You are here

Justice Legislation Amendments (Criminal Responsibility) Bill 2020

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 19 March 2020

Tags: Legislation, Justice, Violence

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to speak about the sort of tragic circumstances that have led to this bill coming before us today. There was a brief mention just then of an academic, an incredibly widely-loved man, who was a terrific person in his own right, a kind and caring human being. He was an amazing leader in his field and his life was taken from him through no fault of his own, in the most cowardly and awful act of violence. The unprovoked attack that happened to him, and to other people, is awful and it is repellent. It stands condemned.

That is the context for this very important discussion about how to proceed in these situations.

It is difficult to balance the requirements for a person to be able to be held to account for such cowardly acts, as what are called 'one punch acts' of violence. They should be held accountable and the full weight of the law should be brought against people who just commit those random acts of violence against other people. It is not a society we want to support in any way because it is not safe, it is aggressive, and innocent people's lives and their families are taken and forever affected.

I am bearing in mind the importance to balance the things that are already able to be done in law, and charges and convictions that are already able to be laid, for somebody else cowardly murdering somebody else, and killing them in such a surprising manner.

The issue here is the role of the context in which these events happen, the role of alcohol and the role and responsibility of governments to place restrictions so that the context for these acts of violence changes and they do not occur.

What is pretty clear is that there are a number of restrictions that work and that have been shown to work. We are very concerned that the Government is reaching for a legislative response to a situation that we believe and that many experts and just average everyday people in the community understand really is the responsibility of this Government to focus on first and foremost. That is, to place restrictions on the availability and sale of alcohol in the venues where these acts of violence occur or where people flow out from, and acts of violence on the streets occur afterwards.

This is not peculiar to Tasmania. This is well documented around the world. There is a very strong - if not 100 per cent - relationship between those sorts of coward punches, random attacks against other people occurring in cities where alcohol licensing has been loosened to such an extent that there are not the restrictions placed on venues about the sale of alcohol. People become alcohol primed, big groups of people, typically men but not always. Acts of violence by women against other women have also happened, so-called 'glassings', and horrible acts of violence that people perpetrate against other when they are drunk or out of it in other ways.

The point was made strongly in March this year by a University of Newcastle academic who reiterated his calls for Tasmania to follow the lead of other states and introduce a package of evidence-based measures that would curb the supply of alcohol at late night drinking establishments. Mr Tony Brown said the package of conditions that had been introduced into Newcastle over the past decade included reducing the serving time of alcohol, cutting off the supply of alcohol to patrons in venues from 5.00 a.m. to 2.00 a.m. It had seen the number of inner city licensed venues in New South Wales increase and a greater increase in safety diversity and vibrancy in the city night.

What Newcastle has done, which this Government has not done, was to introduce a package of measures to control the supply of alcohol and that works. It is not just Newcastle that has shown this has worked. Other countries around the world have shown this has worked, time and again. It is a well-established, well-validated public health measure.

We all saw it in Melbourne. The city of Melbourne was grappling with horrible displays of violence that occurred as soon as they loosened up their nightclub alcohol sale times. There was this explosion of violence in the city. Even modest reductions in late drinking hours can produce a quite disproportionate measure in the number of lives saved. There is, unfortunately but usefully, a very clear dose response relationship between the later at night people drink and the increase in violence. Deaths due to assaults and coward attacks are the ones that get to the front page of the newspaper but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Alcohol harm is so much wider and deeper than that. For every person who dies, there are many more people who are left with brain injuries and disabilities.

It is the role of government to protect the public, not protect commercial interests. It is the commercial venue operators who push back time and again, the loudest groups in the community, bleating about how it will have such a terrible effect on their businesses, holding up their hands and saying, 'It's not us, look at them, look at the coward'. It is the approach of businesses always to not take responsibility for the culture they create and the priming they are responsible for and to externalise it to one bad person.

The public health evidence speaks for itself. It is not about one bad person and locking up one person. This is about taking an approach so we are not just picking at these sensational, tragic, awful points, but actually having an effect for the whole of the community. Let us make Hobart and Launceston really safe, wonderful places to go out in the evening. Wouldn't it be nice to wander around Salamanca at 2 or 3 in the morning and feel calm walking past venues with big groups of people inside dancing and drinking, knowing they are not continuing to get primed with alcohol after that time, that they would be seriously supported and that the staff would be directed and trained to stop selling alcohol to people who are clearly intoxicated? This is a society that is healthier. That is something that can be done by this Government to support people.

With that comment in mind, it is no surprise that the Tasmanian Hospitality Association and their CEO, Steve Old. came out and said that the industry was working with the state Government to bring in some new laws and that individuals need to take responsibility for their own bad behaviour. It is no surprise that they are denying any responsibility for the vast sums of money they make from priming people with alcohol into the early hours of the morning. What a surprise.

Ms Archer - That's a bit distasteful at the moment when they're all feeling the pinch, don't you reckon?

Dr WOODRUFF - No, hold on. This is much bigger than today, this month or this year. This is about a whole-of-society law change and the sorts of things that your Government could be doing to make a difference to alcohol-fuelled violence in the streets. When you have the CEO of the Tasmanian Hospitality Association, Steve Old, coming out and backing this Liberal Government in, you have to remember where the money for the last election campaign came from and how much money the Tasmanian Hospitality Association donates to the Liberal Party. There is an uncomfortably cosy relationship here.

The Greens want to make sure that when we are talking about reducing alcohol-related deaths we remind the Government of its responsibility to put money into prevention and the laws that would reduce the sale of alcohol late at night, because that would really have an effect. What we are talking about here is the unfortunate use of this incident to distract from the actual laws that you need to be introducing. This is one approach and it is a tiny impact. It is not doing anything to stop the conditions where this alcohol-fuelled violence occurs and that is my point. We have to stop the conditions and you should be bringing laws into this place that prescribe that alcohol cannot be sold late at night and puts much stronger conditions on the training and conditions around which alcohol can be served.

Yes, every individual needs to take responsibility for their behaviour but we also live in a society where our behaviour is affected by being in groups of people. Our behaviour is affected by staying up really late at night and our behaviour is particularly affected by alcohol.

The Community Legal Centres also made a point about the importance of the criminal justice system punishing people who have committed criminal offences and there is nothing today that prevents that person from being brought to justice for their cowardly attack. There is nothing in law that means that person cannot be brought to justice for taking another person's life in that way. However, the criminal justice system is also importantly providing rehabilitation and treatment services so that when the offender is released after the sentence has been served they are not going to cause an offence like that again. In other words, if a person is sent to jail for an alcohol-related offence they need to be given treatment and rehabilitation in jail so when they are released into the community they do not still have an alcohol dependency. That is what we should be doing with their time in jail. As the CLCs say, the Government has taken steps to improve treatment services for offenders who abuse alcohol and other drugs, but more needs to be done, particularly when it is recognised that of the offenders who are sentenced to a custodial sentence in Tasmania, 85 per cent of those people had a history of alcohol abuse and almost 75 per cent had a history of problematic drug use.

We recognise the gravity of the terrible circumstances from which this bill springs but we will not be supporting it because we do not believe this is a measure in law which is required to bring people like that to justice for what they have done and we believe that it is not in the best interests of the Tasmanian community for this Government to be focusing on a law that will comfortably keep the status quo and do absolutely nothing to change the circumstances within which that person was cowardly attacked and killed. That is what we think the Government should be spending their time preparing laws about. They should have a chat to the Tasmanian Hospitality Association and prepare them for the inevitability of doing something substantial and strong which will reduce the amount of alcohol-fuelled violence in Tasmania.