Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 991 ..
MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (11.43): The Labor Party has thought very seriously about this Bill. I have had discussions with Mr Rugendyke and we are happy, after very serious consideration, to support those parts of the Bill that outlaw the carrying of knives in covered places and schools. We really do think that this community is confronting a serious problem in the carrying of knives. I think it is a problem that particularly confronts schoolteachers. It is a problem that confronts other people who deal with young people and with youth. We acknowledge the need for us as a community to send a signal that the carrying of knives is not acceptable; that it is not tough; that it is not a good thing to do. We think that legislation can have a viable role to play in that regard. I think the reference which Mr Osborne made to the gun laws is a valid reference. That legislation does have a significant role in the long process of changing cultures, and we support that aspect of it.
We will support the part of the Bill that prohibits the sale of knives to people under 16; but we do so, I have to say, with some real concern about the practical administration of the law. I foresee some very significant difficulties there. I struggled to determine some other way of achieving the same result, in the time that I have considered the Bill. I foresee some very serious practical difficulties with any proposal that seeks to prohibit the sale of knives to people under 16. Anyway, I think it is inconsistent with the ban on the carrying of knives. I think it is consistent with the overall principle and we will support it, but with some real concern about its application and administration.
We will not be supporting those parts of the Bill that provide for a power of search. In the context of the debate we have just had about move-on powers and the prospect of this community accepting move-on powers, broadening the range of circumstances in which police can search almost arbitrarily - it seems to me that it is the sort of power that can be used arbitrarily - is the sort of power that I think we really must resist. I have serious concerns about extending to police a right to search anybody on the basis of a suspicion that they may be carrying a knife. I think that is just too broad. I believe that at this stage we should specifically outlaw the carrying of knives, but I do not think we should go that additional step of applying a power of search to police in that sort of instance.
This issue of the power of search is the one issue in relation to the Bill that I really would like to have been explored by a committee of the Assembly. I did discuss that with Mr Rugendyke and Mr Osborne, and I regret that they were not minded to support that course. I think it would have been very useful. I think we, as a legislature, do need to look at the range of search powers that are available to the police. We do need to look to see whether or not the granting of a power of search in these circumstances is consistent with the nature of the offence that we are seeking to overcome.
I have a real concern about how that power will be used. I have a real concern about the way in which it is being applied. I do not believe that the circumstances of its application or the way in which it will be applied is appropriately set out in the legislation. I do not believe that there are appropriate accountability mechanisms in place to make the police properly accountable for the use of what I regard as an arbitrary power of search. There are significant issues relating to the inviolability of the person, privacy, and the extent to which the granting of a power of search in the circumstances that we are dealing with here is an overreaction.