Increased police powers in Australia
PILCH is a leading Victorian (Australia), not-for-profit organisation which is committed to furthering the public interest, improving access to justice and protecting human rights. PILCH does this by facilitating the provision of pro bono legal services and undertaking law reform, policy work and legal education.
On 12 November 2009, the Victorian government introduced new legislation which drastically increases police powers to deal with public space ‘offenders’.
The Summary Offences and Control of Weapons Acts Amendment Bill will:
- provide police with random search powers (including strip searches) in designated areas;
- give police the power to direct people to move-on from a certain area;
- create a new offence of ‘disorderly conduct’; and
- give police power to impose fines and issue arrests for drunk or disorderly conduct.
These powers do not contain sufficient protections to ensure that the powers are exercised appropriately. Such broad police power have been introduced in other Australian states, and a 1999 NSW Ombudsman’s report found such laws to be largely misunderstood by police, who would often acted beyond the scope of the laws.
Additionally, there is a complete lack of empirical evidence, both domestically and internationally, demonstrating any correlation between the granting of these draconian police powers and reducing crime rates. In fact, available evidence suggests that such ‘zero tolerance’ policing methods tend to divert people to places without police presence or divert them into the commission of more serious crimes.
The HPLC warns that such policy will also prove to be discriminatory in effect. In particular, people experiencing homelessness will be targeted by this legislation since, without secure housing, many are forced to carry out basic daily living activities in public spaces. However, young community members, those suffering mental illness and indigenous people will also be disproportionately affected by this legislation.
The legislation threatens to contravene the human rights laid out in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (Charter) and international law, including freedom of movement, association and expression. Whilst the Charter permits human rights violations where it is proportionate and justified, the Government has conceded that the discretionary nature of the police powers granted and the severity of proposed penalties cannot be justified.
The HPLC proposes an alternative plan of action in order to responsibly respond to criminal activity within the community that focuses on education, health and housing approaches.