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JUSTICE (MISCELLANEOUS AMENDMENTS) BILL 2003 (No. 61)
Mrs JACKSON (Denison - Minister for Justice and Industrial Relations - 2R) - Mr Speaker, I move -
That the bill be now read the second time.
Mr Speaker, the purpose of this bill is to make a number of miscellaneous amendments to various acts that fall within the portfolio responsibility of the Attorney-General. Some of these amendments have been requested by Chief Justice, the Chief Magistrate, the Solicitor-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Other amendments are necessary to update acts to reflect other amendments and legislation which has been passed in recent years. I will provide specific detail about each of these amendments during the committee stage of the bill if members so wish.
However, there are two amendments which I propose to discuss in some detail. The amendment to the Coroners Act 1995 results from consultation with the Chief Magistrate in relation to the findings of the Gilewicz Royal Commission. The amendment will give a police officer the power to enter a specific place of death, fire or explosion, using such assistance and reasonable force as is necessary, and to seize exhibits which he or she reasonably believes to be relevant for the purposes of the Coroners Act, without the need for express authorisation from a coroner.
At present, the Coroners Act gives a coroner the powers of entry, inspection and seizure in relation to an investigation of a death, a fire or an explosion, and the coroner can authorise a police officer to carry out those powers. Without the express authority of a coroner, unless a police officer suspects that a criminal offence has been committed, the police officer does not have the power to enter these premises or to seize relevant exhibits.
Police attend scenes of death on a daily basis. Not all, of course, are matters for the coroner.
Delays may occur in arranging for a coroner to attend a scene or to be briefed on a particular situation and to sign the necessary authorisation. The problem being rectified by the amendment is that any delay in effecting seizure of exhibits could compromise evidence. For example, evidence such as fingerprints or records could be tampered with, evidence could be concealed or destroyed or in the case of drug-related deaths, medication not made available for analysis.
In addition, there are times, although rare, when the police are obstructed in their efforts to gain entry to premises where a death has occurred. The amendment will give an officer the authority to enter, using force, if necessary. The amendment is confined to specific places and seizures and there would be no power to enter by force any other premises without a coroner's express authorisation. As a further safeguard, the amendment contains a provision that a police officer who so acts must advise the coroner and the Chief Magistrate and provide full details of the circumstances. The Chief Magistrate has also recommended that the Magistrates Court (Civil Division) Act 1992 be amended to make provision for the ordering of reports by experts.
A report from an expert in the relevant field is a procedure that will assist a court to resolve complicated civil disputes that involve expertise. A similar provision in South Australia has proved highly successful in contested matters that involve both difficulty and expertise, for example, building disputes, by minimising delays and expense to parties. The expert, as an officer of the court, would have the power to investigate and report to the court. It is proposed that the costs of the report would be borne by the parties as the court directs. The balance of the amendments are routine refining or updating of legislation. The amendments are not controversial.
I commend the bill to the House.
Mr MICHAEL HODGMAN (Denison) - Mr Speaker, as Her Majesty's shadow attorney-general for the State of Tasmania, I am pleased to inform the House that this bill does have the support of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. The purpose of this bill is to make a number of miscellaneous amendments to various acts, such amendments having been requested by His Honour the Chief Justice, the Chief Magistrate, the Solicitor-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. The main matter of public interest is the amendment to the Coroners Act of 1995 recommended by the Chief Magistrate following the Gilewicz Royal Commission. This amendment will empower a police officer to enter a specific place of death, fire or explosion using such assistance and reasonable force as necessary, to seize exhibits which he or she reasonably believes to be relevant for the purposes of the Coroners Act, without the need for express authorisation from a coroner. Her Majesty's loyal Opposition supports this recommended amendment.
The Chief Magistrate has also recommended that the Magistrates Court (Civil Division) Act 1992 be amended to make provision for the ordering of reports by experts by the court itself. Similar provisions worked extremely well in South Australia, and the cost of the report would be borne by the parties as the court directs. The other amendments are in fact simply routine, refining and updating the legislation. They are not controversial.
Dealing with the first and most important part of the bill, every member of this Parliament will recall the circumstances which led ultimately to the Gilewicz Royal Commission. I was personally concerned about that matter because I knew almost all the parties involved personally and had known them from as long ago as my time as member for Huon in the Legislative Council from 1966 to 1974, during my time in the Federal Parliament from 1975 to 1987, and more recently since my return to the Tasmanian Parliament and House of Assembly in 1992. Because I knew just about everybody involved, including the SAS personnel, I was unable professionally to take any part in the original inquest or in the Royal Commission. However, I was interviewed by staff of the Royal Commissioner, in particular by Miss Madeleine Cox, who was counsel advising the Royal Commissioner, and I provided a statement as to my knowledge of certain matters.
It was following the Royal Commission that the Chief Coroner made the recommendation that the Coroners Act ought to be amended to give a police officer power to enter a specific place of death, fire or explosion. I just want to pause there to say it is not well known throughout the Tasmanian community that you can have an inquest into a fire, or an inquest into an explosion. There have been, in the State of Tasmania, quite a number of inquests into fires over many years. Mr Speaker, you have the privilege of representing the great rural electorate of Lyons, and more often than not inquests into fires have involved the burning down of farm buildings and subsequent claims for insurance payments and the like. The big advantage of an inquest is that the coroner has power to call before him or her persons whom he or she believes may be able to assist in his or her inquiries in conducting the inquest. Of course, the coroner is not bound by the rules of evidence and so a number of questions can be put to people who might be able to assist and the only basis on which they can decline to answer the questions is on the grounds that such a question, if answered, may cause them to incriminate themselves. In other words, the rule against self-incrimination.
There is no doubt that through the active involvement of coroners - and, in particular, I commend Mr Ian Matheson for his pioneering role in this area - that coroners are more inclined now to attend the scene of a death, fire or an explosion than they were in the past. Traditionally, going back 30 or 40 years, an inquest commenced the day after the body was taken into possession and there would be a formal identification before a coroner, or indeed sometimes a justice of the peace, that the body which had been found was the body of Joseph Smith. Gruesome though the practice may be, the Parliament should know that when a body is identified and where the cause of death is likely to be of interest to the coroner, the coroner is notified and a post-mortem is ordered and is then immediately carried out. Following the carrying out of the post-mortem, in most cases, the coroner will release the body to the relatives of the deceased for burial. In some cases, particularly where DNA and further forensic testing is required, the body may be held for some time. I suppose each of us has had a situation - I have had several - of a family approaching me and pleading for the release of the body so that the relative can be buried or cremated, as the case may be. But in each case when I have referred it to the Coroner's clerk, if the advice has been that there are still further matters to be carried out, then the body will not be released until that has been done. But it seemed to me always to be a shortcoming that there was no basis upon which a police officer, who believed there may be evidence in there which may be of assistance to the Coroner, could enter and take possession of the exhibits which have been referred to by the Attorney in the second reading speech. And the risk therefore was that exhibits so seized may be held at some future time to have been unlawfully seized. There have been cases in which the English courts and indeed the High Court of Australia have laid down that if evidence is unlawfully or illegally obtained it shall not be tendered in evidence and the court has not only a discretion to exclude it but a duty to exclude it.
So the amendment is timely because in the Gilewicz case, without in any way reopening the wounds of that tragic occurrence, there was a question raised as to whether certain ballistic exhibits had in fact been taken possession of and what the position might have been, had they been taken possession of and whether some had been removed or concealed. So Her Majesty's loyal Opposition supports the police being given very wide powers when they arrive at the scene of a death or a fire or an explosion, not only to enter the premises but also to use such force as may be required and to obtain such assistance as may be necessary to seize exhibits which the police officer there and then thinks may be relevant for the purposes of the Coroner's Act.
I think it is important, Attorney, that the Parliament records in this debate, because this debate can be referred to by the Supreme Court of Tasmania and other courts in this State in interpreting the legislation, that we do not want police officers to feel intimidated or hesitant about this matter. If later it turns out that the exhibit is not admissible or is not relevant, then so be it. In many cases of course, the exhibit will be a firearm and the police officer may well not know at the time to whom that firearm belongs. Did it belong to the deceased and were the fatal wounds self-inflicted? Was it the firearm of a murderer who threw it down when people approached and the murderer believed that he or she might be apprehended? Or has it nothing to do with the case?
There was a case in England many years ago where a body was found with the head blown off and a firearm lying on the ground next to the body. The autopsy revealed that the deceased, the body, had died as a result of arsenic poisoning and the person who administered the arsenic when the deceased passed away, took the body into a forest and made it look as though it had been a suicide. Had there been no post mortem and no forensic testing, Mr Speaker, everybody would have said, 'It's a clear case of suicide; the person has been found there, the body is there, head blown off, 12-gauge shot gun there - open-and-shut case'. No, no, it was not an open-and-shut case at all. The body was that of a person who had been poisoned and the murderer set up the alibi. So there could be evidence - evidence which could involve fingerprints, records which could be tampered with and exhibits which may have DNA upon them - and DNA can be found many years after the event, Mr Speaker. There is one person in custody in Risdon Prison right now in relation to proceedings which brought about that person being imprisoned, where the DNA detected on the butt of a roll-your-own cigarette led to the apprehension, the indictment and subsequent sentencing of the person responsible 13 years after the death.
In the Skelly murder case in your electorate, Mr Speaker, a small hatchet recovered from the Esk River years after the event was shown to have human bloodstains on it, which were those of the deceased and which led to the apprehension of the person who was subsequently convicted of that murder. So we find that science marches on, that a little bit of DNA evidence can be correct to a ratio of two million to one. When you are standing addressing a jury and you know that the Crown has evidence which says that in two million cases out of two million and one the person who left that DNA sample is the accused, it is a very sobering thought, Mr Speaker, to say to that jury, 'You really shouldn't be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused'.
Mind you, as Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the great forensic scientist said on one occasion, 'If you are going to adduce scientific evidence, you must be scientific in the manner in which you obtain it'. So the slightest error, the slightest breach of procedure, the slightest failure to comply with the ultimate is sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt. I recall reading with some considerable interest that after he had been convicted and after he had appealed and then abandoned any further appeals, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber, announced that he did not wish any further appeals on his behalf, but there was one matter still to be determined, and that involved DNA evidence which tended to show that he may not have been guilty and there was a very considerable doubt as to whether his co-accused was guilty. Then literally a week before the execution, they found documentation which had not been made available to the defence. As a result of that the execution was stayed for 30 days, and then when that matter had been fully investigated, the execution proceeded.
So a small speck of saliva, blood, sweat or semen - the tiniest dot can be found years and years after the event, and what a tragedy it would be if an exhibit, which might well have led to the perpetrator of a crime, was not seized and taken possession of, and the opportunity was lost forever. Without in any way canvassing the result of a very recent trial for murder in the Supreme Court of Tasmania, just across Salamanca Place from this Parliament, there was criticism of forensic investigation in relation to the effects of a fire in an area where a deceased person was found. And so the Opposition, in the spirit of cooperation with the Government when it brings in rational and sensible legislation, will support this, because it is important that those powers which have been sought following the Gilewicz Royal Commission should be granted, and accordingly we are prepared to give that support.
We note that as a safeguard the amending legislation does contain a provision that a police officer who does so act must advise the Coroner and the Chief Magistrate and provide full details of the circumstances, and it is correct that that should be done. If the action is bona fide and done in good faith, the police officer has nothing to fear. You simply report that we have taken possession of a shotgun, some empty cartridge cases and some other exhibits.
The next important part of the legislation which we support very strongly is to give the court itself - that is to say the Magistrates Court, Civil Division - the power to order reports from experts and to make such order as the court thinks appropriate as to the payment of the costs incurred in the expert reports. Mr Speaker, I do not know how many people know here, but the Attorney certainly does, because in the most recent appropriation for her Department of Justice in the last budget there was some $200 000 set aside for civil litigation -
Mrs Jackson - Some $250 000 actually.
Mr MICHAEL HODGMAN - Thank you - $250 000 for civil litigation which is not now the subject of legal aid grants but to cover the cost of expert reports, and expert reports are becoming increasingly expensive. I have not practised in a civil jurisdiction for some time, but I am told that an expert medical report in even a fairly ordinary case can run into hundreds if not thousands of dollars, very expensive, and so in the Magistrates Court, Civil Division, which now has jurisdiction - correct me if I am wrong, Attorney, but I think it is now up to $25 000 - you can have a situation where the Magistrate sitting says, 'Quite frankly, I need an expert report on this matter because you either decided not to provide me with any reports, or one side has provided a report and the other has not'. In the old days, if you look at the Supreme Court Civil Procedure Act, the judge had the right in certain cases to sit with an assessor, and so the assessor was an expert witness who actually sat up on the bench or next to the judge on the bench and assisted the judge in dealing with a Supreme Court case. I do not believe that practice has been used for many years, but the last case I believe it was used in the Supreme C ourt of Tasmania was in the admiralty jurisdiction where, because of the complex nature of the case, a judge sought and had an expert in marine matters, navigation and the like, sitting with him in that case.
So we support this move, and I remind the legal profession and the community that the report when it is obtained will assist the court to resolve complicated civil disputes that involve expert opinions. A similar provision has already been implemented in South Australia and has proved to be highly successful in contested matters that involve both difficulty and expertise and, in particular, building disputes by minimising delays and expense to parties. The expert appointed reports to the court and the court, having received the report, would then make it available to both parties in the case, or in some cases where there are more than two parties, to all parties. What I think is particularly good and on which I congratulate the Government and the Attorney, is that the magistrate can decide how the report is paid for, but one thing is clear. The report is going to be paid for by the parties and not by the taxpayers of Tasmania, and that is very important. So for example, if the court reached the conclusion that one party in the proceedings had deliberately not made available to the court an expert report because it would not favour that side and had taken the punt, if I can use an Australian colloquialism, that they would not get caught out and then an independent expert is called in and the punt is exposed, that party should carry the costs in the main, and the party who has done the right thing should not be burdened with them. But at the end of the day, the Government is to be congratulated because the magistrate hearing the case will decide who pays the bill. The thing that makes me particularly pleased is that it will not be the taxpayers of Tasmania.
We have gone through the legislation with some considerable care. We will not be seeking to go into committee, Attorney. We are prepared to support the bill and this bill, I am pleased to say, does come with the support of very senior people in the administration of justice in the State of Tasmania, namely, as I said, the very distinguished Chief Justice, the distinguished Chief Magistrate, the longest serving Solicitor-General in the Commonwealth of Australia, the dedicated, hard-working and extremely capable Director of Public Prosecutions and, of course, our friends from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Consequently, Her Majesty's loyal Opposition has pleasure in advising the House that it supports the Justice (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2003.
Mr McKIM (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, as the Greens justice spokesperson, I am happy to inform the House that the Greens will also be supporting the bill. It is another one that the good workers at Tasmanian Together can tick off as having unanimous support of all three parties in the House and that will clearly put the lie to the repeated criticism from the government benches that the Greens are only a single issue party and we do not care about anything else except the trees.
These are miscellaneous amendments and it is not my intention to speak at length about everything to which this bill refers, but the one that has probably occupied most of the House's time, both in the second reading speech of the Attorney-General and the speech in response by Mr Michael Hodgman, QC MHA, shadow attorney-general, has been the amendment to the Coroners Act 1995. It is the Greens' understanding that this springs from a communication from the Chief Magistrate that was made after the Gilewicz Commission and I am aware that the Leader of the Greens, Ms Putt, would like to make further comments specifically in relation to this matter and possibly in relation to other matters concerning the Gilewicz inquiry and I look forward, as always, to hearing her contribution.
This amendment to the Coroners Act is a sensible piece of law. It will allow police officers, if they believe evidentiary value may be lost due to any delay in entering premises, under certain conditions to enter those premises and seize the exhibits. It is clearly good law. It will assist police officers and also coroners to come to accurate conclusions in the course of their inquiries and the Greens will certainly be supporting that aspect. The remainder of this miscellaneous amendments bill is just that, miscellaneous amendments and the Greens do not see any need to, firstly, speak any further or, secondly, oppose it. So I am pleased to announce to the House that we will be supporting the bill.
Ms PUTT (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, it is not my intention to speak at length on this, but given that we are, in part, amending the Coroners Act here and specific reference has been made to the Gilewicz Commission in that regard, there are a couple of things I wanted to say. The first is to note that indeed it seems entirely practical and reasonable that police should secure a crime scene and collect evidence that may otherwise be destroyed as soon as possible, whatever the crime really. I suppose that is where an anomaly is being fixed up, because in respect of some particular issues there was a need to wait for the Coroner's say-so.
I guess of course what that relies upon is our trusting that the police have not done something wrong in relation to that scene which they then seek to cover up in the way of dealing with that evidence. In that regard we simply have to have faith in our police force, because clearly that could always be an issue at any given scene, whether or not it involved a death that might need to be handled by a coronial investigation at some point. However, I would make note that in respect of the Gilewicz scene in particular, of course that is and was a very live issue as to whether the police indeed did interfere with the scene. Mind you, the issue there was not that evidence was removed but that it was planted. So I just think it is important to clarify that.
It is also important to recall that in that instance there were issues such as a gun that was claimed to have been being used by the deceased, Joe Gilewicz, which was found, as I understand it, wrapped in newspaper under the boards of a shed. It is very difficult to understand how it could have been being used if in fact it was wrapped in newspaper under the boards of a shed, but there is room for doubt as to when it may have been placed there, given the other activities that apparently took place or may have taken place at that particular scene either that evening or the next day. Perhaps we will never get to the bottom of it because certainly the Gilewicz Commission of Inquiry was unable to get to the bottom of it and indeed the commissioner, in his report, made it very clear that, to paraphrase him, the outcome of the commission of inquiry might have been entirely different had he been granted powers that would have enabled him to more thoroughly investigate what had occurred and was occurring in relation to how witnesses were cobbling together their evidence overnight in between the hearings.
We know that there has been a recommendation by the Law Reform Commission that the Government now change the Commissions of Inquiry Act so that some of the problems that arose as a result of a deficient act can be rectified in case of future inquiries. One of those is in respect of the granting of the use of listening devices and that that should be able to be taken to a magistrate. I wonder whether the Attorney is indeed intending to move on that.
But the particular matter that I wanted to address here is the amendment to the Coroners Act that is missing from this miscellaneous amendments bill. The Attorney will no doubt recall and no doubt had been briefed that the Gilewicz Commission report did recommend an amendment to the Coroners Act. You have chosen, apparently, not to proceed with it or else you have not been able to get around to it yet - I am not certain - but that was to make it an offence to mislead the Coroner by either withholding information or providing false evidence. Whilst one would think that that was entirely clear - and indeed it was flagged by Commissioner Mahoney the need to tighten up our Coroners Act in order to say what would otherwise be assumed to be the case, and to clarify the situation in line with community understanding of public duty to any coronial investigation - we are still awaiting that.
Indeed, once the Government had not seemed to move on it, I introduced an amendment bill in 2001 called the Coroners (Offence to Mislead) Amendment Bill. What it did was insert new sections 51A and 51B, and it amended section 54 of the Coroners Act, so that a new section 51A was inserted, misleading by giving false evidence or withholding information. It read:
'After section 51 of the principal act, the following section is inserted:
51A(1) A person must not, at an inquest or inquiry or hearing, knowingly give evidence that is false or misleading in a material particular.'
And we attached a penalty of 500 penalty units or five years' imprisonment, or both.
And Section 51A(2):
'A person must not, at an inquest or inquiry or hearing, knowingly withhold evidence or information pertinent to the investigation being conducted by the Coroner or authorised officers assisting the investigation on behalf of the Coroner.'
And we applied the same penalty to that.
That is particularly pertinent because you will recall, of course, that the commissioner was particularly critical of a police officer who did withhold evidence, or information in fact, from the Coroner, and it is particularly notable that that police officer is now the Police Commissioner. It was indeed Mr McCreadie who had done that and was criticised for it, and as a result of that having occurred and the criticism that the commissioner made, he also made the recommendation about tidying up the Coroners Act to make absolutely sure that that offence was actually written into the act.
I would appreciate it if the Attorney would indicate whether the Government indeed intends to act on this recommendation or not, otherwise I suppose the Greens will again have to come in with a further amendment bill to highlight that you have not moved in this particular area. But hopefully you will, because I think whether or not it is related to something that occurred in the past that you may, as a government, have some particular resentment about, or whatever, in terms of the law of the State, it is important that our law does cover all these matters so that on future occasions we cannot have that sort of circumstance occurring.
Of course we also had subsequently another matter that I brought before the Parliament where another police officer in an entirely different circumstance in relation to an inquest, had been accused by other police officers of something that he had not done. As a result, the Coroner had actually made remarks about actions that had been claimed to have been done by other police officers who had wrongly put that to the coronial inquest, and I believe had knowingly done so. As a result, he appeared on the front page of the newspaper in a very bad light, and it was only when I brought to this Parliament the fact that subsequently, after quite a long process, he had had a letter sent to him to say that there was now an acknowledgment from the police force that they had given wrong evidence and that he had been wrongly vilified, that he was able to achieve publicly the clearing of his name. Again, that relates to persons - and indeed, not just any persons, but again police - misleading a coronial investigation and I think, whether or not other members in this Parliament believe so, that that is a very serious matter. If we can here ensure by amending the Coroners Act that it is very clear that that must not occur, then we ought to do so, and we particularly ought to do so given that that recommendation flowed from the Gilewicz Commission of Inquiry.
The other amendment that I was going to introduce in that bill was a new section 51B, which read -
'A person knowing or having reasonable grounds for believing that a document or other thing is or may be required in evidence in an inquest or inquiry or hearing must not wilfully -
(a) conceal, mutilate, destroy or alter the document or thing;
(b) render the document or other thing incapable of identification; or
(c) in the case of a document, render it illegible or indecipherable.'
And we had 200 penalty units or two-year imprisonment, or both for that offence. Then in relation to section 54 we thought that that should be repealed and replaced with the following -
'54(1) - Without derogating from any other provision of this act, any person who has or who alleges, or who has alleged that the person has knowledge or information concerning any matter or thing relevant to an investigation or hearing, or who the coroner has reason to believe has or is alleging, or has alleged that the person has such knowledge or information, shall be a competent and compellable witness at such an inquest, inquiry or hearing, both as to such knowledge or information and as to the sources from which the person obtained the same.'
'54(2) A statement or disclosure made by any witness in the course of giving evidence before a coroner at an inquest is not admissible in evidence against that witness in any civil or criminal proceeding in any court, other than a prosecution for perjury in the giving of that evidence.'
We still look forward to those matters being dealt with in further amendments to the Coroners Act, because we do need the best possible legislation to cover coronial investigations in this State and, although we have an amendment before us now which would appear to be sensible, it is not all that we need to have done to fix up the Coroners Act.
Mr Michael Hodgman - Definitely running out of work.
Mr BEST (Braddon) - Sorry, what was that comment?
Mr Michael Hodgman - You're definitely running out of work.
Mr BEST - Not at all. I get criticised for not commenting.
Mr Michael Hodgman - Good to see you again.
Mr BEST - One gets up to make a bit of a comment about something of interest and one is criticised.
Mr Michael Hodgman - I'm not criticising, it is just good to see you on your feet.
Mr BEST - Okay - we will not go there. I could make some comments, but I will not.
I think it is appropriate that this legislation is passed and certainly it was a very important finding regarding this amendment to the Coroners Act 1995 resulting from the consultation with the Chief Magistrate regarding those findings of the Gilewicz Royal Commission. It is very important that we do not compromise evidence in any shape or form and it is very important, not just from a community point of view, but from a legal point of view that natural justice is not only seen to be done, but is done. For that to happen we need to alter legislation from time to time to ensure that appropriate practices can be undertaken to make certain that evidence and inspection and investigations of crime scenes are maintained and kept intact, they are secure and the crime scene can be investigated appropriately.
I think it is important also that our police officers are supported in this role and, particularly, levels of the police force. I know it is not necessarily an easy job or an easy role for a police officer to attend crime scenes or to investigate crimes in certain situations, especially some of those more horrific crimes that have occurred and certainly there is distress associated with the sorts of crimes that we are talking about in relation to this legislation. The police do often undertake quite varied tasks within the community, and often a lot of the work is very time-consuming to make sure that justice and the appropriate procedures have been undertaken and followed.
That is why I say it is important that we provide this type of legislation in order that crime scenes can be secured quickly and that the delays that have been experienced in the past for a coroner to attend a scene and to be briefed in relation to particular situations and sign authorisations may be done more efficiently. Of course it is the police who are first at the scenes. It is not the coroners who attend the crime scenes when they are first reported, so it would be prudent and wise that the police officers be given these powers to ensure that they are not delayed in their seizure of exhibits or evidence that might be very important in the outcome of a particular case.
In relation to the police, I guess it is also important to recognise some of the achievements, and I was pleased also to see the crime statistics that have been presented as a comparison for July-August 2003 and July-August 2002 for the western district, my electorate in Braddon on the north-west coast. I was pleased to see that north-west and west coast crime has plummeted by 28.4 per cent in July-August, according to the new police figures - quite a huge reduction. In comparison there were 1 333 offences recorded in the western district for the same period last year. That area stretches from Latrobe through to Smithton and, as I say, includes the west coast area, and I was interested to see that figure was considerably down from that same time last year at 1 862 crimes. So it does show that our police are effective and are out there doing their work. Another interesting thing with these statistics is that motor vehicle burglaries, which have been a major issue, particularly around Devonport, were down from 217 to 57 incidents, so that was a very interesting figure too.
Mr Speaker, I was just going to mention a couple of the police officers on the coast who have done a terrific job. Of course all the police officers have worked well in relation to this, but also I would just like to mention the new Devonport Inspector, Michael Johnson, whom I have spoken to over the phone. I do not think I have met Michael personally on issues, but I have referred matters and he has been very helpful with people's inquiries. I also mention western district Commander Steve Bond in relation to his fine efforts on the local crime rate figures; it is good to see there have been some inroads there.
As I say, it is an important issue and it is a matter of being able to secure these crime scenes in the manner that they have been presented. As I understand, it is not ordinarily the case that police officers are faced with a situation where they are obstructed from entering the crime scene, but obviously that has happened in the past on rare occasions, so it is important that these officers be given that ability to use force if necessary - hopefully that will not be the case, but obviously that may occur from time to time - and to confine and cordon off the areas where they need to seize information or evidence. Also important in the legislation is the safeguard that a police officer must advise the Coroner and the Chief Magistrate and provide details of the circumstances. So we are not just blindly handing over the powers to the police without any due care or consideration. I think it is very important to say that there need to be checks and balances in whatever system we have, particularly when we are talking about administering law - certainly out there in the streets. There needs to be a level of accountability that the community can feel confident about, and for that reason, Mr Speaker, I am quite pleased to see that safeguards will be provided.
Just on the other issue, I am aware of constituents who have had some difficulty in getting reports by experts in civil procedures, certainly in relation to tradespeople. I know of a couple of situations where over the years builders have undertaken work and there have been major disputes in relation to the quality of that work. My advice to people is to make sure that they use an accredited builder or at least one who is a member of a qualified or well-known representative body. But of course from time to time, people will hire other builders and find themselves in those sorts of predicaments. It is very important that this be altered so that reports by experts can be given where it will assist in natural justice.
Mr Speaker, that is all I wanted to say on those matters where they relate to my constituents in the electorate. I know my colleague, Lara Giddings from Franklin, wants to make some points, and I know we are into private members' time shortly, so I do not want to delay proceedings too much.
Ms GIDDINGS (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I do not intend to take up much of the House's time, but I just want to make a couple of comments. In relation to some of the points the Attorney-General made in her second reading speech, one of the prime changes that would be occurring from this is the change in the Coroners Act. It is a shame that sometimes positive reforms come out of tragedy, and I guess that is what has come about through the whole Gilewicz affair really. But I also think that in politics we tend to hear a lot, especially from fringe people involved in politics, who want politicians, parliaments and governments to be much tougher on crime; that they think that tougher penalties will stop crime.
In reality, I think the criminologists have found that catching the criminals ends up being a disincentive to people committing crime, and if you are not catching people, it does not matter how tough your penalties are, there will be no disincentive from committing the crime in the first place if you think that the risk is worthwhile because you are probably going to get away with it anyway.
The reforms that are occurring here through this legislation are taking that approach, that what we need to do is support our police so that they can carry out their work in the best way possible, and if that means having to enter a place where a crime has occurred - a death, fire, explosion, that sort of thing - in order to collect evidence prior to a coroner's arriving on the scene, then I think that is the sort of legislation that we ought to be supporting. We should be supporting our police so that they can carry out their job. If they can collect the evidence, they can, hopefully, bring about a successful conviction against the perpetrator of the crime because ultimately that is what we want as a community and as a society, to punish the people who have committed crimes. We could have a whole debate on penalties, but I really do believe that catching criminals is the disincentive to crime, rather than the penalties themselves.
I do not want to delay the House, because I think all the necessary comments have been made. I support the comments made by my colleague from Braddon as well who went through a bit more of the detail in the second reading speech and what is proposed in this bill. But I wanted to comment that it is an important piece of legislation, though it does seem small. However, it also builds on the other legislation that the Attorney-General has brought in this week too, where yesterday we were debating the fact that we ought to be bringing in the crime of failing to report a murder when you are aware, you know, or you were a witness to that murder taking place. These sorts of reforms will hopefully help us to create a better, safer Tasmania. One of our Tasmania Together goals actually asks us as a Government and a Parliament to try to progress this aim and I think this legislation goes some way to doing that.
Mrs JACKSON (Denison - Minister for Justice and Industrial Relations) - I thank the members for their contributions, particularly the last two speakers. It is good to hear members from my side of the House contributing to these debates. You learn something about people too when you listen to some of things they have to say. Like Mr Gutwein over there, I have learnt a lot about him from listening to some very good speeches that he has given on some of the progressive legislation that has been before the House. So I thank my colleagues for that.
In answer to Ms Putt, I just want to say that I was not personally aware of that bill. I probably missed a lot of things when I was Minister for Health and Human Services. I was pretty much concentrating on that and not some other issues. But I am certainly willing to look at this and to have it considered. In fact, I am not sure how busy people are at the moment, but we might even be able to incorporate this in the bill's amendments in the upper House next week or the week after. It has not been to Cabinet, but I cannot see that there is any problem.
Ms Putt - I hope if clarifies what people think is the intent of the law anyway.
Mrs JACKSON - As long as they were recommendations of the inquiry, I cannot see a problem. My advice is that the amendments to the Coroners Act that were moved here relating to the Gilewicz inquiry actually came from the Chief Magistrate and he did not mention your matter.