23 October 2019

Government tables new offences for driving at police officers and their vehicles

| Lachlan Roberts
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Mick Gentleman

Mr Genteman’s bill will create a new offence for assaults against first responders and new offences for driving at police and their vehicles. Photo: File.

A person who drives their car at a police officer, regardless of whether the officer is injured or not, will now face a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment under new laws proposed by the ACT Government.

Police and Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman introduced the legislation to the Assembly today, seeking to create new offences for assaulting first responders and driving at police and their vehicles, with a person now facing a maximum five years’ imprisonment if they ram a police vehicle.

Mr Gentleman said the new legislation takes a “proportionate, human rights compliant approach” based on legal advice, while also sending a clear signal that offenders will be held to account and face higher penalties.

“Specific offences against driving at police officers and their vehicles recognises the special vulnerability these workers experience while executing their duties on our roads,” Mr Gentleman said. “Crucially, creating a separate offence means that people’s criminal records will show that they assaulted a police officer, firefighter or paramedic, creating a strong deterrent for would-be offenders.”

Mr Gentleman said he will track and evaluate the new legislation once it comes into effect and assess whether it would be appropriate to expand it in the future.

The legislation has caused a stir in the Legislative Assembly after the Canberra Liberals announced their own bill to provide greater protections for frontline personnel. The Liberals had planned to table their bill on 23 October, which Mr Gentleman said showed the Liberals were “clearly scrambling to keep up”.

“We are pleased to see the Canberra Liberals coming out in support of our frontline workers and hope they demonstrate this by voting for our legislation,” Mr Gentleman said. “The Canberra Liberal’s proposals around ramming police appear to mirror what the Government has already committed to.”

But the Liberals’ Giulia Jones said the Government’s bill is much narrower and less thorough than theirs, stating the Mr Gentleman has taken his “sweet time” to actually table a bill.

“Assaults on paramedics recently reached a record high,” Ms Jones said. “There have been 320 assaults against police officers since 2012, and the Alexander Maconochie Centre is one of Australia’s most dangerous prisons to work at and has one of Australia’s highest prisoner-on-officer assault rates.

“Nurses, doctors and hospital staff are also at risk of violence. There are now almost two assaults on frontline health staff every single day.”

Under the Canberra Liberals’ reforms, offences will be elevated to aggravated offences if they are committed against a frontline community service provider while performing their duties, increasing the maximum available penalties for these attacks.

The Liberals’ bill would also create three new standalone offences for assaulting a frontline community service provider, using a motor vehicle to endanger a police officer or other frontline community service provider and lastly ramming a police vehicle or other frontline community service provider vehicle.

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About time…….also where multiple offences are committed judges need to hand down time for each offence to be served consecutive instead of concurrent. This is why some of our worst offenders are getting out in what seems to be a short amount of time for the crimes committed. When they serve a concurrent sentence they are only really getting punished for the one offence (even though it would be the sentence for the worst offence).

So if a knuckle scraper deliberately drives at an octogenarian on a crossing, the potential penalty would be less than if they deliberately drove at a fit and armed police officer. Also, their chances of being caught going for the older person would be much less. Anyone else think we are about to see 12 months of continuous law and order auction?

Having laws like that are only useful if our magistrates decide to apply an appropriate sentence.

Based on the quality of most of our magistrates it probably would be better to legislate minimum sentences to tie the magistrates hands, forcing them to hand down a punishment in keeping with the community’s expectations.

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