A new Victorian offence criminalising grossly offensive public conduct is unlikely to be used by police but will close a gap in the system, the state’s attorney-general says.
The proposed law, to be introduced to parliament on Wednesday, was developed in response to Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway crash in April 2020 which claimed the lives of four police officers.
Porsche driver Richard Pusey pleaded guilty of charges including outraging public decency by filming the dying officers after the crash.
The charge of outraging public decency will be abolished and replaced with the new offence of engaging in conduct that is grossly offensive to community standards of behaviour.
The maximum penalty will be five years’ imprisonment.
The offence will apply to conduct happening in a place where people can see or hear it publicly and will require the accused, or any reasonable person, to know their conduct is grossly offensive.
Conduct such as being intoxicated or using indecent or profane language will be excluded from the offence.
“What we had in the Eastern Freeway tragedy was conduct that Victorians were appalled by,” Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes told reporters on Wednesday.
“Police officers and the Director of Public Prosecutions found there wasn’t really an offence that fit that behaviour to charge Mr Pusey.
“It’s actually quite difficult for me to imagine another circumstance where this law is going to apply, but what it exposed was a gap in statute laws and I wanted to fix it.”
There would be defences for good faith and reasonable conduct that was in the public interest, Ms Symes said.
“I want to offer comfort to the disability community and people with mental illness that certain behaviours can be tolerated in Victoria,” she said.
“But there is a limit and this law will capture any of that behaviour that goes over that limit.”
The government was not concerned police and prosecutors would overuse the new offence, Ms Symes said.
“The police have been fantastic in engaging in this bill,” she said. “But we’ll monitor it.
“As I said, I don’t think it will be used but in the future if we have a similar situation, we now have a clear pathway.”
Stuart Schulze, whose wife Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylor died in the crash, has been campaigning for the new offence.
Senior Constable Kevin King, Constable Joshua Prestney and Constable Glen Humphris were also killed on April 23, 2020.
“I didn’t think it would reach this stage so fast. It’s less than 12 months since I saw the Attorney-General. She was very receptive, very interested in what I had to say,” Mr Schulze told the ABC.
The state coalition would back the law, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said.
“I can’t imagine a circumstance in which the opposition wouldn’t support Lynette’s law,” Mr Guy told reporters on Wednesday.
“I think it’s a very good proposal. Praise to the attorney-general for responding to (Mr Schulze’s campaigning) because I think it’s very important.”
The amended bill will also defer to November 2023 the decriminalisation of public drunkenness.
This would give the government more time to trial and evaluate the health-based response, Ms Symes said.