Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I would like to speak briefly on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Public order) Bill 2017. As previous speakers have mentioned, this bill does a number of things. Firstly, it codifies the offence of affray and also introduces the offence of violent disorder. This is obviously a natural extension from codifying affray. It seems somewhat strange that affray has not been changed considering how frequently people are actually charged with affray. The fact that it has stayed as common law for so long is curious. It has certainly made life more difficult for the courts, police, lawyers and prosecutors. I certainly think this is a sensible change and correctly imports the previous common-law elements of the offence.
I go on to the second part of the bill, which deals with face coverings in designated areas. When police have designated an area they will have greater powers to remove people from those areas if they are wearing a face covering. The bill is quite specific about the reasons for wearing that face covering. I note Ms Pennicuik’s comments that disguises are already covered in the Crimes Act 1958, but I do believe that this is a fairly controlled section of the act, and proposed new section 10KA gives me some relief that there are only very specific occasions when a police officer could direct a person wearing a face covering to leave the designated area. The police officer must reasonably believe that the person is wearing the face covering to conceal that person’s identity or to protect that person from the effects of crowd-controlling substances and the person refuses to remove that covering when asked to do so. So these are very specific areas. I do not think it would capture someone who was wearing a face covering for cultural reasons or for health reasons but was not doing it to hide their identity or to act violently. I am fairly comforted by those safeguards in there. These laws apply to designated events only, so they would be exercised infrequently.
Having said that, I have had very mixed feedback about this section of the legislation, and certainly some people at the Islamic Council of Victoria — I note that this was not their official position — were concerned about the potential of these laws to discriminate against those who wear facial coverings on religious grounds. I do not share that concern. I think the safeguards in the legislation actually protect from that. Obviously some groups like Liberty Victoria have also expressed concerns that this would impinge on basic freedom of speech, expression and assembly. They said:
The right to protest should not be contingent on consent to surveillance.
Having seen what went on in the Coburg riots last year, just up the street from my office, it was really appalling behaviour. It was intimidating behaviour, and I think some of those face masks enabled people to act in a far more violent way and in a far more offensive way to the residents and to the business operators in that area.
That leads me onto councils needing to consult with police when any protests are planned in their area, but they do not need to abide by any advice the police give them. And certainly that was the situation in Coburg last year where the police did advise Moreland council to prevent that protest because they were concerned about the violence that could occur. The police were quite correct. The protests went ahead. It did turn into some form of a riot. Businesses had to close down for a significant part of Sydney Road, and it really frightened a lot of the residents. I do not think that it was a matter of free speech. It was just a matter of a bunch of thugs from both sides of an argument getting together and just being incredibly unpleasant. So while I am somewhat ambivalent about these changes to the legislation, I will support this bill.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.