Page 1116 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 28 March 2017
rather than effectively tackling criminal elements in our community, instead negatively impact our community’s most disadvantaged, such as young people, those experiencing homelessness and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This is not just speculative. We can look to consorting laws in other jurisdictions to see evidence of how they work. The New South Wales Ombudsman conducted a review of the operation of consorting laws in New South Wales. The ombudsman’s report said consorting laws were used in a way that effectively deterred vulnerable people, including people experiencing homelessness, spending time in certain public areas and accessing support services. It said they were used disproportionately on Aboriginal people. In fact, half of the women issued with warnings or charged under the legislation and 60 per cent of children and young people were identified as Aboriginal.
The ombudsman’s report said that consorting warnings were given that breached the privacy of convicted offenders by disclosing their conviction to others. It said that most of the official warnings that police issued about consorting with a person aged 17 or less were actually unlawful. It said mostly the laws were not used to address issues connected to serious and organised crime.
The anti-consorting laws are put into perspective by looking at the first individual charged under New South Wales anti-consorting laws. He was not a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang. He was a young man with an intellectual disability, charged while out shopping with friends and sentenced to nine months jail. The conviction was later overturned.
The anti-consorting laws are contrary to the types of freedoms we expect as a society, particularly freedom of association. These laws criminalise people associating with one another—and that even includes phoning or emailing—before they have committed a crime. The crime is the association.
They are certainly not helpful for helping people with criminal convictions to reintegrate into society. Remember that anti-consorting laws do not just apply to people with convictions associating with other people with convictions; they can be used to prevent anyone, conviction or not, associating with a person with a conviction. So much for the idea of, for example, people with convictions joining sporting teams or clubs or engaging in society in other ways that may actually be rehabilitative. The punishment simply goes on and I think is quite contrary to some of the goals: where we want people to have served their time and then get on with their lives, get involved in volunteering, get involved in their community, whatever the pathway is.
I do not think that non-association and place restriction orders are anywhere near as problematic as anti-consorting laws—I will be clear about that. For one, NAPROs are ordered by the court instead of issued by police, but they do share some of the same themes of preventing association.
Again I note the findings of the New South Wales Ombudsman about the particular impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the disproportionate use we see—and we have a disproportionate number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait