Crimes Legislation Amendment (Protection Of Emergency Workers And Others) Bill 2017 Second Reading

16 Nov 2017

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I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Protection of Emergency Workers and Others) Bill 2017. I understand the intent of this bill is to address the increase in the ramming of police cars. I have a lot of respect for the police and the work they do, particularly in my area. It is very tough work and often very sensitive work. They do a really good job.

Again, the government has introduced a bill with mandatory sentencing. Mandatory sentencing does not work. The government knows mandatory sentencing does not work. In fact there are some major issues with mandatory sentencing that undermine the effectiveness of the entire justice system. This is an example of the opposition, to their credit, setting the agenda in terms of justice legislation in this state. The government is following what they are putting up. It is an approach I fundamentally disagree with. It is an approach that is going to result in more crime, more repeat offenders, higher incarceration rates, more money spent on prisons and less money spent on crime prevention.

If we look at what is contained in the bill, we see that it creates new sentences for ramming emergency services vehicles and for injuring emergency services workers. Of course these actions are already against the law, so we are essentially adding to the statute book an offence that is already an offence. Certainly I do not think any criminal engages in ramming a police car without the knowledge that it is against the law.

Aside from simply adding to the statute book an offence that is already an offence, again our real issue is with mandatory sentencing — an approach that the Greens and others in the justice system fundamentally disagree with. Ramming a police car or injuring a police officer is already an aggravating offence when it comes to sentencing, and so it should be. But mandatory sentencing does not reduce crime. It does not prevent reoffending. It affects marginalised and Indigenous communities and really extends that cycle of long-term incarceration and crime by taking away the discretion of the judiciary to look at both the aggravating and mitigating factors in sentencing.

In her second-reading speech the Minister for Police said:

The government shares the concerns of police officers when offences involving violent behaviour towards police are the subject of plea deals by police prosecutors. If an offender intentionally or recklessly exposes an emergency worker to risk to safety by driving and the offence is committed in certain aggravating circumstances, the offender should go to prison.

I do not think anyone would disagree with the sentiment, particularly of that last statement, but ultimately those decisions should be made by the judiciary.

In regard to plea deals, when we legislate against them to try to make sure that they do not go ahead and there is a custodial sentence, the perverse outcome of that is that there is obviously more encouragement then for the offender to plead not guilty for it to go to trial, which again could lead to the offender not actually being charged. There is a propensity for the Director of Public Prosecutions or prosecutors to decide there is not actually sufficient evidence to bring that to trial, and it could result in offenders getting off. So there are actually perverse outcomes to putting that provision in legislation to try to stamp out plea deals.

Obviously we are concerned about the increase in police ramming, but mandatory sentencing simply is not the answer; in fact it makes matters worse. We need a change in approach to justice — one that is evidence-based and one that is effective. The government should not be simply following the opposition down the rabbit hole and mimicking their previous bills.

The fact is that we need to ensure that the judiciary have a punishment that fits the crime, taking into account aggravating factors such as injuring a police officer, and that they are able to make orders that will reduce the chances of reoffending. Mandatory sentencing is simply not the way to go. The Greens cannot support that.

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