Police Complaints Authority (Conditional Name Protection) Amendment Bill – 2nd Reading

On behalf of the Green Party, I would like to endorse what the previous speaker said. I would also like to congratulate Paul Hutchison (who introduced this bill) on the serious way he has gone about this bill, and the Law and Order Committee on the work it did in dealing with a real problem in a way that does not undermine our justice system and press freedom.

I think that the underlying principle is that we cannot have two laws in this country – one for the police and one for other citizens. We can, of course, do things, as the Commonwealth Press Union does and as most media outlets do, and operate in a responsible way, recognising the difficult task the police have, recognising that they often have to deal with violent situations when accidents can happen, and acting in a way that does not cause police officers unnecessary embarrassment either for themselves or for their families and leads to consequences that are bad for them and unnecessary.

I think we operate with that understanding, but at the end of the day there cannot be two systems, particularly when what is involved are very difficult firearm incidents that cause a lot of emotion in the community. Often it is difficult for communities and the rest of the country to work out where the blame lies. We saw that in the Wallace case. In that case there was quite a division of opinion in the community, and that was reflected right through to the court process. It was resolved through the legal system, and I think that all parties learnt something from the whole process – one system operating for all, including the police in that case.

Of course, such a process can cause hurt and the publicity around the case can cause hurt. It is the same as with other defendants, particularly those who are found to be not guilty in the end. They often feel a lot of hurt, and their families feel hurt for the suffering they have had in the process – a process during which their name has been blackened to some extent.

But sometimes the convention of protecting the name of the person has to be departed from to some extent, because if there is real information that perhaps a police officer was involved in some wrongdoing or criminal activity in an incident involving a firearm, the case may have to go to trial. In some cases it is actually in the interests of justice that the name of the officer is known. If we look at other cases, we see that it is often the public nature of our criminal justice system and the name of the alleged offender being known that help to resolve whether that person is guilty.

I was out on the steps of Parliament at 1 o’clock this afternoon, helping to receive a petition on the Scott Watson case. I want to use that as an illustration, in that Scott Watson’s name being known in the lead-up to his trial while the police investigation was going on did help the police to gather more evidence in the case. After seeing his picture, people who knew Scott Watson came forward with information on his character, on what else he had done, and on what else had happened on the night of the sad case of the disappearance of two young people. The name of the alleged offender being known actually helped that case.

Going beyond that, there is a turn round to the other way a little bit at the present time. More people are coming forward. Some of the witnesses who were involved in the prosecution are now coming forward, and saying: “Hold on, our evidence was misused. There was evidence that wasn’t used. You seem to have the wrong person,” and so on. Because the process was public, first, it helped the police to convict Scott Watson, and, second, it may at the end of the day help him to get off. That is the way the justice system works.

I understand that on occasion the police can get upset, and rightly so if the name of a police officer goes out into the media unnecessarily. Of course, there is always a tendency in any social group to protect one’s own, including within the police. The police will tend to interpret the actions of one of their fellow officers in a more positive light than other people may. The debate on that will be public, as it was in the Wallace case, but it is sometimes in the interests of justice for the name to come out at a certain point.

The bill relates to protecting the name of a person during the hearings or proceedings of the Police Complaints Authority, which generally becomes involved when such incidents occur. One problem with that, in my experience, is that the proceedings of the Police Complaints Authority can be very drawn out and actually prevent justice from taking place at the end of the day.

In my case, I put in a complaint to the Police Complaints Authority in 1999 on the issue of police actions during protests against a visiting Chinese dignity. There is indication that I will get a result, but over 4 and a half years later the complaint is still being processed. If one talks about a criminal system involving a police officer having to wait for more than 4 and a half years before anything proceeds, before there is any reference to the officer concerned in the media, then one is putting a big restraint on the possibility of justice operating.

So on behalf of the Green Party I support this bill not proceeding any further, and I do commend members of Parliament, the select committee, and Mr Hutchison for the way in which the matter has been dealt with.


Second Reading, Parliament