A Queensland man has been charged with drink driving after police caught him driving a motorised esky on the footpath. Sergeant Darryn Morris explained: “Due to the fact it is a petrol engine (the esky) falls under the ambit of a motor vehicle under the Traffic Act. Some people aren’t aware that if they’re riding a wheeled object, the footpath is also deemed a road under Queensland legislation.”
RMIT ecologist Peter Fisher has called for an amendment to enshrine environmental protection in the Constitution. He proposes recognition of the rights of plants and animals, with the following text: “The Commonwealth of Australia celebrates the wondrous ecology of Australia, the value of its land and surrounding seas, and recognises the right of species to exist in a sustainable way in all its natural regions.” The South African Bill of Rights includes a human right “to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations”; Fisher’s idea is an example of wild law, which goes further in extending legal rights to other species.
The Abbott Government is setting up a double dissolution “trigger” by putting the same climate change-related bill before the Senate more than three months after a previous rejection. Section 57 of the Constitution allows the government to request an election to overcome a deadlock between the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, the Australian Financial Review reported that a “senior source” within the government said the trigger was there “just in case”, and “[i]t’s not our intention to use it”. Professor Anne Twomey said the government would be reluctant to call a double dissolution election because “it would be likely to make it even harder for the Coalition to negotiate bills through the Senate. Because 12 Senators would be elected in a State, rather than six, the quota for winning a seat would be lower… [T]he likely outcome of a double dissolution in the next 6 months would be to increase the number of cross-benchers holding the balance of power in the Senate”.
Gender experts argue that the current “risk-focused approach” to sex education, “teaching only about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease”, is leaving young people unprepared for issues that arise in their relationships. Professor Catharine Lumby says, “Our sex education needs to teach the ‘no means no’ message, but we also need to teach what does ‘yes mean yes’ look like? And how do you know when you want to say yes?” The experts are calling for a new approach, which would “include lessons on sexual assault, consent and ‘sexting’ in a bid to address rising rates of violence against women”. The Victorian government is preparing new laws to address the increasing prevalence of teenage sexting, which is currently treated as child pornography. It is also reviewing the element of consent in sexual offences such as rape, due to concerns that the law is “highly complex and difficult to explain to juries”.
Stephen Charles QC has called for a tougher anti-corruption body in Victoria, complaining that “the legislative definition of ‘corrupt conduct’ is extremely narrow, it does not include misconduct in public office, and the [Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission] needs far greater power to initiate investigation”. He said the government failed to deliver on its election promise to model IBAC on the NSW equivalent, which has uncovered serious corruption. However, others complain that the NSW body is like the notorious Star Chamber; Peter van Onselen says it “can compel people to give evidence, use second-hand hearsay, bug phones at will, ask questions without context, make claims without consequence and deny those interviewed legal representation. It … has greater inquisitorial and discovery powers than any police force… ICAC hearings are akin to legal bullying.” He is concerned that ICAC is “above the very rule of law it is designed to uphold.”
The Victorian Law Reform Commission has launched its inquiry into the “forfeiture rule”, following a reference from the Attorney-General. When a person unlawfully causes another person’s death, this common law principle says they forfeit any inheritance, insurance policy, or payment that they would otherwise have received. The VLRC explains the concern about the rule: “In Victoria, the rule applies equally and inflexibly in all circumstances but the outcome can be harsh. Both a premeditated murder carried out with the intention of obtaining a financial benefit, and a suicide pact in which one of the parties survived, would attract the application of the rule.” In addition, because the rule applies in civil proceedings, “The rule may be applied to a person who has been acquitted, or has not been prosecuted at all, if it is proved to the court, on the balance of probabilities, that the person unlawfully killed the deceased.” VLRC has set up a forfeiture quiz to highlight problematic scenarios.
In the Commonwealth Parliament yesterday, Speaker Bronwyn Bishop rejected a complaint from the Opposition that the Prime Minister had not answered their question: “Resume your seat! The member would also know that, under the standing orders, ministers are not obliged to answer questions.” While order 104 of the House of Representatives Standing Orders requires that answers are “directly relevant to the question”, it does not prohibit ministers from simply refusing to answer at all. The Courier-Mail‘s Dennis Atkins complains that Question Time does not fulfil its purpose: “[G]overnments do all they can not to answer.… In one form or another it’s always been so but in recent years it has slipped into genuine disrepute and does more to annoy, frustrate and anger viewers and listeners.”
The City of Melbourne council is working with police and the Salvation Army on a new anti-begging strategy. Under the plan, police will charge people with begging, and then recommend them for a court diversion program, which would involve compulsory “health checks, training, and help in finding work”. Twenty-four men were arrested under the scheme last weekend. Under the Criminal Justice Diversion Program, people are given the opportunity to avoid court and a criminal record if they comply with conditions set by a magistrate. Under the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic), “begging or gathering alms” is punishable by up to a year in jail.
The mother of a 5-year-old boy who died of an infection after cutting his foot in the family’s squalid home has pleaded guilty to recklessly engaging in conduct that placed him in danger of serious injury, contrary to s23 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). Her husband faces the same charges. Photos of the home tendered in the Magistrates’ Court show “rooms filled with shin-high piles of waste and junk and of food, mould and faeces splattered across furniture”. The boy’s birth was not registered, he was not immunised, and his parents did not take him to the doctor. The woman faces a maximum of 5 years imprisonment. While manslaughter by criminal negligence is a crime in Victoria and carries up to 20 years jail, it can be difficult to prove.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the body responsible for regulating companies, says the penalties for corporate wrongdoing are too low. For example, “[t]he maximum fine that may be imposed may be substantially lower than the financial benefit obtained as a result of the wrongdoing.” One proposal in the ASIC report is to set the maximum penalty for profitable offences at “three times the value of the benefits obtained that are reasonably attributable to the contravention”.