NSW State Election: Who is Tougher on Crime?

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Australian politics has faced turbulence in recent weeks, with the Prime Minister experiencing increased dissatisfaction and criticism, resulting in talks of a leadership spill.

But with the NSW state election coming up on the 28th of this month, the spotlight has shifted away from federal politics and towards the future leadership of our state.

In the arena are two key players – Luke Foley for the Labor party and current Premier Mike Baird for the Liberals. And as always, it’s expected that tackling crime will be high on each candidate’s political agenda.

So how do the candidates measure up? Let’s take a closer look.

Mike Baird: Getting Tough on Crime

Current Premier Mike Baird has kicked-off his election campaign by unveiling a string of controversial new laws aimed at tackling organised crime.

Baird has always been particularly vocal about his ‘tough on crime’ approach, and has proposed heavier sentences for persons convicted of child sex offences, allowing a judge to impose a sentence of life imprisonment even where no aggravating circumstances are demonstrated.

The Premier has also proposed harsher sentences for those convicted of gun offences. This includes almost doubling the current non-parole period for discharging a firearm with intent to cause grievous bodily harm from five to nine years. The ‘non-parole period’ is the time that a person must spend in prison before becoming eligible for release.

The effect of these amendments, the Premier says, is that “offenders will spend more time in gaol.”

On top of these proposals, Baird has pledged to tackle organised crime by investing police and the courts with greater powers to restrict the movements of motorcycle club members. If re-elected, police will be able to request ‘serious crime prevention orders’ which can place restrictions on a person’s work, travel and communication arrangements.

Baird will also allow police to issue ‘public safety orders’ without a court’s authorisation, which may remain in force for up to 72 hours and will prevent targeted persons from going to certain places or events. Anyone who breaches a public safety order could face a maximum term of 5 years imprisonment.

These proposals will be complemented by legislation that makes it easier for police to seize property suspected to be the proceeds of crime.

In addition to those measures, Baird has promised to tackle the nationwide ‘ice epidemic’ by targeting drug manufacturers and dealers. The tough new package includes making changes to what constitutes a ‘large commercial quantity’ of ice.

Currently, a ‘large commercial quantity’ of ice refers to one kilogram or more of the substance. But the Premier wants to reduce this to 500 grams – meaning that anyone found with 500 grams or more of the substance could face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Baird also wants to make it harder for drug manufacturers to access pseudoephedrine, and to triple the number of roadside drug tests carried out by police each year.

But drug law reform advocates have criticised the proposals, arguing that they fail to provide for early drug intervention, instead focussing on punishing offenders.

Adding to the Premier’s basket of tough new laws is the controversial domestic violence register, which will give people and their friends and relatives the right to ask police about their partner’s history if they are concerned that they may pose a risk to them.

Luke Foley: Extra Police Funding

In the other corner is Labor’s Luke Foley; a newcomer who was only elected as leader of the opposition in January following the resignation of former opposition leader John Robertson.

However, in the months since he assumed office, Foley has echoed competitor Mike Baird’s promises to crackdown on crime.

Amongst Foley’s measures is a $240 million police funding package which will see 480 new officers introduced to boost high visibility police operations.

Foley says that the new measures are necessary to curb the rising drug trade and increased shootings around the state, which he attributes to the Liberal party’s failures to address organised crime and gang activity. By placing more police on the streets, Foley asserts that instances of anti-social behaviour and intimidation will decline.

Along with this, Foley has promised to commit $100 million towards improving police technology. This will facilitate the roll out of police body cameras, as well as electronic devices which will enable police to issue infringement notices and court attendance notices electronically. The funding will also go towards mobile fingerprint scanners and narcotics testing machines.

Labor also proposes to contribute $50 million towards upgrading existing police stations in order to promote a safer working environment, including the installation of new safety screens, security lighting, duress alarms and other security measures.

But while many agree with Foley’s argument that more police can only result in a safer community, others might argue that an increased police presence will only lead to ‘overpolicing’ and more people being charged for trivial offences.

Also on Foley’s agenda is a tougher approach to tackling domestic violence – an issue which has been at the forefront of election issues following Rosie Batty being named Australian of the Year.

In that regard, Labour has proposed a 10-step plan to end domestic violence. The plan includes the introduction of specialist courts to hear domestic violence and sexual assault matters, as well as increased funding to women’s shelters and counselling services. Foley also wants to increase the penalties for those who breach Apprehended Violence Orders, but it is unclear what the new penalties will be.

And although Labor has publically slammed the Baird government’s proposed introduction of a domestic violence register, Foley has proposed the establishment of a National Register of AVOs, as well as a publically searchable register of domestic violence offenders.

Finally, Foley has proposed measures to combat what is arguably the biggest issue on voter’s agendas – terrorism. In the wake of the Sydney siege and the recent terrorist attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Foley has pledged $8.3 million to better train officers on how to deal with ‘active shooter’ situations.

Active shooters refer to people who carry out random attacks in heavily populated or confined areas. Foley has also committed $400,000 towards the purchase of a new van to enable police to carry out negotiations with terrorist suspects in the event of another siege.

Foley has also allocated $2 million to identify and engage with individuals at risk of becoming involved in terrorism operations. Although the details of that scheme are not yet known, it is understood that the grant will help facilitate a mentoring program between ethnic communities and the NSW Police Community Contact Unit in order to educate and steer them away from extremism and violence.

So Who’s Tougher on Crime?

It’s a close call, but it seems that Mike Baird has emerged as the winner when it comes to being “tough on crime” because his measures focus on harsher punishments and actively targeting suspected criminals, as opposed to prevention through greater police visibility and community programs.

However, that is not to say that Baird’s proposals are necessarily better – and the Premier has already faced considerable criticism over his “anti-bikie” and “anti-drug” proposals, and for his planned domestic violence register.

Foley appears to have adopted a more preventative approach; choosing to allocate funding to the NSW police service to increase visibility and services, and towards attempting to strengthen the relationship between the wider community and certain ethnic groups, and also towards providing support to victims of domestic violence.

Which approach will be more effective is a matter of opinion, however it’s clear that voters will have a lot to think about in the weeks leading up to the election.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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