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Hansard Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Mr EMERSON (Indooroopilly—LNP) (8.52 pm): Some call it the line of duty but it is becoming more like the line of fire, with repeated reports of violence against police and emergency service officers. The Queensland public expects its police, ambulance, fire and rescue officers to be able to carry out their duties without suffering serious assault. Let us be very clear here. We are not talking about those simply resisting arrest. We are talking about police being hit with iron bars, police being punched in the face, police being kicked in the groin and spat on while working. They are all examples from recent months of attacks on police and emergency services workers.

An assault on a police or emergency services officer in the course of doing their duty is totally unacceptable. It is not acceptable that when you start work there is a risk you will be physically assaulted as part of your duties. But, as the police admit, the number of serious assaults on officers has been rising and the brutality of assaults has also been rising. But they also believe that penalties handed to offenders by the courts rarely meet community expectations. All police and emergency workers deserve much better protection.

This LNP bill introduces a mandatory minimum three-month imprisonment for serious assaults that involve bodily harm or biting or spitting on police, ambulance, fire and rescue and rural fire officers. Those serious assaults on police include assaults involving biting, spitting or throwing bodily fluids or faeces. The LNP believes that assaults against our police and emergency services personnel are a serious crime against the community, and the sentence should reflect the gravity of that crime.

The most recent assault figures should be of concern to every member of parliament. Fifty police a week are being spat on, punched, kicked and assaulted in an escalation of violence more likely to come from women and young people. Police figures show that more than 2,700 officers were assaulted across Queensland last year. Of the 2,700 police assaulted, 593 were female officers. The most recent figures— for the last six months of last year—showed police were seriously hurt more than 370 times. One officer was seriously wounded, while there were four cases of grievous bodily harm.

Most disturbing is that violence has become a routine part of weekend night shifts. As regional duty officer Inspector Mark Jackson said, ‘There appears to be a change in society that made people think it is okay to attack a cop.’ He said that a growing number of young people and women were attacking police. ‘There seems to be a trend these days for people taking police on—pushing the officer, spitting on the officer, punching the officer,’ Inspector Jackson said.

Let us consider those assault figures again. Of the 2,743 police assaulted, 593 were female officers. About 40 per cent of police are females these days. These cowards who attack cops have never had the odds so much in their favour. As one report said, the odds always were in favour of anyone with a king hit.

Imagine the chances of a female police officer against premeditated assault from a brute twice her size. As I said, the most recent assault figures should be of concern to every member of parliament. Now, police minister Neil Roberts argues that since 2006-07 the rate of assaults on police as a whole had dropped by 4.32 per cent, from 278 assaults per 1,000 police officers to 266. But let us have a closer look at the latest figures, those figures released by the police minister himself. In the category of assaults on police occasioning bodily harm, in 2008-09 there were 47 assaults. In the first six months of 2009-10, there were 35. If it continues at that rate, it would equate to a 48 per cent increase over the previous year—almost a 50 per cent increase. In the category of serious assaults not covered under other categories, in 2008-09 there were 662 assaults. In the first six months of 2009-10, there were 367 assaults. That equates to more than a 10 per cent increase. The Bligh government argues that things are improving—the reality proves otherwise.

The LNP’s bill does not just deal with attacks involving iron bars or punching. Spitting or spraying blood on police has become an all too common offence. This bill seeks to introduce a minimum sentencing range for serious assaults on police where the assault involves biting, spitting or throwing bodily fluid or faeces. Between December 2008 and June 2009 police officers made 155 WorkCover claims for assaults against them and in almost half of those cases the officer was exposed to blood or bodily fluid.

In a case late last year, District Court Judge Tony Rafter SC highlighted the problems police could face after being assaulted on the job. Judge Rafter awarded compensation to a female police constable who was bitten and spat on by a drunken woman who had refused to get out of a taxi in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. A male constable was awarded $8,500 after he was bitten by a woman. In both cases Judge Rafter highlighted the mental and nervous shock for the officers, who had a long wait to find out if they had contracted hepatitis C or HIV. He also noted that in both cases the officers’ relationships had broken down. The Police Union said the breakdown of relationships was one of the major problems for police who were victims of serious assault charges involving spitting and biting. It means they can have little contact with their children or partners. He said it puts a major strain on their relationships.

It is not just police that are under attack. Thirty-eight assaults on ambulance officers were recorded in 2007-08, soaring to 107 in 2008-09. A further 21 assaults were reported in the first six weeks of 2009-10. They included officers being spat on, threatened, punched, kicked or bitten. The Emergency Medical Service Protection Association, which represents 800 paramedics and ambulance workers in Queensland, said assaults were becoming more frequent and more severe. But in Queensland chances are the offender will receive a fine unless they have a criminal record. The 37-year-old female who recently pleaded guilty to kicking a North Queensland policewoman in the face received 18 months probation. A report in the Sunshine Coast Daily of 24 May headed ‘Punched, bitten, spat on, kicked—justice comes cheap’ states—

A Sunshine Coast police officer will receive just $10 a week in compensation for a savage attack that has left her career in tatters.

It goes on to say—

When her attacker appeared in Maroochydore Magistrates Court, she pleaded guilty to serious assault of a police officer and received nine months probation.

As the article says, this female officer was punched, bitten, spat on and kicked. While I am extremely cautious about the use of mandatory sentencing, the disturbing increase in the number of serious assaults on police and of assailants going relatively unpunished—as my examples indicate—has persuaded me that this is the right course of action.