By Rebecca Collerson
SYDNEY — A new bill, and proposed changes to others, as part of the NSW Liberal government's law and order campaign have been diluted following pressure from the public. However, police powers regarding young people and graffiti will still increase.
The Children (Parental Responsibility) Bill gives police the power to remove children who have broken no laws, using "reasonable force" if necessary, from public places if they believe "the action will reduce the likelihood of a crime being committed".
This is quite similar to a program launched in Western Australia earlier this year, Operation Sweep, which was called off after outrage from parents and the public.
According to Fairfield youth worker Michael Karadjis, "There are a lot of areas, such as around Fairfield/Cabramatta, where there is just nothing available for youths to do and very little public transport. In these situations they have nothing to do but hang around in groups in shopping centres and the like, but this does not make them criminal gangs."
Once removed, the child is to be returned to their parents' home or, if this is impractical, to a "place prescribed by regulation".
The bill states that these children must be kept separately from anyone detained for committing a crime. After pressure from the opposition and the public, it also says that they may not be detained in a police cell.
Police must notify formal child protection agencies if they believe the child is being abused. However, police are not social workers and may not possess the skills to detect child abuse.
Legal responsibilities placed on parents regarding their children are also set to increase, with being given the power to demand that parents be present at proceedings involving their children.
Parents may also be found guilty of an offence if they have contributed to their child committing an offence "through their wilful default or by neglecting to exercise proper care and guardianship".
"This is a type of collective punishment like those used by various oppressive regimes in other parts of the world", said Karadjis.
Proposed changes in the Summary Offences Act include jail terms of up to three months for possessing a tin of spray paint with the intent to produce graffiti.
How this intention is to be proved is not mentioned, and as with removing youths in order to prevent crimes, it appears to be relying on the psychic abilities of the police.
According to Karadjis, "These reforms will only lead to increased tensions between youths and their parents, youths and police and parents and police. Where fines are imposed the youths and parents may not have money to pay them, and there a vicious circle begins as they are forced into crime."