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Penalty not answer to knife crime

Chair of the QLS Children’s Law Committee Damian Bartholomew and Senior Policy Solicitor Bridget Cook at the hearing yesterday. Photo: Geoff McLeod

Criminalising knife purchases by young people will not solve community safety issues, according to a Queensland Law Society (QLS) submission which recommends alternative forms of intervention.

Chair of the QLS Children’s Law Committee Damian Bartholomew appeared at the State Development and Regional Industries Committee public hearing yesterday which is considering the Summary Offences (Prevention of Knife Crime) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023.

Damian said QLS understood the devastating impact that knife crime had on the Queensland community and that the two current offences were addressing the issue.

The QLS position is that criminalising the purchase of controlled items, such as knives, to young people is not the appropriate means of achieving the intent of the Bill.

“The unfortunate thing is, it is unlikely taking these matters to the court is going to have an educative effect on young people,” Damian told the committee hearing yesterday.

“These weapons are dangerous to the community in general … this Bill is focused around a particular cohort of young people and therefore does not make the community any safer in the sense that, of course those weapons generally which are dangerous in the community are still available.

“There is danger we are focusing and indeed reinforcing a stereotype that’s it young people who are in fact the dangers to the community rather than the general public carrying these weapons.”

Damian explained that criminalising the sale and purchase of these weapons would be an additional penalty for young people.

When asked if the issue was with “bad laws”, he said “it is unnecessarily criminalising particularly vulnerable people”.

The Bill’s objective is to promote community safety, reduce youth offending and minimise the risks associated with knives and other dangerous items, by:

  • prohibiting the sale of knives and other weapons including machetes, axes (including a tomahawk), sickles or scythes, spear-guns, spears, and replica firearms (known as controlled items) to minors;
  • making it an offence for a person to falsely represent themselves as being over the age of 18 years for the purpose of being sold a controlled item;
  • requiring retailers to display signage advertising the legal prohibition against the sale of controlled items to minors;
  • prohibiting controlled items from being sold or advertised in a way that suggests the item is suitable for combat, intended to be used for violence, or likely to stimulate or encourage violent or criminal behaviour involving the item;
  • imposing obligations upon suppliers of particular controlled items to safely secure the items at retail locations; and
  • making consequential amendments to support these reforms, such as allowing a police officer to request to see proof of age if they see or reasonably suspect a person under the age of 18 has been sold a controlled item and authorising the police officer to seize the item under certain circumstances.

Damian told the committee that QLS was supportive of several alternative forms of knife crime intervention including diversionary activities; educational interventions – aimed at increasing youth awareness and consequences relating to knife crime; consideration of broader contexts in which violence takes place – increasing family support programs and wraparound, multi-agency services; and criminal justice and multi-agency approaches.

The committee’s report is due on 1 February 2024.

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