The Connex ticket inspectors, who already have a reputation for violent and thuggish behaviour, are pushing for the right to carry handcuffs. Julian Burnside QC, president of Civil Liberties Victoria, has described the plan as "insane".
In April, Trevor Dobbyn, state secretary of the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), renewed the controversial call to arm 350 ticket inspectors with handcuffs to restrain passengers. The use of handcuffs had already been raised in August 2007 in a joint union, Connex and transport department committee.
Burnside said that the Connex inspectors already have the power to arrest and detain commuters whom they suspect of breaking the law.
The renewed push comes just weeks after five inspectors put a man in hospital with a dislocated elbow, a broken cheek, broken teeth and lacerations to his face and legs.
According to the April 18 Melbourne Age, the man said he had a valid concession ticket and his concession card on him at the time and presented them on request. However, he refused to give the inspectors his date of birth, and took back his concession card and left the train. Five Connex officers then allegedly tackled him and pinned him to the ground for 15-20 minutes.
According to Burnside, giving Connex ticket inspectors more power "when they have too many powers to detain already, is truly shocking". Burnside questioned the role of the inspectors. He said that a free and frequent public transport system, while being slightly more expensive to run, would provide important environmental and other community benefits.
Not all RTBU members are happy with their unions' support for the handcuff push. One RTBU member, who did not want to be named, told GLW that "The union is really letting their members and the general public down". Instead, he said, "The union should be pushing to get the pressure off inspectors".
"There is a culture of 'having to make quotas', which means fining people. If they didn't have fine quotas to hand out, inspectors would be under less pressure to fine people, especially people who can't afford it, and this would reduce violence.
"It would make trains safer for inspectors and passengers. Failing to see this means that the union is letting down its members and the general public."