Victoria’s police force has not been privatised

AAP FactCheck September 17, 2020

The Statement

A Facebook post claims Victoria’s government has signed on to the Strong Cities Network, resulting in the privatisation of the police force amid anti-lockdown protests and arrests in the state.

The September 9 Facebook post reads: “Dig a little deeper and it becomes obvious as to what’s happening in Victoria. Daniel Andrews has also sold out Victoria to the Strong Cities Network (SCN).”

The post includes a link to the Strong Cities Network website and claims SCN is “the privatisation of a Police Force governed by global NGO’s (sic). And Victoria is the only state in Australia to sign on.”

“Why do you think the Police at Melbourne’s Freedom Day Rally acted like goons, were dressed in black and didn’t have the Australian logo on their uniforms?” it said.

The post also features an image of two police officers standing in front of a police vehicle wearing protective armour and holding guns.

At the time of writing, the post had been viewed more than 15,000 times and shared on more than 2,400 occasions, accumulating more than 900 comments and 700 reactions.

A Facebook post falsely suggesting Victoria Police are privatised
 Victoria Police has not been privatised via the Strong Cities Network, as claimed on social media. 

The Analysis

While Victoria is a member city of the Strong Cities Network, this has no impact on the operations of Victoria Police, which continues to be owned by, and accountable to, Victoria’s government.

The police force had not been privatised nor outsourced, a spokesperson for the Victorian police minister told AAP FactCheck.

The SCN says it is not about diminishing, circumventing, or removing the mandate of local actors and any policies adopted by member cities are based on their own decisions and responsibilities.

The SCN’s lead organisation also told AAP FactCheck it is not connected to any multilateral organisations like the United Nations and does not govern or influence how police forces carry out their duties.

Multiple anti-lockdown “Freedom Day” protests have taken place across Melbourne with residents pushing back against the state’s COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

The demonstrations resulted in many protesters being arrested and fined by Victoria Police, with the post saying officers had “acted like goons, were dressed in black and didn’t have the Australian logo on their uniforms”. The statement was made in support of its claim the force had been privatised and was being governed by global NGOs.

The Strong Cities Network (SCN) is a global group of policy leaders who collaborate to reduce extremism, hate and violence in local communities by sharing experiences and expert training.

The state of Victoria is the only Australian territory listed among the group’s 140-member network.

In a document titled Strong Cities Network: Myth-busting, the network said it “does NOT force its members to highlight, endorse, or accept existing countering violent extremism policies”.

“The Strong Cities Network is only a network – the policies that members accept are their own decisions and responsibilities … Members only sign up to principles that protect the rights and civil liberties of their communities – and nothing more,” it said.

“The Strong Cities Network is NOT about diminishing, circumventing, or removing the mandate of local actors.”

The SCN is led by independent UK-based think tank the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which is dedicated to understanding and coming up with real-world solutions to the issue of polarisation, hate and extremism, according to its website.

“Membership of the SCN is designed to help city leaders talk to one another across international borders and ensure all public services can draw on their peers’ experiences in how to build resilient communities,” an ISD spokesperson told AAP FactCheck via email.

“SCN initiatives are not led by police, nor do they in any way govern or influence how cities or local governments, including local police forces, carry out their duties.”

The Victoria Police annual report states it is a “wholly owned and controlled entity of the state of Victoria”. The report adds it is governed by the Victoria Police Act 2013 and answers to the minister for police and emergency services.

Victoria’s Department of Justice and Emergency Services rejected the central claim of the post.

“Victoria Police has not been privatised under Victoria’s membership to the Strong Cities Network,” a spokesperson for the department said.

Victoria Police officers in riot gear
 Victoria Police made a series of arrests at anti-lockdown Freedom Day rallies in Melbourne. 

The Verdict

AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post to be false. Victoria Police has not been privatised and is not governed by global NGOs.

Victoria has signed up to the Strong Cities Network, but the main aim of the network is to generate new ways to tackle violent extremism.

The state’s police force remains under the control of the Victorian Government.

False – The primary claim in this Facebook post is inaccurate.

Updated: September 18 2020 at 18.11 AEST to reinstate dropped word (“organisation”) in 4th paragraph of analysis.

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