Police Offences Amendment (Repeal of Begging) Bill 2019 No. 49

[5.29 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, first, I thank the Leader for the many briefings we have had. It certainly clarifies many things in our minds. It is important to note, and should go without saying, that people do not beg because they want to - it is because they have to. It is an action of last resort. By retaining the offence of begging in the Police Offences Act, it criminalises what is essentially a social problem. Nobody wants to see someone kicked when they are already down.

These circumstances, which are typically fuelled by poverty, substance abuse and a myriad of further saddening circumstances, are ones a good community like ours wants to see ameliorated, not worsened. By repealing the offence of begging, we can cease to perpetuate a cycle of ongoing disadvantage for people who already live in difficult circumstances. I thank TasCOSS for its advice on the bill, which I believe has been sent to all members here. TasCOSS states, quite rightly in my opinion, that the offence of begging is antiquated and disproportionately punishes people who are poor.

Furthermore, TasCOSS argues that criminalising begging does not address the root causes of this poverty, including lack of employment opportunities, mental health, homelessness and other factors. While I absolutely agree with this, I think it is also important to be clear that this bill does not propose to address these root causes but, at the very least, sees the continued entrenchment of disadvantage that the criminalisation of begging causes. I will return to TasCOSS in a moment. Understandably, community concern relates to some of the less common instances of worrying conduct of people who are begging.

However, it seems to me that in cases where people have been charged with the offence of begging, it has coincided with other antisocial behaviours such as yelling, spitting or other abuse, which might otherwise typically be classed as assault or harassment. In other words, it has not always necessarily been the begging itself that has caused concern, but the antisocial behaviour that has accompanied it.

Commensurate with this, the expansion of the dispersal of persons power proposed to be inserted into the Police Offences Act by this bill enables police to direct a person to leave a public place if there are reasonable grounds for the belief that the person is intimidating and harassing people, or deterring or preventing the conduct of business or using a public facility.

This bill does not empower police to move a person on simply because they are begging - only if they are begging and engaging in intimidation and harassment, prevention of business patronage or use of a public facility. This clearly defines prohibited conduct, and thus prescribes police very certain circumstances in which a move-on direction can be issued. This, to my mind, is entirely reasonable, and I support it because it does not continue to criminalise begging, but ensures that there are measures that can be enacted if directions are not complied with.

It also ensures that the move-on power is constrained enough to apply only in those circumstances, and not to broader situations, activities or classes of people. The bill also provides a list of public facilities, to clarify the nature of the facilities to which it refers. I understand that this is not an exhaustive list, but it does provide further guidance for police where they might consider issuing a move-on order, or to the judiciary if they are required to interpret and apply this if it becomes law.

I believe this is a well-drafted, well-reasoned and compelling bill. It makes sense to cease criminalising begging, but to also listen to the concerns of our community in instances where begging coincides with other antisocial behaviour, and where it has an adverse effect on the patronage of business or use of public facilities.

To return briefly to TasCOSS's advice on this bill, I understand that it feels that the expansion of police move-on powers is unnecessary. However, I reiterate that I believe this a well-drafted bill. I note that in the other place, some support was expressed for the minister's consideration of conducting a review of the results of the act at the end of its first year to ensure no unintended consequences have occurred.

I, too, would support this measure, and would further encourage the minister and the department to continue seeking the expertise and assistance of our social service organisations such as TasCOSS and Shelter Tasmania, amongst many others, as the act is implemented.

I support the bill.

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