Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2017 Week 9 Hansard (24 August) . .
Drink spiking is a serious threat to people who are out for a night in Canberra. Statistics on this crime are difficult to gather because victims often do not realise it has occurred. When it does occur, it often seriously impairs the victim's memory. National research in 2004 conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology looked at police reports, compared those numbers with self-reported incidents, and estimated that there were up to 4,000 incidents of drink spiking in Australia in that year.
The study found that between two-thirds and three-quarters of incidents occurred at licensed premises, one-third of those incidents were linked to a sexual assault and four out of five victims of drink spiking were female. There is likely a high level of underreporting, and the number of incidents that get reported fluctuates with public awareness.
There are some existing laws to prosecute drink spiking, and there has been some recent media attention to criminal prosecutions. This bill will introduce two new offences to strengthen our existing legislation. The new provisions will help achieve this by introducing a new definition of what it means to harm someone that better describes the behaviour involved in these cases; ensuring that the type of substance used, whether it is alcohol or any other drug, presents no barrier to prosecuting a serious crime; and ensuring that an appropriate sentence is available to cover the full range of circumstances that this crime can involve.
One of the challenges in criminalising drink spiking is that the behaviour itself can come in an extremely broad range of circumstances. In many cases drink spiking is part of an attempted sexual assault. It could also occur in less serious cases, for example, what friends might mistakenly believe is a prank between each other. Our legislation needs to capture that range and provide for sentences that are appropriate to the particular case.
Currently, a number of different provisions are used to prosecute drink spiking. The Medicines, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act, for example, criminalises administering medications without authorisation. The punishment for that crime is up to one year imprisonment. The Crimes Act makes it an offence to administer a poison or other injurious substance with the intent to injure another person. The penalty for that crime is up to five years imprisonment. If the substance was likely to endanger a person's life, the penalty is up to 10 years imprisonment. Because these statutes each target a slightly different behaviour, determining which one applies in a particular drink-spiking incident can be highly technical and it can lead to unintended consequences.
The new legislation in this bill creates a more comprehensive statute that broadly criminalises giving people a substance with the intent to cause harm. Harm has been defined broadly. It is non-exhaustive and will be assessed on a reasonable person standard. It will include an impairment of the senses or an impairment of the person's ability to understand what is going on.
What this new legislation means is that any drink spiking involving alcohol or any other substance, with the intent to cause harm, will be criminal. The maximum
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