Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (16:26): I rise to make a contribution to the Criminal Law Consolidation (Causing Death by Use of Motor Vehicle) Amendment Bill. It is a very, very serious subject. I have been aware over the years in my electorate of some terrible outcomes with respect to people who have been killed in a motor vehicle accident. That is a terrible tragedy, an absolute tragedy, and then there is the other side of it: how do we deal with the offender at the time?
What I can say is that it is an absolute tragedy that someone loses their life but there is also another situation going on with the alleged offender as well. Notwithstanding that, we need to make sure that people can live their lives in the safest way possible and put the appropriate legislative framework in place so that we get the right outcomes across the community.
The background to this bill is that there was a strong media campaign in the local papers and the Road to Justice campaign, which called for a mandatory 10-year minimum term for the offence of aggravated causing death by dangerous driving, an end to suspended sentences for death by dangerous driving with penalties to be served either in custody or in home detention, and also an end to the 93 per cent sentencing discount—created by plea-bargaining—for charges of death by dangerous driving down to aggravated driving without due care.
Also called for was a minimum five-year licence disqualification on top of the mandatory 10-year disqualification for each life taken in a crash. There was also a call for alleged killers to be banned from the roads while on bail, and also a call for the employment of specialist victim support officers to assist families, particularly children, of people killed in road crashes during the court process.
The primary death by dangerous driving offence is found in section 19A(1) of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (CLCA), which relates to the unlawful killing of another person as a result of culpable, reckless or negligent driving. The maximum penalty for a first offence is imprisonment for 15 years and mandatory licence disqualification for at least 10 years. The maximum penalty for a first offence, which is an aggravated offence, or for a subsequent offence is imprisonment for life and mandatory licence disqualification for at least 10 years.
In some circumstances, a lesser charge may be proceeded with, such as section 45(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1961, which provides that it is an offence to drive without due care or attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road. Causing death is an aggravating factor and carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 12 months and mandatory licence disqualification of not less than six months.
In respect of the proposal around mandatory minimum sentencing, it is deemed that it is not appropriate for this offence. Mandatory sentences fail to take into account all the circumstances of the offence and the severity of the offending. There is a difference between inattentive driving and driving recklessly at speed while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Similarly, we do not support the proposal to remove the ability of the court to impose suspended sentences for death by dangerous driving.
A court may only suspend a sentence of imprisonment pursuant to section 96(1) of the Sentencing Act 2017 if it thinks that good reasons exist for doing so. The question of whether 'good reasons' exist involves a weighing of competing factors such as the objective seriousness of the offending, the personal circumstances of the defendant (including any criminal antecedents), the defendant's prospects for rehabilitation and the need for general and personal deterrence. The primary purpose of sentencing is the protection of the community. In the last five years, only seven of 44 defendants had suspended sentences imposed. In certain circumstances, the court must in any event be persuaded that exceptional circumstances exist for that sentence to be suspended.
The media campaign, the Road to Justice campaign, has called for an end to the 93 per cent sentencing discount that they consider arises when a death by dangerous driving as an offence is plea-bargained down to an offence of aggravated driving without due care. We believe that this statement does not reflect the fact that plea-bargaining includes multiple considerations, not least being whether the more serious charge is supported by the evidence that is presented and whether or not it is in the best interests of victims and their families to be subjected to a drawn-out and traumatic court process that may not result in a conviction. Indeed, the Director of Public Prosecutions wrote to the media regarding this.
Guideline 2 from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions' statement of prosecution policies specifies the relevant factors: whether the sentence is likely to be imposed for the negotiated charges would be appropriate for the criminal conduct involved, the desirability of a prompt and certain resolution, the defendant's criminal history, the strength of the prosecution case and the views of investigating police and victims. South Australia already has a significantly longer period of mandatory licence disqualification—10 years—than other jurisdictions. In New South Wales, a licence is disqualified for three years for a first offence; in Victoria and Western Australia, the minimum period is two years; and for Queensland it is for 12 months.
We do not consider it necessary as a government to further invest in specialist victim support officers. The Attorney-General's Department already provides the following supports to persons affected by road trauma, including funding to the Road Trauma Support Team since 2005, funding to Relationships Australia South Australia to provide trauma-informed therapeutic counselling to victims of crime, and the Witness Assistance Scheme in the ODPP provides liaison and support to both victims and witnesses in complex prosecutions throughout the court process.
Also, the Commissioner for Victims' Rights provides ongoing support to victims through the criminal justice process, and persons who are affected by road trauma can access general legal advice via the Legal Services Commission and community legal centres, which are funded by the Attorney-General's Department under the National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020-25.
The media campaign probably did not give a great overview of the knowledge and awareness of the services that are currently available, so the Attorney-General's Department will certainly do more to work with the Commissioner for Victims' Rights to further promote the Road Trauma Support Team and other services that are currently available to victims of road trauma.
This bill inserts new section 19AE in the Criminal Law Consolidation Act to impose an immediate licence suspension or disqualification when a person is charged with causing death by dangerous driving. This will ensure that all offenders who are charged with this offence are prevented from driving, not only those who are arrested. Under section 19AE(4), a court may lift the suspension or disqualification if satisfied, on the basis of evidence given on oath on behalf of the person, that the suspension or disqualification would result in severe and unusual hardship to the person, or a dependant of that person, and the person does not pose a substantial risk to other members of the public.
The bill also inserts new section 19AF in the CLC Act. Section 19AF provides that a police officer who reasonably believes a person has committed an offence against section 19A(1) may give the person a notice immediately suspending their licence or disqualifying them from holding or obtaining a driver's licence. This provision will ensure that police are empowered to protect road users immediately after an accident causing death takes place and where a charge is not issued immediately. This may be appropriate where further evidence is required in respect of the circumstances and cause of the accident before a charge is issued.
In cases where a person is arrested and immediately charged with an offence of causing death by dangerous driving, bail authorities already have the power to ensure that a person not drive a motor vehicle as part of the conditions of a bail agreement. There is a presumption against granting bail in relation to a person charged with an offence under section 19A(1) if that offence was committed in the course of attempting to escape police pursuit. This means that, unless the applicant can show the existence of special circumstances justifying their release on bail, they will be remanded in custody pending the outcome of those charges.
This shows that we as a government are taking serious action against people who are found to have caused death by dangerous driving. As someone who does around 60,000 kilometres a year, I witness lots of different driving habits and lots of different roads. In saying that, I am a firm fan of our campaign to bring the initial eight highways, but hopefully a lot more than eight, across South Australia back to the standards of 110 km/h.
Just digressing slightly from the direct impact of this bill, it has been hard to convince communities when there are roads like the Browns Well Highway and the Ngarkat Highway. Basically, Pinnaroo is in the middle. It goes through to Loxton one way and down to Bordertown in the member for MacKillop's area in the other. Yes, those narrow roads used to be able to be travelled on up to 110 km/h. What has changed? Obviously, the guidelines around what roads can be rated at 110 km/h.
I am very proud to be part of a government that is investing about $72 million into those eight roads. I would like to put on the record that, in the case of the Browns Well and Ngarkat highways, the two roads between Loxton and Bordertown with Pinnaroo in the middle, they are taking about $42 million of that because there is a linear length of 200 kilometres of shoulder sealing being done. Thankfully, they found that nasty little piece about 20 kilometres towards Loxton, out Pinnaroo, so we found $5 million extra to invest. I am very pleased that we as a government have found that extra $5 million. I am told that it is coming together very well.
At a public meeting on a whole range of events before the last election that Pinnaroo, which was very well attended by locals, I managed to talk to some people about how it ever got constructed over this crab-hole country, this amount of road several kilometres long outside of Pinnaroo. They said it just was not built right when it was put there in the sixties, I think, under contract. So thankfully an age-old problem will be fixed.
I have mentioned in this house before that some ambulance officers from Pinnaroo said, 'Right, we are going to take you for a ride out in the ambulance and see how you go as the local member on a rush through towards Loxton in an ambulance.' What they told me afterwards was that usually if they have someone who needs an emergency hip operation or something, and they are in the ambulance, they back off to about 60 km/h. But, no, they strapped me in tight, put me in the ambulance, a pseudo patient, and they did not back off from 100 km/h. Yes, the suspension was tested, but that was the whole plan to show me what was going on. I was well aware of that because I had driven over it multiple times, but it is pleasing to see those roads being taken up to speed.
As life goes on, we are going to have better outcomes in the future. I will forever campaign, as long as I am in here, to duplicate the Dukes Highway all the way to the border. Work has not been done on the Dukes Highway for the last 40 years, since Swanport Bridge was opened in 1979. Even back then, I was surprised, when I drove up to it as a young bloke at 17, that it was a single-lane bridge each way. That is all part of the road work safety that is going on.
We must have this work going in light of road trains and B-doubles, B-triples, B-quads and AB-doubles all accessing a lot of these roads in the freight task. People say we have all these large trucks on the road, and they are still not matching some of the combinations, I do not think. They have been carrying a 100-tonne weights on top of their truck weights in Western Australia for many years now. That all has to be managed.
As far as road safety is concerned, those big trucks—road trains, B-triples, B-quads and AB-doubles, which are a semitrailer and a B-double on the back—cannot go down the freeway and come out at Glen Osmond, which is a good thing for the freight task. It is efficient for truck operators to take those extra kilometres, head out around Murray Bridge and out towards Halfway House Road, and go around on the Sturt Highway back into Adelaide through the top.
We need to do what we can to keep people safe on our roads in general. Obviously we have strict drink-driving laws, and I have seen the direct effect of someone I know well who did cause death by dangerous driving. It was a real tragedy. Someone innocent was killed through no fault of their own, just by being where they were they were taken out. It is a terrible thing for the family of the person who was killed—a terrible thing.
We must keep educating people that if it is not safe to drive then do not drive. I stress that to my boys. When they are driving somewhere I usually let them take my ute, and I say, 'Throw your swag in the back, and where you have your first beer is where you sleep.' That is the rule of dad, especially on P-plates, which are for three years now, I think. It has worked so far, and my son tells me he does not drive—there is only one driving; the other one is on learners, so he does not drive—when he has had a beer.
We need to keep up that education process because the best thing in terms of working against death by dangerous driving is for it not to happen at all. The more we can do then the more we are literally saving lives and saving the grief of someone who has caused death by dangerous driving—which is also another issue to be dealt with here, and rightly so. It needs to be dealt with in a hard manner and a just manner by the courts. I commend the bill.