Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 1 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 115..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
contaminated mail being received in Africa and Europe as well. Even Australia, including the ACT, has not been totally immune. There was a spate of hoax events in early October of this year, culminating on election night in a delay in the counting of a booth because a white substance was found in a ballot box. I understand some white substances were sent to an embassy in the ACT as well.
These hoaxes, which took place in a variety of settings, resulted in severe economic loss and disruption. Police and emergency service workers were asked once again potentially to put their lives on the line to protect the lives and livelihoods of citizens. Police investigations are ongoing on these matters. We promised just before 20 October that, whatever the outcome of the election, we would increase the penalties for such attacks, whether hoaxes or real. We also promised that the new provisions would have as the date of effect the date of the announcement, which was made on 17 October 2001.
This bill does all of that, Mr Speaker. It has a commencement date of 17 October 2001. It provides for penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and/or a $100,000 fine for any person, whether in the ACT or outside our jurisdiction, who is found guilty of using or threatening to use a chemical or biological substance to cause economic loss or cause public alarm.
Mr Speaker, what happened in the USA in September and subsequently was despicable. What has occurred subsequently with attacks using biological agents is equally abhorrent. That there are people who would even contemplate copycat attacks in the ACT is appalling. This bill attempts to make perfectly clear that we will not tolerate that. We have provided firm deterrents to any further such actions. I make similar comments in relation to hoaxes. Whilst there may be no real danger as a result of a hoax, the emergency services men and women are put to a lot of angst and members of the public are put to a lot of angst. For example, CIT buildings were evacuated in October as a result of hoaxes. That causes angst to many members of the public. It also causes a lot of economic loss in terms of the money it costs for our emergency services to respond to hoaxes.
This bill is not out of line with similar provisions which already exist in legislation that deals with the contamination of or threat to contaminate foodstuffs and other consumables, such as pharmaceuticals. In those matters the penalties provide for imprisonment of up to 10 years. I have had a brief look at the government bill. This bill is basically what we said on 17 October we would do. I am pleased to see the government adopting a reasonably similar approach. I think it is important to act quickly. Certainly, this bill has been drafted on the basis that it can be dealt with this week. The numbering system for the sections is different from that of the government bill which, I understand from the manner of its presentation, is intended to be debated in February. That bill incorporates the numbering system which will apply from 7 January next year in terms of renumbering of the Crimes Act.
I would like to see this bill set down for debate and finalisation tomorrow. There is a fair bit in common between both bills but this bill, as we said prior to the election, would take effect from 17 October, so that if the police were successful in catching any of the culprits who committed those hoaxes-in a couple of instances, there may have been some substance to them as well-they could be brought to justice.