Controversial new laws banning violent offenders from entertainment precincts are set to be in place by the end of the year, but the WA government says associated police guidelines will not be made public.
- The laws will enforce automatic bans of up to five years for violent offenders
- Police will also be able to choose to exclude people for up to six months
- But there are fears vulnerable and disadvantaged people will suffer
The legislation, which passed state parliament late last night, will create five ‘Protected Entertainment Precincts’, covering much of Northbridge and the Perth CBD, Fremantle, Scarborough, Hillarys and Mandurah.
The zones have been labelled PEPs in honour of nightclub manager Giuseppe “Pep” Raco, who was killed in an unprovoked one-punch attack in Northbridge in 2020.
Anyone who is convicted of a range of violent and sexual offences, including drink spiking, in a PEP would automatically be banned from all precincts for five years after leaving prison.
But a separate power, which allows police to ban people for up to six months for “unlawful, antisocial, disorderly, offensive, indecent [or] threatening” conduct has raised concerns, particularly over the possibility Indigenous people could be unfairly targeted.
Regulations yet to be finalised
More than two months after the legislation was first announced, Racing and Gaming Minister Tony Buti said some work still had to be done before the laws took effect, something he hoped would happen before the end of the year.
That work includes finalising regulations to provide extra detail around the laws, including the specific areas that will become PEPs.
WA Police will also have to provide guidelines to officers setting out how the powers are to be used, although that information will not be released publicly.
“They’re operational matters that the police deal with, and not all operational matters are made public,” Mr Buti said.
“They are strict guidelines, [and] the Police Commissioner is very confident that he can draw up guidelines that will ensure that the police know when they have to act.”
No surprise guidelines not made public
University of WA legal academic Meredith Blake said the decision to not release the guidelines was not surprising, because most police guidelines are difficult to access.
“There’s a great deal of discretion that is afforded to police officers,” she said.
“And the public should be able to have an insight into the guidance as to how those powers are going to be exercised, so that they have an indication of how they, as citizens of the state, might be impacted.”
Ms Blake said the guidelines would be particularly important in understanding this legislation, because of how subjective terms like “antisocial” are.
“There is a whole spectrum of conduct that is captured by this legislation, and I think it’s really important for people to know when they might fall foul of these laws,” she said.
The use of the powers will be reviewed after three years by the independent Parliamentary Commissioner.
Mr Buti said the laws would be effective if there was a decrease in violent behaviour in precinct areas, and if people felt safer.
“There’s no guarantee there will not still be some activities that shouldn’t take place in these areas,” he told ABC Radio Perth.
“But we believe this is another tool that police can use in their armoury to ensure that they can police our entertainment precincts in an appropriate manner.”
Aboriginal Legal Service worried
Among the legislation’s critics was the Aboriginal Legal Service’s Peter Collins, who said it was an “absolute certainty” that Aboriginal people would be disproportionately impacted.
“All that police have to observe is disorderly behaviour, or the capacity to cause public disorder,” he told ABC Radio Perth.
“So that’ll mean that an act of drunken swearing at police could warrant the issuing of an exclusion order for six months.”
Mr Buti said in an instance like that, the issue would not just be a person shouting.
“If that shouting is done in a manner that is very threatening, there is no reason why that person should not be dealt with by police,” he said.
“This is all about removing someone from a precinct area, it is all about prohibited behaviour. It’s not a penal provision, it’s not a criminal offence as such.
“The whole purpose of the legislation is to ensure that people can go about enjoying the hospitality and the vibrancy of the entertainment precincts and to keep out thuggish behaviour.”
Fears ‘no safeguards’ for vulnerable
As the legislation made its way through parliament, only two politicians voted against it — the Legalise Cannabis Party’s Brian Walker, and Greens MP Brad Pettitt.
Dr Pettitt put forward a number of amendments he believed would have improved safeguards around the laws, but all were voted down by both the government and the opposition.
He said one of his greatest concerns was that “an individual officer, with signing off from [an] inspector, can exclude any person for up to six months, from any entertainment precinct, with no judicial oversight or any other checks and balances”.
“There is just a real danger here that these laws may impact on the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our community in a way that isn’t intended by the legislation, but there are no safeguards to stopping that happening.”
Concerns ‘misplaced’: minister
Mr Collins had similar concerns, particularly around the use of bans of up to six months against people with substance abuse issues, mental illnesses and cognitive impairments.
“And they’re precisely the sort of people who are going to come into contact with police, who are likely to behaving in a disorderly manner in an entertainment precinct, but equally, they’re the sort of people who live in these entertainment precincts,” he said.
“So how are you going to contend with them? People who are living on the streets who’ve got nowhere else to go, if they’re excluded from Northbridge or the Perth CBD? Where does the government expect them to live?”
Mr Buti said many of those concerns were “misplaced”.
“It is not geared towards any particular group of people, it is geared towards the behaviour of certain people,” he said.
“It’s colourblind to that extent. I don’t care where you come from or your background, if you engage in activity that is harming someone the law should apply to you.”
The legislation allows people who have been banned to enter PEPs for a range of reasons, including:
- If they live or work there;
- To attend health or welfare services;
- To go to a religious service;
- To undertake activities as a member of a union;
- For cultural practices or obligations.
If a police officer bans a person for longer than a month, they can apply to the Director of Liquor Licensing for a review of that decision.