Police Minister Lisa Neville has condemned a Children's Court decision to bail a 17-year-old accused of kicking a young police officer in the head at Highpoint shopping centre in Melbourne on Boxing Day.
Acting Premier Tim Pallas called on the court to justify its bail decision, saying Victorians "expect a clear explanation and justification for the choices that the court is making. And I think they deserve nothing less than that,” he said.
CCTV: policeman kicked at Highpoint Shopping Centre
A teenager rushes through the crowds at Maribyrnong's Highpoint Shopping Centre to kick a police officer in the face. Footage has been released in the hopes that witnesses can help them track down the assailant.
Mr Pallas said the government was implementing more restrictive bail laws from July 1.
He said applicants for bail would have to demonstrate a “compelling case” about why they should get bail once the new laws are introduced.
“Clearly the community are emphatic in their view that there should be less access to bail.”
Ms Neville said Victoria Police had "strongly opposed bail in this case due to what they felt was an unacceptable risk to the community".
"While this is a matter for the court, it's incumbent on the court to explain its decision to the community, and why they went against the advice of Victoria Police," she said.
Ms Neville told radio station 3AW she found the court's decision "incomprehensible".
"It also sends the general message that you can get away with this and have the soft touch of the law which is why we have made significant changes to the bail act which comes into force this year," she said.
"This person would have been very, very, very unlikely to have received bail under the new changes."
Opposition Attorney-General John Pesutto said remand "should have been the order of the day".
The Coalition has promised to introduce tougher bail laws if elected in 2018.
"Police officers, paramedics and other first responders need to be protected, as do all members of our community," Mr Pesutto said.
But he distanced himself from Peter Dutton's comments that Victorians were afraid to go out to restaurants because they were scared of being followed by gangs.
The Home Affairs Minister blasted the Victorian Labor government over African street crime on Wednesday, accusing Premier Daniel Andrews of undermining the police and the courts and said political correctness had "taken hold" in the state.
"Peter Dutton's comments in relation to restaurants is not a depiction that I myself would use," Mr Pesutto said. "But let's be realistic about this: people in parts of Melbourne are very fearful."
The Andrews government has described Mr Dutton's comments as ridiculous and wrong.
Images of the police officer's blackened eye and bruised face were released on Wednesday by the Victorian Police Association, to express its outrage over the leniency shown to the alleged offender.
The victim, 25, who has been in the force for five years, was arresting a young shoplifter at Highpoint on Boxing Day when a group of teenagers surrounded him before one sank his boot into the officer's face.
The association's secretary Wayne Gatt said heightened disrespect for police was putting officers at risk of violent assaults and the courts were letting offenders off the hook.
The teenager was on 12 months' probation at the time of the alleged assault and has a history of criminal offences including aggravated and attempted aggravated burglaries and car theft.
An irate Mr Gatt said the incident had left the police officer "shaken up" and caused officers across the state to express fear about performing their duties amid the growing teenage street-gang crisis, largely attributed to young people of African descent.
"He [the victim] is back at work doing the job but it's taken its toll on him and our members," Mr Gatt said.
"I've spent the last two days at stations across Victoria and they are literally gobsmacked to witness an assault like this occur. When police officers can be seen to be vulnerable within the community, police start to question their own personal safety at work.
"To then hear that offenders accused of crimes like this are released on bail so they could potentially injure other from within their ranks and people in the broader community defies belief."
Mr Gatt said serious and violent assaults against police were rising, with 45 more officers injured last year compared with the previous year.
He said 1273 officers were victims of violent assault in 2017, compared to 1228 in 2016.
He called for a reform of state's bail system to make it more difficult for those accused of violent crimes to released.
"The risk to community safety needs to be given greater consideration through bail reform," he said. "This is a perfect example of a case where police strenuously oppose bail and their concerns appear to have been ignored.
"The courts have to send a strong message that our members aren't punching bags ... that this behaviour, this disrespect must stop and won't be tolerated."
The accused teen, from the western suburbs, was arrested last week and charged with assaulting an emergency worker on duty, intentionally and recklessly causing injury, and common law assault.
He appeared at the Children's Court last Friday and was released on bail.
Ms Neville said that reforms announced more than a year ago targeting youth offenders – including the provision of youth control orders, and so-called Fagin's Laws cracking down on those who direct youth offenders – could be used by police in coming months.
It comes after a large group of youths allegedly bashed and robbed beachgoers in a wild brawl on the St Kilda foreshore in the early hours of Thursday, December 14.
Detectives are also investigating links between at least four violent and destructive sprees at short-term rental properties – including a near-riot at a party in Werribee on December 19-20 –and an emerging western suburbs street gang, known as MTS, or Menace to Society.
Police are also investigating reports of a group of youths trashing and occupying a local park in Tarneit.
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