Second Reading

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:26): This bill was introduced on 18 March this year and it covers the bill that had previously been in the parliament back in July 2014. With the proroguing of parliament that lapsed and the bill has been reintroduced this year by the Attorney. It does have a significant difference from last year's bill in that it makes provision for employees who are in emergency departments and the like to also have protection in addition to the police in the terms as set out in this bill.

Essentially, the bill amends the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Act 2007 to require an offender who bites or spits at a police officer, or now an emergency worker, to undertake a blood test for an infectious disease. The threshold essentially requires a reasonable suspicion that the victim, in this case, has been assaulted or that the offender has committed other specific offences of violence. Again, this is something that we traversed last year, but the government introduced the bill originally consistent with a 2014 election commitment.

There was a general concern that police officers exposed to an offender's bodily fluids might be at risk of being exposed to or contracting a communicable disease. To date, there is no obligation on the part of the offender to be tested. Essentially, what would occur is that police officers would have a blood test, I think at the government's expense, but they would have to wait, usually for some time, before the results were confirmed.

This is a risk, as some 700 police officers each year are assaulted in the course of their work, and it was estimated that 250 to 350 of those were either spat at or bitten. The risk was not insignificant, and that the police officers had to wait to have their own tests done was unacceptable. Essentially, the identification of whether there was some contamination was delayed because of the time that the communicable disease contaminant needed to develop in the system for the purposes of testing, whereas if the offender already had that condition that would be evident from a simple blood test, and the outline could be obtained in a timely manner.

The government, it appears, has since acknowledged that persons who are working in emergency circumstances should also have the same protection. Clearly, they are also at risk of contracting an infectious disease, owing to violence inflicted on them in the course of their occupations. It is a little disappointing, but pretty predictable, that the government would make the addition in its bill that was tabled this year and introduced to the parliament with no recognition whatsoever of those of us who have presented and put forward this proposal, no acknowledgement of the opposition. It is discourteous at best and a bit churlish; nevertheless, we are used to that. We are pleased that the government has at least accommodated the amendment and appreciates what we were arguing for last year.

I put on the record for the Attorney that quite often members in this house bring forward private members' bills or the opposition presents bills for the consideration of the parliament and they are rejected on the basis that they are not comprehensive enough, that they need some other work, some massaging or an amendment. The government has the resources to do that; they sometimes do it and then reintroduce the bill and frequently acknowledge the private member, especially if they are an Independent, for the work they have done previously.

I make that point because it is a little disappointing that, whilst we have a role in this parliament as an opposition, the Attorney, or those who prepared his speech, has not seen fit to acknowledge that that idea has come from the opposition. Nevertheless, the bill is better for that inclusion, and I indicate on behalf of the opposition that we will support its passage through this house.