A new Victorian offense that criminalizes grossly abusive public behavior is unlikely to be used by police but will plug a hole in the system, the state’s attorney general says.
Due to be submitted to parliament on Wednesday, the proposed law was developed in response to the April 2020 Melbourne Eastern Freeway crash that killed four police officers.
Porsche driver Richard Pusey pleaded guilty to charges including violating public decency by filming the dying officers after the crash.
The defamation charge will be dropped and replaced by the new offense of committing grossly offensive conduct to community standards of conduct.
The maximum penalty is five years in prison.
The offense applies to conduct where people can see or hear it in public and requires the accused, or any reasonable person, to know that their conduct is highly offensive.
Behavior such as drunkenness or indecent or profane language is excluded from the offense.
“What we had in the Eastern Highway tragedy was behavior that shocked the Victorians,” Attorney General Jaclyn Symes told reporters on Wednesday.
“Police officers and the Director of Public Prosecutions discovered no criminal offense appropriate to that behavior to charge Mr. Pusey.
“It’s actually quite hard for me to imagine any other circumstance in which this law will apply, but what it exposed was a loophole in the statute, and I wanted to fix it.”
There would be defenses for good faith and reasonable conduct that are in the public interest, Ms. Symes said.
“I want to comfort the disabled community and people with mental illness that certain behaviors can be tolerated in Victoria,” she said.
“But there is a limit, and this law will cap any behavior that exceeds that limit.”
The government was not concerned that police and prosecutors would overuse the new offense, Ms. Symes said.
“The police have done a fantastic job on this bill,” she said. “But we’ll keep an eye on it.
“Like I said, I don’t think it will be used, but if we have a similar situation in the future, we have a clear path now.”
Stuart Schulze, whose wife Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylor died in the crash, has campaigned for the new offense.
Senior Constable Kevin King, Joshua Prestney, and Constable Glen Humphris were also killed on April 23, 2020.
“I didn’t think it would reach this stage so quickly. It’s been less than 12 months since I saw the Attorney General. She was very receptive, very interested in what I had to say,” Schulze told ABC.
The state coalition would support the bill, opposition leader Matthew Guy said.
“I can’t imagine a circumstance where the opposition wouldn’t support Lynette’s bill,” Guy told reporters on Wednesday.
“I think it’s a very good proposal. Praise the Attorney General for responding to (Mr. Schulze’s campaign) because I think it is very important.”
The amended bill also postpones the decriminalization of public intoxication until November 2023.
This would give the government more time to test and evaluate the health-based response, Ms. Symes said.