Controlled Substances (Drug Offences) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

I rise to speak on the Controlled Substances (Drug Offences) Amendment Bill, presented to us as a private member's bill by the member for Elizabeth, and indicate that the government on this side of the house has considered the matter and formed the view that the amendment does not justify the proposed law changes outlined in it, and we will be opposing the same.

Let me start by saying that the sponsor of the bill, the member for Elizabeth, has called on his own experience as a police officer, and I commend him for that because it is always helpful to have firsthand assessment by people who have been on the front line to actually provide to us real circumstances. What he has conveyed to us is that, whilst in his day—which I am assuming is not too far in the past, as he is such a youthful looking member for Elizabeth—alcohol was the biggest single issue for policemen and policewomen on the beat, now in contemporary times drugs, particularly ice, are problematic for those who are patrolling our streets and protecting us.

That is an important piece of information. It highlights to us that there is a new form of drug out there that apparently has effects that promote some aggression, particularly when the effects of it are wearing off, and that can cause real problems in the community. That is not just for the safety of our police officers, those at the front line, but obviously for other members of the public. All those things are important. I accept his suggestion that therefore we have to do whatever we can as lawmakers to ensure that the flow of ice is arrested and that the police, as front-line officers, are given sufficient authority and resources to ensure that we minimise its effect.

They have to be able to seek out and discover ice, as he says, and that is part of their charter and part of their commissioned responsibility. What he is seeking then in the legislation is to avoid the current legal obligation for police to be able to search properties, people and vehicles for drugs, which they have in the latter but not so much in the former. In other words, under our current law there has to be a reasonable suspicion of the police officer before entering a property for the purpose of identifying the sale or manufacture of drugs in a particular dwelling—a drug house as we often refer to it.

The capacity for us to support police in their endeavours to protect us means that they do need to have access to search powers to be able to deal with the issue. The law also requires, though, that there be certain thresholds that they reach. To be able to identify the ill that is here, one has to be able to, I suppose, assess whether it is reasonable for that threshold to be required. The promoter of the bill also outlined to us that:

…if you live near a drug house—and I hope for your sake that you do not—you know about it. There are people coming and going 24 hours a day at all hours of the day or night. The people who live near these drug houses live with anxiety all the time. Knowing that these people may be criminals only adds to that anxiety. I believe that the police need clear authority to search those people coming and going from these houses, both to stop the spread of drugs and to help gather evidence to shut down the businesses of the drug houses.

Here is the problem: there are situations where police do enter property, for example, on the reasonable belief that there have been some drug sales on the property, and they sometimes cause damage in actually doing so.

In fact, just in the last couple of months, a claim was submitted—it was a very public case—for $1,000 arising out of a raid by police on what was purportedly a known drug house on information that had been received by police. They broke down the gate, door and various other things and entered the property only to find that there was some cryptocurrency mining computer set-up on the property. There were no drugs found. I am not sure what particular drugs they were looking for but, in any event, they found that no offence had occurred or was occurring in relation to the belief that they had. Obviously, as a result they were then called upon to provide for the damages of such an action.

The police can make mistakes, like everyone else. Sometimes, though, we as the taxpayers have to pick up the cost where mistakes are made, including by the police, so it is important that we have a threshold in relation to the obligation of police to be able to search, seize and of course then prosecute where appropriate. Arming police with toolbox options is important. On this side of the house, we think there is a balance and this is a threshold that we think is appropriate.

In the course of legislation previously put by the former government relating to the automatic search of people who are coming to and from drug houses, a number of other instances were raised as to concerns over who might be captured by such legislation. I make the point that—and I hope this is very clear—the police have extraordinary powers because they have a job to do. They have certain thresholds that they have to meet to be able to do that, and we think that that is a reasonable position.

At the moment, they can search people and houses in circumstances where there is a reasonable belief and they frequently do, as they should be able to. We traversed this issue previously in the parliament. I do not think there has been anything that has changed since. Our side of the parliament bears in mind the importance of protecting people and that a certain standard be there.

That is not to say that we have not acquiesced to the police request to deal with, for example, modern encryption protection against potential evidence. Unfortunately, the opposition in that area, whilst they have been willing to look at a number of areas, have not been fully supportive of our position. I will not say any more on that because it is a bill that is still currently before the house and I do not want to in any way interfere with that debate. I just make the point that I do not understand the opposition's desire to rush into the parliament when in this case—no—an experienced former member of the police force thinks it is a good idea—to support the police yet his party is prepared to be quite objectionable to the police request to deal with serious crime, including child protection matters, which we have been fighting for decades in this parliament to enlighten the protection of. So please do not come into the parliament with ideas that might be a good idea at the time. You think it might be a good idea to say that police have to have every piece of armoury they need to be able to deal with this and yet on the other hand say, 'Over here in the child protection category, we don't care.'