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Security And Investigations Agents Amendment Bill 2018

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Tags: Privacy, Poverty, Legislation

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.