Draconian new police powers
13 November 2009
The PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic (HPLC) has slammed the introduction of legislation that will give police the power to conduct random strip searches in the street and may be used to prevent people from spending time with friends and family in public spaces.
Yesterday, Victorian Minister Peter Batchelor introduced legislation to the parliament that:
- provides police with random search powers (including strip searches) in designated areas;
- gives police the power to direct people to move-on from a certain area;
- includes a new offence of disorderly conduct; and
- increases penalties for the new offence of disorderly conduct and for existing offences of ‘drunk and disorderly’ and ‘drunk’.
‘The government’s laws are a serious breach of Victorians’ human rights, and the evidence shows that similar laws just don’t work to prevent crime,’ said James Farrell, Manager/Principal Lawyer of the HPLC.
There is no empirical evidence to show that ‘move-on’ legislation does actually result in reductions in crime rates in Australia or internationally. However, evidence suggests that zero tolerance policing methods such as ‘move-on’ powers tend to either divert people to other geographical locations with a lesser police presence, or divert them into the commission of more serious criminal activity.
‘Rather than pretending to be tough on crime by introducing ineffective measures, government should base policies on sound evidence that will improve community safety and outcomes for individuals,’ said Mr Farrell.
Similar laws have been introduced in NSW and Queensland. Police use of these powers in these states has been largely ineffectual in preventing and targeting crime. A 1999 NSW Ombudsman’s report found that the laws were largely misunderstood by police, who consistently went beyond the scope of the laws.
Mr Farrell also warned that the experience elsewhere shows that the powers have been applied in a discriminatory way to some of our most vulnerable community members, including people who are homeless, young people and people suffering from mental illness and indigenous people. ‘Homeless people occupy public spaces out of necessity and will be disproportionately impacted by move-on powers due to their lack of secure housing,’ Mr Farrell said.
Mr Farrell also criticized the government’s failure to release a statement of compatibility of the new legislation– a requirement under the Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights. This statement would advise parliament of potential human rights breaches in the legislation. ‘Victoria is the first Australian state to introduce legislative protections for human rights, and this legislation clearly breaches those rights,’ said Mr Farrell. ‘We have a right to movement, to freedom of association, to freedom of expression. These rights will be severely curtailed by this legislation, and the measures can’t be justified. Experience shows that they just won’t work.’
‘The Brumby Government wants to be seen to be tough on crime, but these new measures are weak on protecting our community. The government should adopt smart justice approaches that recognise genuine community safety is really about education, health, housing and human rights.’
Manager/Principal Lawyer, HPLC
(03) 8636 4408