Cassy O’Connor MP | Greens’ Leader
The Greens tabled a bill today that would end the classist persecution of the poor by removing the crime of begging from the statute books.
Many Tasmanians would be shocked to realize that it is a crime in Tasmania for someone to be so poor they feel they must beg to feed themselves.
Under the Police Offences Act 1935, someone convicted of the crime of begging can face a fine of up to $700, and if they can’t pay, up to six months in prison.
The Police Offences Amendment (Begging) Bill 2018 would eliminate an antiquated and discriminatory criminal offence. The provision, based on Victorian-era assumptions about the ‘criminal underclass’, should have no place in law.
The crime of begging has a disproportionate effect on the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society, by its very definition.
Tasmania is experiencing an unprecedented housing crisis right now. Many Tasmanians are finding themselves in shelters, couch surfing or on the streets while on the years-long public housing waiting lists and this criminal offence punishes and prosecutes them for finding themselves stuck in poverty.
Make no mistake, begging laws persecute poor people. We should be addressing poverty by helping those disadvantaged Tasmanians, not imposing a fine they cannot pay or threatening imprisonment.
While this law is antiquated in its essence, it’s still being used. We know three people have been imprisoned under this section in the past five years, and believe there may be more on the books.
For those so impoverished and desperate they’re begging, our laws seek to punish them twice over by charging the person for being poor, and slugging them with a fine they won’t be able to pay, or hanging the threat of imprisonment over their heads.
This is an example of a complete injustice in the law, and we are calling on the Liberals and Labor to support our Bill that would remove the crime of begging from the Tasmanian statutes.