10 October 2017

2nd Reading Speech

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE ( 18:08 ): I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Road Transport Amendment (Driver Licence Disqualification) Bill 2017. The Opposition does not oppose the bill. The object of the bill relates to amendments to the Road Transport Act. In particular, it deals with driver licence disqualification. It also deals with other sanctions that may be imposed on drivers in some circumstances. The bill’s overview particularly points to the following provisions: The bill gives the Local Court power to remove outstanding driver licence disqualification periods in some circumstances; it abolishes the habitual traffic offenders scheme; it provides for clearer delineation and flexibility of periods of disqualification for unauthorised driving offences; it reduces the maximum periods of imprisonment that may be imposed for unauthorised driving offences; and it also enables additional sanctions concerning vehicles to be imposed for unauthorised driving offences and in relation to recidivist unauthorised drivers.

Many of these provisions represent a reduction in penalties. Some provisions increase sanctions, but on any objective view they are outweighed by the provision that softens the impact of sanctions and disqualifications. The Attorney General in the other place in his second reading speech, and no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary here, placed emphasis on the origin of the legislation in report No. 3/55 of the Legislative Assembly Committee on Law and Safety, entitled “Driver Licence Disqualification Reform.” The committee report made what can be described as sensible comments about the disqualification regime. The current system has mandatory disqualifications that cannot be made to fit the circumstances of particular cases; some of the lengthier automatic disqualifications are disproportionate; unauthorised drivers are not necessarily dangerous; 700 people were imprisoned in 2012-13 for unauthorised driving offences; the lengthy period of disqualification is ineffective as a deterrent; and in the year before the tabling of the report 52 per cent of people who had their licences cancelled had this occur because of non-payment of fines for offences that had nothing necessarily to do with traffic matters.

In 2006 the Sentencing Council issued an interim report entitled, “The Effectiveness of Fines as a Sentencing Option: Court-imposed Fines and Penalty Notices”. The report was critical of the habitual traffic offenders scheme, and the bill abolishes that scheme. There are currently about 17,000 people who are declared habitual offenders. No other State or Territory in Australia has the scheme. The scheme is in division 3 of part 7.4 of the Road Transport Act, and was previously in the Road Transport (Drivers Licensing) Act. It is a good example of the behavioural psychologist approach taken by what is now Roads and Maritime Services of merely piling on extra penalties with no discretion to force behavioural change in individuals. However, the real world is neither that simple nor that simplistic, despite the support given to such a view by both sides of the House over many years.

Schedule 1 [14] repeals division 3 of part 7.4 of the principal Act, which is the portion that contains the habitual traffic offenders scheme. Schedule 1 [15] provides a mechanism to remove some driver licensing disqualification periods. New section 221B provides that the Local Court may, on application, remove all licence disqualifications to which a person is subject if he or she has not been convicted of any driving offence during a relevant period. The court must take a number of factors into account. These include the safety of the public, the whole of the driving record, any conduct of the person after the disqualification, the nature of the offence giving rise to disqualification, and any other relevant circumstances. That last category is itemised to include the impact of disqualification on the person’s capacity to carry out family or carers’ duties; to travel for employment, business, education or training; and bearing in mind the applicant’s health and finances and the availability of alternative forms of transport. These are all important, relevant factors.

The Local Court must consider that it is appropriate to order the removal of restrictions. New section 221D provides that a person cannot apply for a removal of disqualification if he or she has been convicted of one of a number of specified offences. These are generally more serious offences and do not have to be the offence generating the disqualification. They include: murder or manslaughter by use of a motor vehicle; an offence comprising or including causing death, grievous bodily harm or wounding by use of a motor vehicle; predatory driving; driving recklessly or at a speed or manner dangerous in a police pursuit; negligent driving causing death or grievous bodily harm; intentional menacing driving; or failing to stop and assist after a vehicle impact causing death or grievous bodily harm.

Schedules 1 [16] and 1 [17] clarify aspects relating to immediate licence suspension notices. Periods of disqualification and sentences are reduced and moderated by the bill. Section 53 (3) of the principal Act is amended so that the maximum period of imprisonment for driving while never having had a licence is reduced from 18 months to six months. The automatic disqualification of three years for a second or subsequent offence in section 53 (4) is abolished. Section 54, subsections (1), (3) and (4), which deal with driving while disqualified or suspended, or having a licence refused or cancelled, are amended by reducing the maximum penalty of two years to 12 months and 18 months to six months imprisonment.

Section 54 (5), which deals with driving while a licence is cancelled or suspended for non-payment of fines, is amended by removing imprisonment altogether for a first offence and reduces the maximum penalty from two years to six months for a second or subsequent offence. New section 205A provides default and minimum periods of disqualification for various unauthorised driving offences. Currently, automatic mandatory periods are applicable. This provides greater judicial discretion so that the punishment can be made to fit the crime more appropriately. Most members will agree with that. Driving while disqualified is sensibly treated more severely than driving while a licence has been cancelled.

The minimum period of disqualification for new section 53 (3) second and subsequent offences is three months. In new section 54, subsections (1), (3) or (4) the first offence minimum is three months; in new section 54, subsections (1), (3) or (4) the second offence is six months; in new section 54 (5) the first offence is one month, and in new section 54 (5), the second or subsequent offence is three months. Schedule 1 [12] inserts a new section 207A the effect of which is that disqualification periods are concurrent rather than cumulative unless the court specifically orders otherwise. In practical terms this reduces the likelihood of absurdly long disqualification periods.

Schedules 1 [18], 1 [19] and 1 [20] increase sanctions and actions against disqualified drivers in contrast to other provisions in this bill to which I have referred briefly. This will amend part 7.6 of the principal Act which deals with sanctions concerning vehicles—that is, sanctions applied by the police. Section 239 sets out the sanctions applying to sanctionable offences, most notably a three-month vehicle sanction. Section 238 is amended to include among sanctionable offences when a disqualified driver is caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 kilometres per hour or when a person is charged with driving while disqualified or unlicensed three times within five years. Section 239 is amended so that in these cases the three-month sanction period is extended to six months.

Section 242 provides for the impounding of vehicles that are caught by the sanction period. Section 248 provides a three-month impounding period. The bill amends section 248 to provide an extension of the three months to six months if the driver was disqualified and the sanction was imposed for a sanctionable offence committed by the driver. I note that the provisions under section 249 are not altered. The current provisions concerning vehicles in these situations that are not owned by the driver concerned are not altered. As I indicated at the outset of my brief remarks, the Opposition does not oppose the bill. I will not repeat the comments made in the other place by the Mr David Harris, MP, shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, but I note the particular relevance to Aboriginal and Indigenous persons of many provisions in the bill. I urge members to reflect on those comments by Mr Harris. The measures in the bill are sensible and balanced, and should be supported.