Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 3 Hansard (5 March) . . Page.. 579 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (Leader of the Opposition) (4.26): Mr Speaker, I would like to amplify the concerns that Mr Stefaniak has just raised about this amendment effectively saying that self-harm, or the threat of self-harm, is an exemption to the provisions we are setting up here that prohibit a person from using a threat to life or health as a way of being able to cause public alarm or anxiety.
There is obviously a case at one end of the spectrum, to which I gather Ms Tucker and Ms Dundas have referred in earlier discussions, where a person might go on hunger strike, for example, and arguably, although I think this is drawing a bit of a longbow, cause public alarm or anxiety by threatening their own health or life.
I accept that that is a situation which probably the law should cover. But I also think it is the case that at the other end of the spectrum there are cases where a person might commit or threaten to commit acts of self-harm which the law most certainly should cover, and where most certainly a penalty should be provided for in law. Take, for example, the case of a person who decides to commit suicide by throwing themselves under a bus load of people. It is not merely the act of taking their own life, or attempting to take their own life, which would be a matter that might attract this legislation: it would be the fact that they were doing so in such a way as to alarm an entire bus load of people.
Take the case of a person who walks into a classroom with a gun, holds it to their head and threatens to blow out their brains in front of the class of kindergarten students. Under this amendment, that case would not be punishable except by the public nuisance provisions Mr Stanhope has referred to and derogated in this place by saying that it attracts only a $2,000 fine. Mr Speaker, I think if someone caused public alarm or anxiety by walking into a classroom and doing that, they would deserve much more severe punishment than a $2,000 fine.
It may be that the government should return to these amendments at some other point and consider whether they are couched in the best way to cover the situation they are attempting to avoid. But in order to avoid the possible harm of catching people who are, for example, on a hunger strike-a relatively innocent example, if you like, of self-harm-we are avoiding a whole suite of situations where a person could cause enormous public anxiety or alarm because they are using their own body as the weapon or tool to achieve their goal. This could even constitute a loophole of a kind which could be exploited by people who wish to engage in these sorts of activities. Unfortunately, we live in the kind of world where increasingly people do commit these sorts of acts.
Mr Speaker, I ask the government to consider whether it really intends that such acts should be excluded from the legislation. Is it intended that the legislation the government has brought forward in this place will not cover a situation where a person goes to a public place and causes enormous public anxiety or concern by threatening to harm themselves?
MS DUNDAS (4.30): The Democrats will be supporting this amendment and the subsequent similar amendments because we think they make a very important point that hoaxes, which is what these offences relate to, cause public alarm. We should be looking at what we are doing to cause alarm in other people.