“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.
“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.
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.
“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.