A Parliamentary hearing into responses to the COVID-19 outbreak has heard the crisis exposed a number of ongoing issues related to calls to the Police Assistance Line (PAL).
The PAL call centre, managed by Victoria Police and staffed by Serco, is located in Ballarat and was the subject of a series of industrial complaints, with the original staffing numbers being cut savagely as a projected number of calls failed to materialise.
Established in July 2019, the state government has urged Victorians to use the line to report breaches of COVID-19 restrictions and social isolation requirements.
Opposition spokesman for police and community safety David Southwick attended the hearing, and told The Courier questioning of police minister Lisa Neville and Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton revealed average wait times of 17 to 20 minutes, with reports of up to 45 minute delays to lodge a report.
With the public having made over 30,000 reports of COVID-19 breaches via PAL, neither the Chief Commissioner or police minister could answer how many of these reports had resulted in a spot check being conducted or a fine being issued, Mr Southwick said.
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These issues follow Courier reports of 150 staff at the centre being laid off in August 2019. Mr Southwick told The Courier Ms Neville was unable to confirm if any former workers were re-employed to help meet increased demand during COVID-19.
"Labor's failure to re-engage former staff during this period has worsened the police hotline performance and is a clear blow to regional jobs," Mr Southwick said.
"This understaffed and poorly managed hotline is yet another example of Labor failing to provide Victoria Police with the resources they need to do their job and keep the community safe."
Mr Southwick said the hearing was presented with evidence members of the public making reports via PAL were not provided a reference number and diud not receive follow up communications from PAL or Victoria Police, meaning community members are often left in the dark as to what actions were taken following their report.
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