Labor backbencher Dr Marisa Paterson’s efforts to change the presumption of bail for some dangerous driving offences have been successful in the Legislative Assembly.
“I hope today that this bill … will go some way to recognising the severity of these dangerous driving crimes and will lead to significant consideration of public safety in the determination of bail for those who commit these offences,” she told the Assembly yesterday (2 November).
Her Bail Amendment Bill 2023 will mean a neutral presumption of bail will now be required for culpable driving and driving at police, with a change also made so that it would only consider recidivist offenders charged with furious, reckless or dangerous driving.
In this instance, a recidivist offender is someone who has been convicted or found guilty previously of furious, reckless or dangerous driving, and it will be considered an “aggravation of repeated offence”.
Dr Paterson hoped these bail presumption changes would go some way to addressing what she described as a crime against the public, police and individuals.
“No one has a right to drive in a way that puts innocent people’s lives at risk,” she said.
The ACT Greens raised concerns that removing the presumption of bail for furious, reckless or dangerous driving would negatively impact women and Indigenous people.
Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury argued while dangerous driving offences could be “incorrigible”, he didn’t think it was right to be making these changes.
“Reforms in this space are not easy. They need to be evidence-based and effective – change does not come from tinkering at the edges of a bail act,” he said.
“Restrictive bail policies means more people will spend time incarcerated on remand. The reality is there are growing numbers of people on remand in the AMC.
“It is an issue the government needs to address, and the proposal from Dr Paterson’s bill will make this problem worse.”
He highlighted both the Human Rights Commissioner and Legal Aid had voiced concerns around these changes having a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people as well.
“It was recently the case that every Indigenous female detainee at the AMC was a person on remand,” Mr Rattenbury said.
Dr Paterson accused the Attorney-General and the Greens of “ideological grandstanding”, questioning where their evidence had come from and stating she had been trying to have discussions with the party since she introduced her motion in June.
“I have not been able to establish their position on this until the very last minute,” she said.
“I’m very disappointed about how this has all unfolded today, and I think it clearly demonstrates the lack of understanding that the Attorney-General has for this issue – or care for this issue.”
Indigenous Affairs Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith also questioned what evidence there was that changing the presumption of bail would result in more Indigenous people ending up on remand.
“I’m not sure whether Mr Rattenbury actually has any evidence that these particular offences are ones for which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people come into contact with the justice system in any particular over-represented way,” she said.
While Shadow Attorney-General Jeremy Hanson had wanted the changes to go further and did not support only restricting the neutral bail presumption to recidivist offenders charged with furious, reckless or dangerous driving, he understood at this stage this was “as good as it’s going to get”.
Dr Paterson dedicated this law change to 16-year-old Tyson Gavin, a family member who was killed in a car crash on 19 July 2012. He was a backseat passenger in the vehicle that smashed “at speed” into a tree on Eggleston Crescent in Chifley.
“He was a dearly loved brother, grandson, nephew and cousin to his family, and a friend and football mate to so many,” she said.
“Tyson died at the scene as a result of dangerous driving … Tyson had a whole world in front of him, and that was taken away.
“Today, I close the in-principle part of this debate in loving memory of Tyson Gavin, and for all the other innocent victims of dangerous driving in our community.”