Crimes Legislation Amendment (Public Order) Bill 2017

Debate resumed from 9 May; motion of Mr DALIDAKIS (Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade).

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) — I am pleased to rise this morning to speak to the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Public Order) Bill 2017. As we are seeing with the smooth conduct of the house this week, the government is once again in disarray. We have had two days of government business, and we have had two days where the house is a complete sham. We saw the debacle on Tuesday when the house considered the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Bill 2017 and we had an extraordinary outburst from the government. The Minister for Families and Children made a public display and had a public breakdown — a hissy fit, to use the words of Ms Fitzherbert.

After a seven-week adjournment, the government realised that we had moved a reasoned amendment in respect of the youth justice legislation. It suddenly realised that that reasoned amendment has the support of the house, and we had a total hissy fit from the minister at the table. We have seen the bill disappear. We have seen —

Ms Mikakos — On a point of order, President, I take offence at the member saying firstly that I had a breakdown and secondly that I had a hissy fit in relation to the government's position on the youth crime bill. The Liberal Party, in cahoots with the Greens, is trying to kill off a bill that relates —

The PRESIDENT — What is the point of order?

Ms Mikakos — The point of order is that the member is using sexist language to refer to me and is in fact misleading the house in relation to the position, because the Liberals and the Greens together are trying to kill off a bill that deals with organised criminals.

The PRESIDENT — Minister, you are debating. It is not a point of order; you know it, and I know it. That is not a point of order.

Ms Mikakos — It's the language.

The PRESIDENT — I accept that bit about the language. You have characterised it as sexist. I do not regard it as sexist as such. I did not hear the breakdown bit. I would certainly ask Mr Rich-Phillips to withdraw the term 'hissy fit'.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS — I withdraw. The point I was making is we had on Tuesday a complete breakdown in the government's handling of the chamber with the youth justice bill —

Ms Mikakos interjected.

Honourable members interjecting.

The PRESIDENT — Order! Minister, that is unhelpful. You will get a chance to rebut Mr Rich-Phillips's contribution later in the debate if you wish to do so. Just talk to your whip about that.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS — Thank you, President. The point I was making was we had the children and justice legislation amendment bill on Tuesday, which the government had prioritised for debate. In June we flagged the intention to move a reasoned amendment to that legislation with respect to one section. It is as if the government disappeared into a void over the winter recess. When the bill came back on for debate on Tuesday, the coalition's position had not changed; the position was still the reasoned amendment. Suddenly the minister responsible realised that there is a reasoned amendment, realised that there is the support —

Ms Mikakos — On a point of order, President, the member is misleading the house, because the Attorney-General raised this issue with Mr Pesutto in June.

The PRESIDENT — I am not interested in members using interjections or points of order to try and convey their opinions to the house. You have a chance to make a substantive contribution in rebuttal to Mr Rich-Phillips's or indeed any other member's contribution. I will not accept it by way of interjection or by points of order that are not points of order. As I have explained to the house before, and as everybody well knows, points of order are about the processes and problems with the processes of the Parliament or of the house. They are not an opportunity to rebut, point by point, matters that are raised by a speaker. Ms Symes, you might talk to the minister about putting her on the speakers list.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS — Thank you, President. The point I was making is that we had that bill being considered by the house back in June, before the winter recess. The proposition of the reasoned amendment was circulated at that time. It was well known to the government that was the position the coalition was taking, and no action was taken by the government over the winter recess to follow up that position. We came into the chamber on Tuesday and the reasoned amendment was advanced by Ms —

Honourable members interjecting.

The PRESIDENT — Ms Crozier!

Mr Leane — On a point of order, President, Mr Rich-Phillips is not being relevant to this bill. He is speaking about another bill, so the point of order I have is on relevance.

The PRESIDENT — As far as I know he is speaking to this bill.

Mr Leane — Further on the point of order, he is talking about a completely different bill. He is giving a chronology around a completely different bill to the bill that he stood up to speak on a number of minutes ago.

Honourable members interjecting.

The PRESIDENT — I hear the point of order.

Ms Mikakos — Have you all been to the Lobster Cave?

The PRESIDENT — No, but there is another minister in the chamber. Please leave for 15 minutes, Ms Mikakos.

Minister for Families and Children withdrew from chamber.

The PRESIDENT — Mr Rich-Phillips, you are entitled as lead speaker to scene set if you like to cover a number of matters. I am not in a position to actually judge the merit of the specific point of order raised by Mr Leane on this occasion, but if he is correct in what he said about your content — albeit your contribution has been interrupted by a range of matters and you have not really had the full 8 minutes or so that the clock suggests — I would ask that for the benefit of the rest of the debate and the contributions of other speakers that the material you lead in with for this speech really focuses on the bill before the house today.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS — Of course I am very happy to comply with your ruling, President. The point I was making was around the context of proceedings this week and the way in which the government's agenda has been all over the place this week, which has led us to now being on the third bill for today. Debate on the Corrections Legislation Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2017 collapsed after 5 minutes in the committee stage with the Minister for Corrections unable to respond to questions. We then had the Uber bill disappear off the agenda — it was supposed to be the second bill we are debating today — which has led us to this bill —

Mr Leane — On a point of order, President, it is not like Mr Rich-Phillips, I have got to say, but he is flouting your ruling. He has moved on to speaking about a number of other bills instead of the bill in front of the house now. He has moved on to two other bills. As I said, it is not like Mr Rich-Phillips to flout to this degree, but he is flouting your ruling.

The PRESIDENT — Perhaps like most of us he was not expecting to be on his feet quite so early in the day. As I indicated, Mr Rich-Phillips is entitled to canvass a number of matters in his speech, albeit that I have suggested he come back to the bill specifically before the house in the interests of the broader debate as much as anything else. Mr Rich-Phillips has been canvassing comparative progress of legislation with the bill that is before us now. To that extent I can accept that line of argument, but I would still suggest that Mr Leane's point is well made about Mr Rich-Phillips coming back to this particular bill.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS — Thank you, President. That does bring us to how we ended up on this bill, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Public Order) Bill 2017, at 10.20 this morning. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Control of Weapons Act 1990 to give police the power to direct that a person leave a designated area and to amend the Crimes Act 1958 to replace the common-law offences of affray and riot with statutory offences of affray and violent disorder.

The legislation has come about following this government's decision in 2015 to repeal the move-on laws, which were a provision introduced by the coalition government over the course of the last term of Parliament to provide Victoria Police with the powers it needed to manage disruptions, manage demonstrations, manage behaviour which was antisocial, behaviour which impacted on ordinary citizens going about their business and behaviour which was causing disruption and unrest in the Victorian community. The coalition government saw those powers as an appropriate suite of options or tools available to Victoria Police to manage that type of behaviour.

We have seen over the three years since the Andrews government has been in place and the move-on laws were repealed by the Parliament a number of occasions, particularly in the Melbourne CBD and quite often in the vicinity of this precinct — in Spring Street, the City Square, the intersection of Flinders Street and Swanston Street — where people have elected to undertake protests, rallies and the like to the great disruption of Victorian citizens. That is a direct consequence of this government's decision to repeal the move-on laws.

There have been violent protests in the CBD. There have been protests in surrounding inner-city suburbs where we have also seen that type of behaviour from protestors who are running agendas with very little regard for the welfare of other Victorian citizens and who are only interested in pushing their own agendas and their own profiles. This has had a significant impact on the broader Victorian community, the broader Victorian citizenry. Intimidating people who are going about their business, interrupting people who are going about their business, interrupting commerce in and around the city of Melbourne is behaviour which is totally inappropriate. And it is behaviour which was enabled by this government's decision to repeal those move-on laws in 2015.

So here we are now some two years on from that decision to repeal those move-on laws and the government, through this Crimes Legislation Amendment (Public Order) Bill, is effectively conceding it got it wrong. Once again this Labor government got it wrong on law and order, got it wrong on being tough on crime. We are seeing this bill come forward today which seeks to make a number of amendments to the Control of Weapons Act and the Crimes Act to reinstate capacity for Victoria Police to manage some of these incidents which have become all too prevalent in Melbourne and the inner-Melbourne suburbs over the last two and half years.

Some of the key provisions in the bill include part 2, which deals with amendments to the Summary Offences Act 1966. It proposes that councils must consult with Victoria Police before granting applications for permits for the use of council land, road closures and the like to facilitate public protests. This of course is to ensure that Victoria Police are in the loop as to when and where these events are going to take place. We have seen some inner-city councils where half the councillors seem to be more aligned to protesters than municipal representatives, facilitating disruptive protests and the like. This mechanism of requiring consultation with Victoria Police before councils facilitate these rallies and demonstrations through the issuing of permits we think is a useful step.

What is not clear from part 2 of the bill is the way in which consultation will be facilitated, what consultation actually means in terms of part 2 of the bill and how that statutory requirement for consultation is going to be achieved, because it is not clear as to how the satisfaction with which consultation has been achieved will actually be tested in the granting of the permits. Part 3 of the bill deals with amendments to the Control of Weapons Act 1990, which slightly expands some of the obligations of the Chief Commissioner of Police in relation to planned and unplanned demonstrations. The use of the control of weapons regime is predicated on a reasonable basis for the chief commissioner to conclude that weapons may be used in the context of a protest.

Clause 6 of the bill gives police the powers to direct a person to leave a designated area if they are wearing a face covering which they refuse to remove or are suspected of intending to engage in affray or violent disorder. It also imposes additional reporting requirements on Victoria Police. This is an issue which has become more problematic in protests and riots around Melbourne and Victoria over the past two years — protestors appearing with face coverings so that they cannot be readily identified engaging in protest activity, quite often violent protest activity, using the benefit of their face covering to obscure their identity. Particularly where you have multiple protestors using the same mask or head covering, it makes it difficult for Victoria Police to identify individuals in a riotous crowd, as we have seen time and time again.

Through clause 7 the bill also creates an offence, with a financial penalty of up to 5 penalty units, for a person that fails to comply with a direction that is given by Victoria Police under clause 6. Again we think it is more than reasonable that there be a penalty that can be imposed for failing to comply with a direction from Victoria Police with respect to a direction to leave a designated area where protest activity is being undertaken. The bill goes on to abolish the common-law offences of affray, rout and riot, replacing them with the new statutory offences of affray and violent disorder. That reflects an ongoing, almost continuous process of codifying many of our common-law offences. Obviously many of these offences date back hundreds of years, back to the Westminster British legal system. They have been in many instances inherited by the Victorian legal system. It is quite often appropriate that the common-law offences are codified and enshrined in statute. That is something that we see ongoing from time to time with a range of offences.

The coalition's view of this bill is that we will not oppose it. It is a recognition by the government that the government got it wrong with the repeal of the move-on laws. We are concerned that the provisions in this bill are far more restricted than the provisions which existed with the move-on laws prior to their repeal in 2015. These provisions do not give the same flexibility to Victoria Police to manage riotous behaviour and the sorts of protests which have become all too common in this city, disrupting third parties and innocent Victorians going about their business.

We are concerned that the statutory structure of the new offences of affray and violent disorder may in fact have the perverse outcome of making prosecutions more difficult, given that the drafting of the statutory offences has the appearance of being narrower than the previous judicial interpretation of the common-law offences that are being repealed. We do not believe it is an appropriate step to narrow those offences. Codifying them is something that has been an ongoing process in a range of common-law areas, including common-law criminal offences, where we see the common law restrained by the subsequent statutory framing, as appears to be the case with these two new offences. We do not believe that is an appropriate step, if that is in fact the outcome of this legislation.

One of the other shortcomings with this bill is that it does not reinstate the exclusion orders, which were a feature of the previous move-on law framework which prevented violent reoffenders from entering designated areas that had been identified by Victoria Police in relation to particular protests or activities. That previous regime allowed an order to be made excluding someone for 12 months. We obviously believed that was an appropriate tool within the move-on laws framework, and we think that it is a shortcoming of this bill that that has not been restored with the framework that is coming forward.

The coalition sees this bill as a good step insofar as it is the government finally realising that it got it wrong on move-on laws, that as a consequence of the repeal of move-on laws we have seen time and time again an outbreak in riotous behaviour in Victoria, a growing disregard for Victoria Police by criminal elements in our community and people undertaking riotous assembly and protests. This is a direct consequence of the government's weakening of the powers of Victoria Police in 2015. This bill is a recognition of that. It goes some way toward restoring those powers and tools Victoria Police had. It certainly does not go the full way. It is still deficient in many respects, but it is an improvement on the situation that this government has landed us in through its repeal of the move-on laws. So in that sense it is a positive step, and the coalition will not be opposing it.

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