19 August 2022

'Show some leadership': Police union challenges Attorney-General for sentencing and bail review

| Claire Fenwicke
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Law Courts of the ACT building

Debate has heated up around bail and sentencing laws in the ACT. Photo: File.

“I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but at what stage will the ACT Attorney-General admit that a review into sentencing and bail is required? How much more evidence does he need?”

They’re the questions being asked by Australian Federal Police Association president Alex Caruana following a string of alleged crimes believed to be committed by repeat offenders in Canberra over the past week.

These included a 29-year-old man arrested after reports of a silver Audi driving erratically in Chisholm. His charges included breaching bail, two counts of driving at police, dangerous driving, driving under the influence of drugs, possession of an offensive weapon and possession of stolen property.

Another was an alleged recidivist 16-year-old boy charged with 12 offences – including breach of bail, aggravated robbery, possession of a knife and assault occasioning actual bodily harm – following a carjacking in Calwell.

More recently, a 17-year-old girl (subject to a good behaviour order) allegedly drove a stolen vehicle at a police officer, rammed a police car and bit an officer on the hand while she was being arrested. This marked the 27th time a police vehicle had allegedly been rammed since July last year.

Mr Caruana challenged ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury to “start doing his job” and conduct a review into bail and sentencing processes in the Territory.

He said such a move would protect the community and police officers.

“The sentencing and bail processes in this city are fundamentally flawed and dangerously inadequate,” Mr Caruana said.

“Recidivist offenders are being released without consideration for the harm they cause the community by re-offending. Do more families need to go through heartbreak before the Attorney-General will show some leadership on this issue?”

Mr Caruana said police officers were trying to do their jobs without proper legal support in place. This placed their lives at risk.

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“Policing is risky enough without having recidivist offenders on bail, intensive correction orders, or suspended sentences trying to mow [officers] down while they commit further offences,” he said.

The police union president acknowledged Mr Rattenbury had expressed he was open to reform, but questioned how change could occur without a review.

“This is another example of the ACT Government putting the cart in front of the horse. How can meaningful reform occur when you don’t know what needs reforming?” Mr Caruana said.

Justice reform advocate and former AFP officer Jason Taylor is another pushing for change and has called for an independent review of the ACT’s entire justice process.

“The system’s broken … there are so many issues with it that to point at one thing over another won’t get the job done,” Mr Taylor said.

“A wider net cast over the entire system is the way to go.”

He accused the government of being “obsessed” with the human rights of offenders to the detriment of victims.

“The spectre of human rights hangs over how everything is done … nothing in the Human Rights Act says you can’t actually punish people, there are just certain things you have to do over the top of it,” Mr Taylor said.

“There should be a `carrot and stick’ approach to justice, but the only thing that exists in the ACT is the carrot, there is no stick.”

Mr Taylor applauded the government’s Drug and Alcohol program and other initiatives to rehabilitate offenders, but said it couldn’t yet be hailed a success.

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Mr Rattenbury has stood firm on his comments that a review into bail and sentencing was not needed, but said he was open to reform.

Two investigations into specific issues in the ACT are underway: a committee inquiry into dangerous driving and an ACT Government road safety review.

“The Government acknowledges we must continue to strive to keep our community safe, and has long been committed to addressing reoffending in the ACT, predominantly through our Reducing Recidivism Plan,” Mr Rattenbury said.

He argued Canberra was a “very safe city” with comparatively low crime rates, but he’d asked the Justice and Community Safety Directorate to look into issues of motor theft and reoffending.

As debate continues, the police union has written to the Auditor-General about the performance of the ACT courts.

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wodenresident10:33 am 21 Aug 22

Is there evidence that harsher penalties reduce crime?

I am so glad we don’t have this tough on law out of touch Jeremy Hanson in government. We don’t need more laws Jeremy, cherry picking what suits you to try and score cheap political points. Take drug law reform for example. Drugs play a significant role in crime. The only real commitment to drug law reform in the ACT was Kate Carnell who didn’t use people’s misery to try and score cheap political points. Kate treated reform in this area as a public health problem in tackling and reducing crime. Her government attempted to implement reform and had the support of Labor and Independent Michael Moore. From memory I think an election got in the way. Drug addicts are human and have families. How would you feel if this was one of your family members? NSW and Victoria have safe injecting rooms where those addicted to drugs are not treated as criminals and can inject safely and receive advice and treatment from health professionals. Lo betide any drug law reform talk in the ACT with the out of touch Jeremy Hanson, Zed Seselja and Peter Cain running scare campaigns with a tough on drugs agenda. Labor has been fluffing around for over 20 years now too scared of the union to make any tough or meaningful decisions on drug law reform.

Dave Spanksalot12:49 pm 22 Oct 22

I’ve already spoken with Jeremy in regards to pill testing and unfortunately he, for whatever reasons, is incapable of comprehending any of the effective concepts based on real world research, even the “but what if it were your children” argument fails to elicit any basic empathy. He’s a nice enough guy with an amazing smile but incapable of the intellectual nuance to see the bigger picture beyond his very binary, simplistic and pre-baked views. He’s deputy leader of the Liberals because he shares their same priorities, being 1) win power, 2) destroy the greens, 3) rig the system in their favour to hold future power,…..and around 17) the welfare of Canberrans who don’t think like them.

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