Page 732 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 1 April 2008

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We are talking about infringement notices. We are talking about things that are not going to be on people’s records, because they are pleading guilty and are paying the fine without the need to go to court; we are talking relatively minor offences. But these minor offences are prevalent ones. They really concern law-abiding citizens. They concern the people running the bars. They concern the mums and dads coming into Civic and Manuka. They also concern a lot of the young people who do not want to commit offences. As Mr Mulcahy said, it is easy getting into a fight if you want to, but also it is not all that difficult to avoid it if you want to. The vast majority of young people want to go out and have a good time and not be annoyed by noxious drunks. So what you are doing there is making it easier for the police to do their job, keeping police on the street. They cannot be kept on the street if they are going to charge someone with offensive behaviour or fighting in a public place; they are going to have to go off and go to court.

Even under the proposal you are flagging, they are still going to have to go to court and take up a lot of court time, when in the vast majority of cases I think you will find that offenders will pay these fines, because in the vast majority of cases I think you will find that a lot of the offenders will realise, in the sober light of day, the next morning, that they have done the wrong thing. I hark back to the much more thorough regime in New South Wales, where the police have told me, when I was going around talking to them last year, they saw a 50 per cent drop. I confirmed that with some New South Wales police who had been involved in the area; they said, yes, there had been a 50 per cent drop in terms of street offences—street offences that included fighting in a public place and offensive behaviour, because they are, I suppose, two of your classic street offences and have been since time immemorial.

I commend these amendments to the Assembly and, even though the government will not say it, I think it is a reluctance by some of them to trust the police’s ability to exercise a discretion—a discretion they exercise and have exercised for decades in this place—in an exemplary fashion. You have the checks and balances in the rest of your bill in terms of the Ombudsman, even if you do not think that. History shows the ability of our police to exercise their discretion sensibly.

Obviously you are not going to vote for these amendments. That is a tragedy. Your bill will consequently be 30 per cent instead of close on 100 per cent.

MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (12.22): Mr Stefaniak can get himself revved up and thump the law and order tub, which is what he loves to do and what he normally does, particularly around this stage of the political cycle.

There is no argument about whether or not these matters are an offence. There is agreement that that type of behaviour is an offence. The issue is: how should the offence be dealt with? In the government’s mind, it is not appropriate for it to be subject to a strict liability process. That is the issue. It is not that it should not be dealt with. It is not that the police should not prosecute those matters. It is not that we turn a blind eye to that behaviour. We do not. But the issue should be dealt with through a different mechanism to that proposed by Mr Stefaniak. That is the issue of contention here.

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