Jenny Leong MP responds to the Liberals outrageous plan to circumvent court processes

Jenny Leong MP, Member for Newtown has slammed a bill from the Liberals which not only changes the system for issuing penalties for drink-driving and drug presence offences to circumvent the courts, but significantly increases personalities for first-time, low grade offenses.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (11:16): On behalf of The Greens I speak in debate on the Road Transport Legislation Amendment (Penalties and Other Sanctions) Bill 2018 and State at the outset that The Greens will oppose the bill which will change the system for issuing penalties for drink-driving and drug presence offences to allow for the immediate issuing of penalty notices instead of requiring matters to proceed through the courts. Theoretically there will still be a choice for a person to have his or her matter dealt with by the courts, though most people are unlikely to recognise this option and it is unlikely that it would result in a fair outcome. The bill also seeks to increase penalties for drug-presence offences and drink-driving offences and it increases penalties significantly for anyone who climbs the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I turn first to those matters relating to the issuing of penalties. The Greens strongly oppose this idea. This piece of legislation, which is designed to appeal to the tabloid media, will have little real impact on road safety. It is very telling that the drug-driving provisions relate to the discredited presence offence which does not require drivers to be substantially impaired, or impaired at all, but merely to have the smallest trace of one of four kinds of drugs in their system. Mr David Shoebridge, my Greens colleague in the other place, has raised concerns about these provisions on many occasions. He is not alone. He has travelled around the State and has met with communities, in particular in regional areas, and discussed with them the impact of these unfair provisions. The courts have agreed with him. Many magistrates are on the record as criticising this law which they believe will lead to unjust and disproportionate outcomes in the justice system.

In her second reading speech the Minister referred to the fact that 30 per cent to 50 per cent of those who are currently appearing before the courts for drug-driving or drink-driving offences do not receive a guilty finding and associated penalty. The Minister used that as a justification for requiring police officers to issue on-the-spot fines. In her second reading speech the Minister said:

Over the three-year period ending June 2017, 56 per cent of low range drink-driving first offences resulted in a non-conviction order in court—typically a section 10. Similarly, 36 per cent of first offences for driving with the presence of an illicit drug resulted in non-conviction. This means that offenders who are proven to have committed an offence do not lose their licence.

The fact that the courts, when considering all the facts of a case, find that a section 10 is a more just outcome in the circumstances is not something that the Minister, the Liberals or the Nationals should try to circumvent. Unless the objective is simply to secure more convictions and more revenue and to impose a loss of licence order on more people, it is unacceptable to circumvent the process of the justice system where a court determines—after considering all the matters of a case—that the most just outcome is a section 10. It is not okay for the Minister to use this legislation to circumvent that decision of the courts and our justice system.

This legislation is likely to result in far more people losing their licences. Many people rely on their licences to participate in society—to keep their jobs in order to earn their livelihoods and to deliver on their family responsibilities. In order to get their kids to school, to keep their jobs so they can continue to pay rent and continue to put food on the table, many people out of desperation will risk further criminal sanctions by driving without a licence because, at the end of the day, those things will be a higher priority. That is not what we want; it will have no measurable impact on road safety. The legislation further empowers the police to impose these measures. Evidence from other jurisdictions is clear: a scheme like this is likely to increase reoffending and result in matters not being looked at holistically as only courts can.

I will deal briefly with the increased penalties for climbing on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is beyond belief that we are increasing penalties for something like that. The Minister referred to the disruption that can be caused by people climbing on the bridge but they tend to be people with extreme mental health conditions. People do not climb the Harbour Bridge and disrupt traffic unless they are suffering from extreme mental health conditions. In the view of some, people who have done that recently in traumatic circumstances would have been deterred from taking that action by an extremely large fine. It is nonsensical to suggest that massively increasing fines will deter people who are suffering from severe mental health conditions.

We would be lacking in compassion if we slammed people who were suffering from severe mental health conditions with a massive fine for their actions. I appreciate that disruptions occur as a result of those kinds of actions but we need to recognise that in recent times the disruption that has occurred involved people suffering from severe mental health conditions. Those people should be getting support from this Government. The Government should not be reducing funding for mental health services; it should be providing people with adequate health services and a safe and secure place in which to live. The Government should not be trying to deter people from taking such extreme action when it has failed to deliver adequate mental health services for them. The Greens oppose this bill and believe that it should not be passed. It tries to circumvent the justice system and the ability of courts to assess the merits of every case. The Greens reject the proposal to increase penalties for those who climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sign up for updates