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Speech: Criminal Law Consolidation (Assaults on Prescribed Emergency Workers) Amendment Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (11:07): I rise on behalf of the Greens to support, with some reservations, the Criminal Law Consolidation (Assaults on Prescribed Emergency Workers) Amendment Bill 2019. This bill creates a new offence under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act where a person spits at or throws or otherwise applies blood, saliva, semen, vomit, faeces or urine on a prescribed emergency worker in the course of their duties. That has a maximum penalty of four years' imprisonment, or five years if harm is caused to the victim.

This has been introduced as a standalone offence, but it can also be applied to offences committed against people not working in emergency services. A prescribed emergency worker is defined to mean a paid worker or a volunteer who is a police officer; prison officer; youth training centre officer; a member of the SA Ambulance Service, the Country Fire Service, the Metropolitan Fire Service or the State Emergency Service; a law enforcement officer; or a person as prescribed in the legislation's regulations.

The bill will also amend the existing provisions of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act in respect of certain workers who are victims of aggravated offending. The act provides that some offences have a basic form and an aggravated form where the maximum penalty is significantly greater than that of the basic form of the offence. The bill will also amend the Sentencing Act 2017 so that when a court is sentencing an offender for the offence, the court must take into account in setting the penalty the need to protect our police and other emergency services workers. Currently, the courts must consider the safety of the community paramount to other sentencing considerations, and that aspect will not change.

The Law Society have raised, quite rightly, concerns relating to some of the provisions of this bill, particularly the penalty structure of and the need for the new offence. The amendments to the Sentencing Act and the removal of section 6(1) of the Summary Offences Act are unnecessary, contend the Law Society, and should be reconsidered. The Greens have some sympathy for this case, but we can also understand that the numbers are here and present for the support of this legislation. So we will ensure that the legislation is the fairest that it can be.

The Law Society states that in their view the measures proposed by the bill are unlikely to actually achieve their objective in changing behaviour. That is yet to be tested. However, they are likely to have a disproportionate effect on Aboriginal people, and the Greens are most concerned, with that contention by the Law Society and the ALRM, to ensure that this legislation does not in fact impact on the most marginalised and vulnerable members of our community, the most disempowered, so we will be watching carefully to see the implementation with regard to those aspects. Our other concerns also extend to those with substance abuse or mental health issues, and how they will be treated with regard to these issues.

The Law Society is quite technically correct: much of what is in this bill already exists. However, it is the government's aim through this legislation to encourage more appropriate charging and better consideration by the courts of the actual nature of assault that occurs but also to send a very strong message that we do, in this parliament and from the government and the opposition in particular, support our police and emergency services workers.

The Greens wholeheartedly support that intent. We have grave concerns, as I say, with regard to people who may have mental health issues, who are Aboriginal, who are perhaps homeless or on the street. In those sort of situations we need to ensure that these types of protections, these quite right protections, will not adversely disadvantage those particular vulnerable groups. We will be watching carefully to ensure that happens into the future, but today we will support the good intentions of both the government and the opposition to ensure that, where our emergency services workers, where our police, are on the job, where nurses are on the job, where, as the SA-Best amendment will provide for, our RSPCA investigators are doing the job of law enforcement with regard to the protections under the Animal Welfare Act, those workers who protect us are rightly protected.

With those few words, we will be participating actively in the committee stage of this bill. We reserve our right at the third reading to see where the bill strikes a balance, but at this point we welcome the debate, we encourage the strong signal to the community that we protect our police and emergency services workers, our ambos, our nurses, our RSPCA inspectors alike, and give them the support that they are crying out for.

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