Proposed laws to hurt the vulnerable and young

There has been public outcry in relation to the proposed laws removing rights to engage in public assembly and political demonstration. See concerns outlined in recent submissions to Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee.

Apart from those engaged in political demonstration,  the proposed amendments will have a disproportionate impact on marginalised young people, people experiencing homelessness, poverty, and mental health issues who occupy public spaces.

In brief, the Bill proposes to extend the power of police and PSOs to issue move on directions in a number of key ways that will affect these vulnerable members of the community who rely on public spaces.Changes proposed under the new Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill 2013 (Vic) include expanded powers to move people on in public spaces, to exclude from  public places for up to 12 months, and to effect arrest where there is a failure to comply.

Under the new laws, a  member of the police force or a PSO can direct a person to leave a public place and not to return to it for up to 24 hours where they reasonably suspect:

  • person(s) are present for the purpose of buying or selling drugs
  • the person has committed a summary offence in the public space in the last 12 hours (e.g. littering, begging, drunk and disorderly),
  • where the conduct of person(s) is causing a reasonable apprehension of violence in another person.

Under the new laws arrest powers are extended to cover a failure to comply with a move on direction.

Where three move on directions are issued within six months, or five within twelve months, police may lodge a Court application to exclude a person from a public space for a period of up to one year.

Where a person engages in conduct in contravention of an exclusion order knowing or being reckless as to whether the order is in effect, a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment may apply.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to the impact of move on powers and exclusion orders, as they are more frequently in the public eye and frequently occupy public spaces and facilities, as a result of social choice and financial necessity.

We already hear from young people especially those from diverse cultural backgrounds or with experiences of homelessness, that current move-on powers are often used in a way that makes them feel targeted, alienated and unjustly excluded from public space

At a time when government, police and community are exploring ways to divert and support young people away form the criminal justice system, these proposed laws will pull more young people into the system.

At a time when police are reviewing their policies and training to help officers engage with people fairly and impartially, the proposed laws may well exacerbate tensions between police and young people.

NOW is the time for concerned individuals and organisations to raise any these issues with members of Parliament, and to request a stay of the Bill to allow opportunity for proper consultation and consideration of community  concerns.