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Law and order legislation in the Australian States and Territories 1995-1998: a comparative survey

Law and order legislation in the Australian States and Territories 1995-1998: a comparative survey

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 07/1999 by Rachel Simpson and Gareth Griffith

Events in New South Wales in 1998, including the death of off-duty police officer Peter Forsyth in February, the murder of 14 year old schoolboy, Edward Lee in Punchbowl in October and the drive-by shooting of Lakemba police station in November have once again caused the law and order debate to intensify. People are becoming more fearful of crime, and assertions that the incidence of crime has risen , along with concerns about the corresponding cost to the community, have combined to make crime prevention and “law and order” a priority for all governments. The phenomenon of crime in Australia is discussed in Part 2.0 below. Crime prevention has also become a priority for the Police Service and concerned community groups, all of whom have their own theories on how best to combat and prevent crime.1

The object of this Paper is to survey the States and Territories to evaluate the legislative response of State and Territory Governments across Australia to this problem of crime prevention and the law and order question generally. The paper does not attempt to evaluate the success of various measures, simply to highlight the steps taken. The survey covers the period 1995 to the end of 1998. It does not take note of every minor amendment in the field of criminal legislation, but it does seek to offer a reasonably comprehensive coverage of the major legislative initiatives, taking account of the main features of the relevant reforms.

For an act to be considered a crime, it must be prohibited and punishable by the state. The scope of what can be a ‘crime’ is, therefore, very wide. For the purposes of this paper, the source of what is ‘criminal’ is not restricted to the various state crimes legislation. Similarly, ‘law and order’ is a difficult term to define. For the purposes of this paper, it has been taken to mainly include the following broad areas: street crime and maintenance of public order; crimes against the person; property offences; drug crime; juvenile crime; firearms and other dangerous weapons; sentencing; victims of crime, and bail, probation and parole.3

It is accepted that legislation is only part of any response to law and order issues. The police service, through its policies for example, and welfare and other social groups also play an important role in crime prevention and the efficiency of the legal justice system.4 Such matters are, however, beyond the scope of this paper, which concentrates on the legislative response of Australian State and Territory governments to the law and order debate. Nor does this Paper deal in any detail with developments towards a model criminal code in Australia, or with certain areas in which national uniform schemes have been introduced, as in relation to witness protection, international transfer of prisoners and the classification of publications, films and computer games.