, functions to best practise, because, if not, your tenure should be far from guaranteed – that is accountability.

We are confident that Chief Commissioner Patton will move rapidly to address many of these issues and we call on the Government to support the Chief in this endeavor.

Additionally, we call on the Government to legislate the mandatory installation in all vehicles of the GPS technology described in our G-tag proposal, with the creation of an allied facility to operate the system.

A world-first that will contribute to Victoria being again the state of Innovation.