The Guardian: Proposed NSW police powers to search convicted drug dealers labelled ‘unjust’

Proposed law would allow police to detain and search anyone convicted in the past 10 years without a warrant

NSW police would be able to search convicted drug dealers up to 10 years after their conviction under a proposed law. 

Proposed new laws that would allow New South Wales police to “stop, detain and search” anyone convicted of a serious drug offence in the past decade are “unjust” and would give police “extraordinary” power to target marginalised groups, legal and civil liberties groups have warned.

The government’s drug supply prohibition order bill, introduced to parliament last month and supported by the Labor opposition, would introduce a two-year pilot program in four local government areas allowing police to “search convicted drug dealers and manufacturers, as well as their homes and vehicles, at any time without a warrant”.

The proposed law could apply to someone who was a juvenile at the time of the offence, as long as police are able to secure an order from a magistrate.

The government says the bill would “assist police to gather evidence of drug supply and drug manufacture effectively and efficiently”, and target “serious drug offenders who have re‑engaged or are likely to re‑engage with drug supply or manufacture activities”.

But legal and civil liberties groups, as well as the Greens, say the bill would give extraordinary powers to search and detain people without due process, and warn that the definition of a “serious” offence in the bill is too broad.

Under the proposed legislation, a person can be subject to one of the orders if they have been convicted of a supply offence above a trafficable quantity. In NSW, that could mean a person convicted of an offence known as “deemed supply”.

The NSW Law Society said that could lead to people previously convicted of lower-level drug offences being harassed by police.

“As currently drafted, a 19-year-old person, previously convicted as a juvenile, and placed on a community-based order for deemed supply of five to six MDMA pills at a festival, could be subject to these extraordinary powers, if a police officer reasonably believes they may be engaging in supply of a prohibited drug,” the society’s president, Richard Harvey, said in a submission on the bill circulated to MPs.

“While a magistrate may not exercise their discretion to make an order in such circumstances, we consider that the legislation needs to be amended to protect against unintended consequences.”

The legislation has caused unrest inside Labor after the shadow police minister, Lynda Voltz, indicated the party would support the bill.

Sections of the party’s left faction, of which Voltz is a member, are furious that attempts to refer the bill to a policy committee were thwarted due to a shortened timeline on its passage through the parliament.

Guardian Australia understands Labor’s shadow cabinet was due to discuss possible amendments to the bill at its meeting on Monday night.

The Greens upper house MP David Shoebridge said the parliament should “draw a line” under increasing police powers.

“I find it hard to understand how NSW Labor can back this in. It makes you wonder what it would take for them to say no to more money or more power for police,” he said.

The bill would introduce a two-year pilot program to be rolled out in Bankstown in western Sydney, Coffs Harbour, the Hunter Valley and Orana in western NSW.

Shoebridge said Bankstown, which was previously used to test the government’s controversial Basics welfare card, was being used as “an experiment for the rollout of an extreme set of police powers that allow unlimited warrantless searches of citizens”.

“It’s no accident that Bankstown has one of the most diverse communities in NSW. These discretionary powers are almost always directed against minority groups and young people,” he said.

In a separate submission, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said the bill would give “extraordinary” powers to police “in circumstances where adequate powers currently exist to search and seize items related to drug activity”.

“We are strongly of the view that the 10-year period within which police can apply for an order is too long and places people at risk of being subject to these extraordinary powers for a period that is simply unacceptable,” the submission stated.

“We are also concerned that the lengthy period may also have the unintended impact of interfering with rehabilitation efforts.”

Both the Law Society and the Council for Civil Liberties said the bill should not be used for convictions against juveniles, and warned the make-up of the pilot areas could lead to police unfairly targeting Indigenous people and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

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