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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Assault laws pass to protect all frontline workers

New assault laws protecting police officers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency services staff and corrections officers by making it a specific offence have passed in the ACT Legislative Assembly this afternoon.

The ACT Government’s Crimes (Protection of Police, Firefighters and Paramedics) Amendment Act 2019 passed with the Government supporting most of the Canberra Liberals’ amendments.

Shadow Minister for Policing and Emergency Services, Giulia Jones, sought to amend the bill to increase the new assault provision from two to five years, which was turned down.

“They put themselves on the line every day going into harm’s way, so if they’re assaulted, it is more serious than the average assault,” she said.

“What we were hoping to do was just make the penalty a little bit bigger so that the courts had the option … of going bigger if the assault was clearly a cold-blooded, intentional attack.”

Assaults against police officers have generally been trending upwards and, from mid-2015, the ACT has been averaging around 52 assaults on police officers per year.

Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Mick Gentleman, said their decision to not support increasing the maximum penalty from two to five years was made to ensure the ACT is Human Rights compliant.

“A two-year imprisonment penalty balances protecting and supporting police and other frontline workers with ensuring we don’t infringe on human rights.

 “This decision was undertaken in consultation with the Human Rights Commission. The ACT has an obligation under the Human Rights Act 2004 to ensure that laws and policies in the ACT do not have a discriminatory, disproportionate or unintended impact on particular groups.”

Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) president, Angela Smith, said that AFPA lobbied hard for a five-year penalty and a strict liability offence for assaulting a police officer.

“We believe that assaulting a police officer or PSO (Protective Service Officer) is more serious than common assault and requires a harsher penalty than two years.

“In saying that, we must start somewhere, and this bill and new legislation is a good first step and something that can be built on in time,” she said.

The assault laws also create new driving offences which target driving at police and ramming police vehicles. This will give police an extra deterrent against this highly dangerous conduct.

The Opposition’s move to broaden the bill to cover corrections officers was accepted.

“I have met with corrections officers, who, their jobs are scary for them … I’m glad that they’ll be included, and I’m really glad that we’ve been able to negotiate to this position.”

Ms Jones also moved to cover frontline hospital staff.

“We don’t often think about the fact that violence occurs in our hospitals, but it does,” she said.

Ms Smith said that the passing of the bill, over eight years in the making, and the three new laws it creates will be welcomed by all first responders in the ACT.

“ACT Policing officers, AFP Protective Service Officers and other first responders don’t come to work to be assaulted.

“Traditionally, offenders have been charged with common assault, which does not reflect the true nature or extent of the incident.

“Having a standalone offence that describes the true nature and seriousness of the crime is very important,” Ms Smith said.

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