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Sentencing Amendment (Assault Of Certain Frontline Workers) Bill 2019 - Second Reading

1 August 2019
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, the Greens understand that assaults on frontline workers are serious crimes in the community. They are harmful for the people who are victims of those assaults. These sorts of assaults have always occurred but, in certain instances, in certain places, in certain workplaces, there are definitely increases in the occurrence and possibly the severity of assaults on a number of people who are working in the community. Sadly, there are so many reasons for this occurring, communities under stress behave badly and people act in an aggressive manner for so many reasons. We have not and would never support assaults against people working in our frontline areas in the public service, in the service of Tasmanians or in any public service position, frontline or not.

That comes to one of the issues we have with this bill. It creates two classes of public sector workers, those in so-called frontline positions and other people who are not defined under this bill as being in frontline positions. I can hear the minister -

Ms Archer - I am allowed to have a discussion with my colleague, surely.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, but I can hear your questioning of me using the term 'so-called'. I want to pick up on that because I am pushing back at this idea, this euphemistic language being used in this bill to create -

Ms Archer - So, you don't believe there are frontline workers.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, please. We are a new parliament as of today.

Dr WOODRUFF - two classes of people who are paid to work in the service of Tasmanians.

Defined in this bill are people who are working as ambulance officers, child safety officers, correctional service officers and medical or social service officers. It begs the question, what about all the other people who are positions in which they are exposed to violence and assault through their work? Every day in Tasmania there would be a number of teachers in our schools who face the risk and the reality of assaults, violence, physical and mental harm. These kinds of harm can be inflicted on teachers all too often.

I am thinking of people who work in in all manner of areas of our hospitals, housing officers, people who are required to go out to people living in desperate housing situations and who need to be involved in negotiating difficult decisions about a person's living circumstances. Some of those people are required by this Government to evict people from public housing, which has happened. We have asked questions about the number of times this has happened under the current Government and we are very concerned to think about the people who must have to carry out that task in the face of the risk of verbal or sometimes physical abuse that happens. We have concerns that this bill, in part, is creating two classes of public sector workers.

The fundamental reason we cannot support this bill is because it imposes a mandatory imprisonment for offences under section 16A. We will never support mandatory sentences. We will never support the interference of parliament in the decision-making of the justice system, specifically the decision-making of judges and magistrates about the appropriate sentence a person should receive. It is a fundamental tenet of the Westminster system, the system in Tasmania, that we have always valued. The Greens will continue to uphold that separation of powers because now, more than ever, is not the time to be jettisoning the separation of powers. The fundamental respect our society places in an independent judiciary is not to be directed by populist governments and we will not have their wise counsel and decision-making interfered with by parliaments who make decisions because they are running a particular agenda.

This Liberal Government ought to be ashamed, but they are unashamed of their so-called tough on crime agenda. Being tough on crime should not mean being tough on the system of democracy we have, which is part of creating a society that is just and fair and which is an important part of making a difference between us and other societies, which can trend towards authoritarian dictatorship-like regimes. There are so many stresses on us as a planet. We are seeing around the world societies drifting into an increasingly divided position. Unfortunately we are seeing countries like the United States where they are just throwing aside the democratic processes. The hallmarks of democratic societies are increasingly using mechanisms to subvert the democratic decision-making of parliaments to bring in the power of the executive, the power in the United States of the president, and try to sideline the processes of democracy in government.

We cannot and will not support this bill on the basis of the mandatory sentencing element of it. We also are deeply concerned that, for probably important reasons, it creates these two classes of people in the public sector. We think every public sector worker in Tasmania ought to be supported as much as every other. If there is an assault which happens while they are at work, they ought to be protected by the Government, their employer. We do not support creating two classes of workers and interfering in the judiciary and their decision making, which this bill would seek to do.