New laws to prevent child abuse cover-ups

The Napthine Government has introduced a bill to create new criminal offences to ensure that organisations protect children from abuse, remove known child abusers, and report suspected abuse to authorities. The Premier said, “This sends a clear, unambiguous message to the Victorian community: if you are aware of child sexual abuse you must speak up, you must report it to the police. The era of cover-up and silence is over.” The proposals are a response to the report of a parliamentary inquiry, which recommended changes to the criminal law. The Crimes Amendment (Protection of Children) Bill 2014 was read for the first time on Tuesday.

Vehicle and driver both full of alcohol

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.”

Improved sex education would reduce sex offences

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”.

Mother pleads guilty over 5yo son’s death

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.

Handlebar-cam highlights danger of “dooring”

A handlebar-cam video has highlighted the danger facing cyclists using bike lanes in the CBD. The video shows a passenger hitting the cyclist with the door of a taxi, refusing to identify himself, and blaming the cyclist for the incident. Rule 269(3) of the Road Safety Rules 2009 (Vic) makes it an offence to “cause a hazard to any vehicle by opening a door of a vehicle”. The penalty was significantly increased in 2012, because “dooring” is a serious risk to cyclists’ safety, particularly in the CBD.

Anti-“move on” protesters moved on

Protesters against a controversial anti-protest law were forcibly removed from the Legislative Council’s public gallery last night. Police used parliamentary precinct “move on” powers to remove the group, and video of the incident shows police dragging one man by the neck. The protesters argue that the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill, which gives the police broader “move on” powers throughout the State, will shut down peaceful demonstrations. The bill was passed last night and now awaits royal assent.

Palmer says Tas Electoral Act unconstitutional

The Palmer United Party has been accused of breaching Tasmanian electoral laws by publishing the names and photos of political opponents without their consent. Clive Palmer said the law “was only directed at people who published, printed or distributed, and of course our party has not printed, published, or distributed anything—it’s all been done by the Hobart Mercury“. Palmer may have a point: while some rules extend to people who “permit or authorise another person to publish” material, section 196 is narrower. However, a letter sent directly to voters by Palmer also apparently breaches the law. He declared: “I intend to write another one tonight you know, because nobody is going to stop me as a Member of the House of Representative having a dialogue with the Australian people.” He suggested the High Court’s decisions on freedom of political communication would protect him: “There’s no legal problem. Any first-year lawyer can tell you that. You’ve only got to read the high court judgments on it and you’ve only got to read the Act.”

Jury directions just not cricket

A fresh trial has been ordered in a Queensland rape case, after the trial judge explained the concept of “beyond reasonable doubt” using an LBW cricket analogy: “if you’re not sure that that ball is really going to hit the stumps or whether there’s some element of doubt about whether the ball pitched in line or not, you have to give the benefit – the umpires have to give the benefit of the doubt to the batsman. And that’s the thing about criminal trials; the benefit of the doubt goes to the defendant.” The Supreme Court of Queensland Court of Appeal held that the analogy was misleading, and that it might have given cricket fans on the jury a disproportionate influence. In Victoria, judges are guided on this point by sections 20 and 21 of the Jury Directions Act 2013, which was passed in response to a VLRC inquiry.

Police to gain new powers to shut down protests

The Napthine Government’s controversial Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill is expected to pass in the Legislative Council this week, having been approved by a margin of one vote in the lower house last Thursday. Australian Huuman Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson expressed concern about “the low bar that is being set to give police the powers to move people on” from protests such as the community picket against the East-West Tunnel project. Even protesters who had not yet broken the law could be arrested, Fitzroy Legal Service solicitor Meghan Fitzgerald said: “As soon as the move-on direction is issued, on a reasonable suspicion that your conduct, including future conduct, is likely to cause a breach of the peace, then people can be arrested.” The bill was developed in response to the business lobby’s complaints about picket lines targeting businesses over workplace safety and environmental and social issues. Last month, thousands of people marched to Parliament House to oppose the bill.

Jury asks judge about self-defence, acquits abused husband

A Supreme Court jury this week acquitted Phillip Bracken of the murder of his partner, accepting his claim that he shot her in self-defence after enduring years of abuse. The prosecution argued that shooting the unarmed woman was a “plainly disproportionate” response to her coming towards him. After days of deliberation, the jury asked Justice Maxwell to clarify the law of self-defence. His Honour explained that the key question was whether the accused had “a belief that what he did was necessary even if he is responding to a harm that is not immediate.” The jury was entitled to take into account the “cumulative effect” of years of emotional and physical violence in deciding the issue.