Media Statement: A weak government will always make weak laws

We call on the Minns Government to abandon these reckless, and ill-conceived laws and instead, convene a meeting of the Government, the Opposition and main stakeholders within the criminal justice system and civil liberties community to chart a way forward with respect to bail and criminal law reform.

We call on the Minns Government to stop their reckless and reactive policy announcements and commit, like the previous Liberal Government did, to utilise the established State Government law reform bodies such as the Law Reform Commission and the Sentencing Council, to drive evidence based policy solutions.

New South Wales now has the highest rate of adults on remand on record, as well as the number of Aboriginal adults on record on remand. We have officially abandoned the Close the Gap target. The Premier has introduced changes to bail that will see our prison populations explode for people charged with offences but who have not been convicted of any criminal offence.

It is time that Premier Minns and the Labor Government tell the people of New South Wales the truth:

  1. That these newly announced “Knife and Bail laws” will not make communities safer. We know from the independent research that the opposite is true.
  2. That these laws were made on the run, without genuine consultation with any professional legal body or stakeholders within the criminal justice system.
  3. That these laws evidence the substantial lengths the Labor Government will go to distract communities from the abysmal and chronic underfunding of mental health and frontline services that go to the heart of crime prevention (including Men’s Behavioural Change programs).
  4. That these laws are weak laws, introduced by a weak Premier who has politicised the criminal justice system for his own political gain.
  5. That these laws; including the introduction of electronic monitoring has been announced without any scaffolding or understanding of the practical implications; including the significant costs of implementing electronic monitoring.
  6. That these laws allow the police to have extraordinary and unprecedented search powers that will allow members of the public to be subject to a police search without reasonable suspicion.
  7. That these laws ignore the real risk of primary victim-survivors being charged as the perpetrator and being refused bail – the consequences of which will be significant.
  8. That these laws cement Labor’s role in being part of the problem and not part of the solution.

These proposed laws have been announced with a promise that they will make communities safer. They will not.  

Comments from Lydia Shelly, President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties

These laws are a sign of a weak Premier, beholden to right wing shock jocks, who continues to make policy on the run whilst misleading the community by telling them that he can eliminate violent crime by the introduction of these laws. That is simply, untrue.

Rather than focus on developing evidence based policies that provides a once in a generation framework for cultural and social change, the Premier has allowed New South Wales to be transformed into a state where the police will have the extraordinary power to search members of the public without a reason and prison populations will continue to balloon with further presumptions against bail introduced.

Research demonstrates that “wanding laws” do not make communities safer. The vast majority of people “wanded” will return a positive result. This will lead to police escalating their involvement with members of the public, who have returned a “false positive”.

Who is drafting the proposed legislation if criminal law stakeholders have not been genuinely consulted? The recent announcements do not and will not protect the community. They treat the symptoms of a social and cultural problem: violence against women and domestic and family violence. Instead of showing leadership and tackling this issue in a considered way, our Premier drags us back to the worst days of the law-and-order debates of the early 1990’s.

The Labor Government was elected with high hopes from those who care about human rights, civil liberties. These hopes continue to be eviscerated as the Premier repeatedly demonstrates that he is unable to resist populist policies inflaming a race to the bottom on law and order. This is a Premier who makes policies, without any regard for the seeds of inequality he is sowing, or the established legal principles in the criminal justice system that he rips apart.

This started with the appalling juvenile bail laws, unprecedented in Australia, which made it quite clear that the Premier is willing to use Aboriginal children as a means to a political end. It is now continued with further knife crime reforms and now a suite of reforms to target domestic and family violence offenders which represent a threat to human rights and civil liberties. These laws betray the values of the Australian Labor Party.

When will the Labor caucus to stand up and demonstrate that they are better than this?

If this trend of reactive criminal justice reform continues, we will not see a reduction in violence crimes. We will see further increasing rates of incarceration and the overrepresentation of First Nations people in custody. We will see more innocent people waiting up to eighteen months on remand, only to be found not guilty after losing their employment, their housing, their families, and relationships.

Whilst this may serve the political tactics of a weak Premier, it is appalling public policy, and it does not serve the people of New South Wales.