11 October 2018
The Tasmanian Parliament will have the opportunity to eliminate an antiquated and discriminatory criminal offence of begging in Greens’ Private Members’ Time next week. The provision, based on Victorian-era assumptions about the ‘criminal underclass’, has no place in Tasmanian law.
In the Hobart Magistrates Court today there is a person listed to plead to five counts of begging. Despite the claims of Liberal politicians when we tried to reform the law in the last term of Parliament, this anachronistic criminal provision is still being used in Tasmania.
Under the Police Offences Act 1935, someone convicted of the crime of begging can face a fine of up to $700 or up to six months in prison.
Making criminals of the desperately poor has a disproportionate effect on the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society, by its very definition.
Housing distress and homelessness are soaring in Tasmania due to the Liberals’ underinvestment in housing and unwillingness to effectively regulate the still growing short-stay accommodation market.
Many Tasmanians are finding themselves in shelters, couch surfing or on the streets while on the years-long public housing waiting list and this criminal offence punishes and prosecutes them for finding themselves stuck in poverty.
The responsible approach is to address poverty by helping those who are disadvantaged, not imposing an unpayable fine or threatening imprisonment.
This is archaic elitism, and the only message it sends is that the Liberals’ believe the rights of people not to be inconvenienced by a person asking for money significantly outweighs the rights of people in poverty to attempt to survive.
It is an indictment on the Liberals that they believe a person asking for the tools they need to survive is criminal behaviour. It is also deeply ironic that when a wealthy corporation or developer comes along with their begging bowl, the Liberals’ dig deep into the public purse.
We are calling on both the Liberal and Labor parties to support our Bill in Parliament next week, to remove the crime of begging from the Tasmanian statutes. This is an example of a complete injustice in the law, and it needs to be abolished.