Page 707 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 1 April 2008

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the new offence of urinating in a public place; failure to follow noise abatement directions; and drinking in certain public places.

In themselves, those amendments are fine. But the bill does not go far enough. There are a number of important areas—two in particular—that should have been made strict liability offences, and therefore subject to on-the-spot fines: fighting in a public place and offensive behaviour. There is another area which I have included in my bill and which I will walk members through again, and which is different from Mr Corbell’s bill—that is, reactivating the old offence of offensive language. That is an area that causes police considerable angst. Offensive language is not just swearwords; it is how they are shouted, yelled and spoken that is offensive. Trained police officers are very capable of ascertaining what is offensive and what is not. That would be a new offence, if my bill were to get up. It is not included in Mr Corbell’s bill. Also, of course, it would incur an on-the-spot fine.

These offences are no less of a street offence than drinking alcohol in certain public places, and should be treated in the same manner. I think it is a bit of a shame that the government is being reactive in this regard. My bill was introduced on behalf of the opposition on 29 August, and the government has reacted by introducing its own bill, after some very worrying bouts of street violence over the Christmas/New Year holiday period, especially in Civic.

In relation to on-the-spot fines for these types of offences, about halfway through last year I visited every police station in the ACT. I spoke to probably well over 100 police officers at all the stations in the ACT. To a man and a woman, they felt that on-the-spot fines were a very important tool to enable them to nip potentially much more serious antisocial behaviour in the bud.

The effect of an on-the-spot fine is to speed up the process. It means that a defendant who gets an on-the-spot fine is going to stop that particular activity. Invariably, they will go away, wake up in the morning with a sore head, realise how stupid they have been and pay the on-the-spot fine. It saves police officers having to arrest that person, take them to the watch-house, have them charged, perhaps bailed, perhaps not bailed, and then the matter having to go to court, for what are relatively minor street offences. So a huge amount of court time would be saved by having these types of ways of dealing with such problems. That in itself is a very big plus. It enables police to get on with the job in these troubled areas and stop further, potentially more serious offences occurring.

The most common offences on the streets involve people fighting in public places—the cover-all offence of offensive behaviour. It is good to see, I suppose, that the government has gone about 30 per cent of the way. I have absolutely no problem with the offence of urinating in a public place. I will come back to an interesting point on that. Mr Corbell has created that offence. I think it is a sensible offence and it is sensible to have an on-the-spot fine for it, but I think it shows the disingenuousness of the government’s argument in relation to one of the other offences which I am pushing for and which is not contained in its bill, where the same principles apply. At present, he states, “That’s either offensive behaviour or indecent exposure.” I have no problem with that as a new offence; that is sensible.

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