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Sentencing Amendment (Assaults On Off-Duty Police) Bill 2018

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Tags: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, Justice, Courts, Legislation, Ambulances

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I will not go into a lengthy discourse about the position of the Greens on mandatory sentencing, irrespective of the category of people for whom it seeks to improve justice. 

We have a long-held position based on the evidence of effectiveness, the views of the legal profession and the long-held views of Westminster parliaments that it is not appropriate to set legislation in parliament about mandatory sentencing levels. It does not improve justice outcomes in the community; it often has a counter-productive effect in terms of bringing people to court and getting convictions. Rather than encouraging that, people may not seek convictions because the mandatory term that would need to be imposed by the judge is viewed by the police, the DPP or anyone else involved in the case to be manifestly unfair in a particular circumstance.

That is not the best way to advance justice and seek healing for people who have suffered violence. That is the position that we have long-held and I will not go into more details.

We support concerns about violence against police, frontline workers, doctors, nurses and paramedics, who are particularly vulnerable. There are many attacks on paramedics and ambulance staff as well as police officers in situations where people are drug affected, or they are having to intervene in a violent situation. They are also at risk because people hold them personally responsible. They do not separate the person from the profession and they hold a particular officer or frontline worker personally responsible for an outcome that might have happened in a court case or a sentence that has been imposed. They seek revenge. We support police officers.

We believe there has been a serious lack of consideration about how this bill interacts with the Sentencing Amendment (Assault of Certain Frontline Workers) Bill 2019. I would like the minister to respond to what I am about to read into the House. He would be interested to know my position. I will spend more time talking about mandatory sentencing.

Two bills have been tabled. The bill before us was tabled last year. There is also the Sentencing Amendment (Assault of Certain Frontline Workers) Bill 2019. The Greens believe there has been a lack of consideration about how these two bills interact. They both seek to amend section 16A(1)(a) of the Sentencing Act 1997. This bill amends that section by extending it to apply to off-duty police. It also provides a clarifying provision (2A) that the application to off-duty police officers only applies if the perpetrators knew the police officer was a police officer and committed the offence because of this. The Sentencing Amendment (Assault of Certain Frontline Workers) Bill 2019 also amends Section 16A(1)(a) of the Sentencing Act by applying it to all on-duty frontline workers. Together these two bills amend this provision by applying it to on-duty and off-duty frontline workers. If both bills were passed the provision in the Sentencing Act would read,

A. A person who is convicted of an offence against a provision of an Act committed in relation to a frontline worker while the frontline worker was on duty or was not on duty.

The Sentencing Act as twice amended would then provide the following clarifier in 2A -

For the purposes of this section an offence is to be taken to be committed in relation to a police officer who is not on duty only if the person who committed the offence committed the offence solely or partly because the police officer was a police officer at the time of the offence.

However, there would be no clarifying position like that for other frontline workers as defined in the Sentencing Amendment (Assault of Certain Frontline Workers) Bill, including correctional service officers, ambulance officers and medical or social services officers. The twice amended Sentencing Act would effectively provide then that mandatory minimum sentences would apply to offences against correctional service officers, ambulance officers and medical or social services officers whether or not the offender committed the offence because of the victim's profession.

These two bills as they have been drafted are incompatible. The Greens do not support either bill, let us be clear about that, and we will vote against both bills, but this is a matter of an unintended consequence, we believe, which we would encourage the Government to look at and see whether there is unintended consequence here because I do not believe it is the Government's policy to apply the current mandatory minimum provisions they desire to off-duty frontline workers other than police. This bill is about off-duty police workers and we have another bill before us of assaults on frontline workers, not on assaults to off-duty frontline workers.

We believe this would be the effect of combining the two bills and we suggest it needs to be properly articulated before parliament is asked to vote on either bill. We suggest that good process requires the Government to withdraw this bill and redraft it, containing both provisions so that they avoid an unintended clash. Certainly, at a bare minimum, the Sentencing Amendment (Assault of Certain Frontline Workers) Bill would need to be amended to deal with what is clearly unintended interactions between these two bills. As we see it, we have before us the option of the Government withdrawing this bill and redrafting it, or in the future amending the now tabled - it could be amended by the Government - Assault of Certain Frontline Workers Bill before it comes on for debate.

I hope the minister understood that and is able to provide some clarification and is clear that what we are seeking is some guidance on whether you think it would be better in process terms to withdraw this bill and bring the two bills together, or to amend the already tabled Assaults of Certain Frontline Workers Bill. To be clear, we do not support this bill and will not be voting for it.