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Summary Offences (Declared Public Precincts) Amendment Bill – Committee Stage

In committee.

Clause 1.

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN: I would like to articulate the Liberal Party position given that the number of questions which I asked at the second reading have been responded to by the government. I advise the chamber that the Liberal opposition will support the passage of the bill through committee without amendment. The Liberal opposition has had regard to the government’s answers to the questions raised in the second reading, as I have indicated. The Liberal opposition is taking on faith the assertions of the police force that these measures will improve the policing of particular precincts of concern.

The law and order argument has won the day with the Liberal Party. On balance, the Liberal Party places great weight on the public safety considerations. In essence, the Liberal opposition is relying on the judgement of the police leadership when utilising the provisions of this bill when conducting its operations. It would be clear to most, if not all in this chamber, that I have had some personal reservations regarding this bill. I question the need for these provisions given many of the powers our police already enjoy, and have deep reservations about the social impact which was set out in the submissions of the Law Society, the Youth Affairs Council and the ALRM.

I personally worry these laws could be used in an unscrupulous manner to target some of the most vulnerable members of our community. On this occasion, I do not intend to stray from the tribe and will vote with my party. The issues surrounding the impact of this bill were considered by the party room and I respect their concluded view. The policy and thinking behind the bill in the government and police cabals are not sufficiently vile to warrant voting against the bill. I take comfort in the decision to declare that a precinct will be public—maybe not appropriately signed on the street level, but at least public—as will be the actions of the police in a declared precinct. Therefore, there will be an opportunity for the effect of these laws to be observed by all.

Consequently, as a community we can form a judgement on whether they are necessary and should remain in the body of our laws. I still believe that the granting of the discretion in this bill to the Attorney-General to declare a precinct should be accompanied by a corresponding commitment that reasons will be recorded for the declaration. Again, I draw comfort from the fact that the declaration will have to be made public, and that the Attorney-General will have to justify himself, as will the police commissioner.

I note the offer by the Attorney-General, and communicated by the Hon. Ian Hunter in his summing up of the second reading, that the government will make inquiries of the Commissioner of Police as to the operation of these laws after a year of their commencement. I accept the undertaking. I expect that now the undertaking has been offered and accepted, the Commissioner of Police is bound to keep proper data on the operation of the bill. Should SAPOL fail in this regard, they will be rightly criticised in this council.

My approach to this bill is despite my deep suspicion that the only reason the government acceded to the police request for these laws was to provide another opportunity to trumpet its law and order credentials. Under this government’s stewardship the police have been given more and more power to restrict our liberties. Criminal law has been twisted and contorted by constant ill-considered and vanity amendments. The prisons have become crime factories and the rehabilitation program is an opportunity for the wrong individuals to receive leniency. This bill is just another bauble on Labor’s law and order totem. I remain unconvinced that we need to unnecessarily sacrifice our liberties to address a potentially perceived threat simply to quell a non-existent fear in the minds of the patrons of small bars.

The council will recall there is no substantive justification for these laws. We are without any meaningful evidence. Even the government has acknowledged, in response to one of my questions at the second reading, that the current powers are generally working. I will keep watch over the operation of these laws. I like to think that under a Liberal government these laws will be reviewed, along with other police powers.

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