Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (6.48 pm): I rise to speak on the Police Powers and
Responsibilities and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. This bill aims to clarify powers of law enforcement officers to access information on or through electronic devices so there is no ambiguity as to the scope of the information that can be lawfully accessed, enhance the operations of the Prostitution Licensing Authority and the Weapons Licensing branch of the Queensland Police Service and create efficiencies for the QPS in general and increase community safety.
There is a downside to our increasingly digitised world. The downside is that it makes policing and law enforcement so much more difficult. New devices have enhanced the ability to undertake activities undercover which provides greater and quicker access to illegal material.
Detecting and investigating crime means being at the cutting edge of new developments in technology, while still recognising and honouring a right to individual privacy. Current laws provide safeguards to ensure the balance between those interests. Criminal offenders would naturally use whatever tools are at their disposal to undertake their illegal activities. Serious criminal offenders, drug dealers and child sex offenders often hide evidence of their activities on digital devices such as tablets, mobile phones and computers. Some are active on internet sites and the dark web. Police and law enforcement currently have powers to compel offenders to hand over their password or encryption codes. There are already appropriate safeguards to balance everyone’s right to privacy, while trying to investigate and detect criminal behaviour.
Amendments in the bill are designed to keep pace with advances in technology. These amendments are needed because there are many ambiguities in the powers that the police have to gather evidence. The report notes that the QPS identified that, as there is no definition for ‘stored information’ under the current search and crime scene provisions, they could not access information from private email accounts or social media sites. The bill will ensure that the terminology used is broad enough so that incriminating evidence can be lawfully accessed, no matter whether it is stored physically on the device, in the cloud, in email accounts or on social media sites. They will ensure that evidence of crimes, including homicide, sexual assault, drug trafficking, child abuse, cybercrimes such as revenge fraud and revenge pornography, and terrorism related offences cannot be concealed.
In his introductory speech, the minister said—
This government considers the safety of our police officers and the broader community to be paramount.
Wide Bay-Burnett crime statistics show that, from 2014-15 to 2017-18, the police have been struggling to protect the public. Assaults have increased by 28 per cent, robbery has skyrocketed by 100 per cent, offences against the person are up 29 per cent, shop stealing has increased by 44 per cent and offences involving the unlawful use of a motor vehicle has increased by 62 per cent. This bill discusses measures to help police detect and investigate criminal activities. Police can only do the best they can with the resources that they have.
The bill amends the Weapons Act 1990. It will amend the definition of ‘magazine’ to ensure it is consistently applied across a number of acts, extend the suspension period for weapons licences from 30 to 90 days, and place new obligations on armourers who modify firearms. An armourer will be obliged to place a modified weapon in a new category under the Weapons Categories Regulation, ensure the owner is licensed to possess it under the new category, record the modification in the weapons register and notify the QPS of the modification.
The suspension period is supposed to provide a licensee time to demonstrate their bone fides, that is, that they are in fact a fit and proper person. A suspension can continue for a maximum of only 30 days before the licence is cancelled. If the licence holder needs to seek the opinion of a medical practitioner, that short time frame creates difficulties for the licence holder. It creates a backlog in QCAT when the licensee applies for the reinstatement of their licence. The bill rectifies that by extending the time for which the licence can be suspended to 90 days. I note that in its submission the Firearm Dealers Association states—
On the basis that there are safeguards and reasons for licence suspension and there is an ability for the Authorised Officer to lift the suspension earlier than the 90 days proposed, we support the amendment, which apparently seeks to assist licensees in establishing or re-establishing their eligibility for licence.
There is a world of difference between law-abiding gun owners and the criminal use of weapons.
Unfortunately, after five years of this government the evidence shows that they see little difference between lay-abiding weapons holders and criminals. Guns are an essential tool of trade for primary producers. They rely on various categories of weapon to successfully manage and operate their properties and businesses. They are law-abiding gun owners and weapons licence holders. Frustration with the administration of weapons licensing is often raised with my office by law-abiding firearms owners.
This bill discusses measures to help police detect and investigate criminal activities. Police can only do the best they can with the resources that they have. As I previously said, in his introductory speech the minister said that that the government considers the safety of police officers and the broader community to be paramount. According to Saturday’s Courier-Mail, QPS figures show an increase of 1,015 offences per 100,000 people, from 9,630 in 2015 to 10,065 in 2019. That article stated— Bond University professor and former detective Terry Goldsworthy questioned whether legislative changes had been no more than window dressing.
It is disappointing that police officers are struggling to cope with inadequate staffing numbers, increasing crime and budget cuts. These are difficult conditions under which we expect police to operate. However, I do not oppose the bill.