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Security And Investigations Agents Amendment Bill 2018 - Second Reading

27 November 2018
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Greens support this bill. 
We have a number of things to say about the pre-conditions for the bill. 
We have heard a range of views presented in the community through the 
media, people have contacted us through email, some phone calls, and there 
is a range of views. There have been views expressed to me about invasion 
of personal privacy and the thin end of the wedge, and those comments are 
entirely understandable in the current climate of deep concern in the 
community about surveillance and privacy in general. I absolutely respect 
where those concerns are coming from and understand that is why 
legislation needs to be targeted precisely in what it is attempting to 
capture. I believe this legislation satisfies those criteria. I have 
conversely had views from people who think it is absolutely reasonable and 
needs to be done. Shop owners are left in a very difficult situation 
because they do not have the ability to protect their business and 
livelihood from people who choose to pick things up and walk out the door 
without paying for them. On the balance of the views, we support the bill. 

Although we understand, agree with and support the rights of business 
owners to protect their goods from being stolen, we are concerned at the 
conditions in our Tasmanian society that cause people to commit theft and 
steal from other people. There is a range of reasons. These have been 
well investigated by academics in the fields of psychology, cognitive 
therapy, behavioural sciences, and in retail and business areas. There is 
a well-documented range of reasons why people choose to steal, 
particularly from retail places, looking at that set of circumstances. 
What we see from that research is there is a relationship between an 
increasing rate of shoplifting and increasing social disadvantage, poverty, 
homelessness and other reasons that cause people to be in a situation 
where they need to take goods in order to fulfil the functions of their 
everyday life. 

In Tasmania we have seen an unprecedented rise in rental prices and many 
people are struggling to pay the rent. There has been a very fast and 
steep increase in the price of rental properties. There has also been a 
very steep increase in the price of new houses for sale, and both those 
factors mean that if people are forced, through circumstances, to sell and 
move to another area or, more commonly, because their landlord chooses to 
take their rental property out of the market, or they need to move from 
one rental property to another area where it is more expensive, people in 
those situations have far less disposable income available to them. Some 
people end up having no disposal income available to them after they have 
taken out rent, utilities, food, petrol, school fees, and some people, 
very sadly, but more and more, cannot afford to pay for those necessities.

In Tasmania the consumer price index has been steadily increasing since 
2015 and is now 0.8 per cent higher than the national figure. The 
consumer price index is an indicator of what is called a 'basket', and the 
total basket is divided into a number of major commodities groups and 
covers items such as food, alcohol and tobacco, clothing and footwear, 
housing, household contents and services, health, transportation, 
communication, recreation, education and financial and insurance services. 
These are all what we consider in modern Australia to be the basics of 
life, the basic expenditure categories. All of those categories are 
individually, and as a collective, increasing in cost and it is not the 
case that people's incomes are rising at the same rate.

I mean, here we are with the Education Union striking on a regular basis. 
They are currently striking at the moment because teachers have not had a 
pay rise. We have a proposal by the Government to make no change to 
teachers' pay, so we clearly have a situation where we have housing prices 
going up, rental prices going through the roof, food and especially petrol, 
all going steeply up. That is the backdrop for a situation where we have 
a government that is not putting the focus as it needs to do on dealing 
with those issues that people are feeling a terrible squeeze because of; 
where we have a government that is not actively looking at a long-term 
strategy for affordable housing, that is not pushing back in any 
structural way against the huge increase in properties that are flying out 
to become Airbnb instead of remaining in the market for people to rent. 
That is one of the key factors in the increase in the rental housing price 
increase in Hobart.

As I suppose most members do when they go to events, I hear stories, and a 
few weeks ago I was speaking to a woman on the eastern shore who had three 
young children and her landlord had just given her notice because he 
wanted to put the house price up. He did not want her and her three 
children to live there anymore, so she found herself without a house 
within the month. Her three children were all doing well in nearby 
schools, and she knew she would not be able to find a house within the 
school area.

People are in increasingly desperate circumstances sadly across Tasmania 
and there is a whole range of reasons that people choose to steal. Some 
of those factors are within the role of governments to do something about; 
to reduce the situations where people are desperate and choose to take 
that pathway to solve the problem. People choose to steal because they 
want to have money and status, particularly young people. They want to 
have the latest fashion, the latest look, they want to keep up with their 
peers, and that in particular is one of the reasons young people steal.

They also want to own goods, they want to consume particular items, they 
want to enjoy particular experiences, so they choose to steal to get 
things that they want. People also steal in situations where they can see 
there is a low risk, where it is easy for them to say, 'Oh, I forgot, I 
didn't realise'. People are more likely to steal in circumstances where 
they think they can get away with lying about their intentions. People 
steal because there is a lack of sufficient security and oversight. 

We have heard stories from small retail businesses about the expense of 
bringing in security guards or bringing in extra surveillance equipment is 
high. That will have an impact on their business. However, if their 
goods are walking out the door they are forced to make those hard 
decisions.

People steal because of mental health illnesses. Mental health disorders, 
such as bipolar, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders and 
personality disorders are linked to an increasing rate of kleptomania.

Another reason for an increase in stealing is a lack of personal 
connection with the shop. People are more inclined to steal from large 
chain stores and international corporations because they can convince 
themselves that the impact is diluted and the effect is so far away and is 
so tiny and insignificant that they do not need to take any personal 
responsibility.

The bill offers a solution to a small part of those things. It will make 
it harder for people to say they forgot, but they will have to fess up 
because someone is able to look in their bag. It will not do anything 
about the cost of living issues. It will not do anything about the 
underlying poverty that is forcing more people in Tasmania to live in 
desperate circumstances. 

In the history of convict transportation to Tasmania, people were 
transported because they were political prisoners, such as the outspoken 
Irish political activists, or they were desperate, poor people in such 
extreme poverty that they stole a pie, a loaf of bread and some buttons. 
At Port Arthur we see the history written before us. With the hindsight 
of a couple of hundred years we think it was as injustice that people were 
transported to the other end of the earth for such minor acts. Some 
people choose to steal in Tasmania now to put food on the table for their 
children. The services that support the poorest people will tell you 
these stories. Parents are forced to do illegal acts because they feel 
the services are not there for them to provide food, to help with the 
electricity bills, to care for their children. 

I am not condoning illegal acts but it is the job of government to assist 
when the price of living is going steadily higher. Every year this 
Government has been in the consumer price index has increased. Since 
December 2015 to September 2018, the index has been going up every single 
year. That has a real effect on people's lives. If the Government wants 
to bring down shoplifting rates in some of the poorest areas where the 
shoplifting rates are highest, the best thing is to introduce services to 
help people who are in desperate need of housing, to pay their electricity 
bills, to help them with food and petrol. They are the essential services 
that people so desperately need.

It is incumbent upon the minister to understand that is the greatest 
contribution he could make if he is serious about the fortunes of retail 
businesses in certain parts of Tasmania. Having said that, we do support 
what is in this bill and the ability of shop owners to be able to protect 
the goods they have for sale.