Wed, 15 May 2024 - 12:51

Second Reading Speech: Criminal Code Amendment (Protecting Commonwealth Frontline Workers) Bill 2024

The Criminal Code Amendment (Protecting Commonwealth Frontline Workers) Bill 2024 is uncontroversial. It responds to recommendation 18 of the Services Australia Security Risk Management Review undertaken by Mr Graham Ashton AM APM, and the coalition expresses our thanks to Mr Ashton for his work. The review was commissioned following a deeply regrettable event in which a Services Australia employee, Ms Joeanne Cassar, allegedly was stabbed with a bladed weapon at the Services Australia Airport West service centre in May 2023. This matter is still subject to judicial proceedings. On behalf of the coalition I again express my sympathy to Ms Cassar and her family, who, understandably, continue to be impacted by this shocking and unacceptable incident. I also extend my appreciation to the staff at Airport West, who continue to support each other following this disturbing incident.

It's an unfortunate fact that Services Australia employees were subject to almost 9,000 face-to-face customer aggression incidents across financial year 2022-23. There are similar levels of violence and aggression in other frontline Public Service roles. Certainly the cost-of-living crisis is putting an immense strain on family budgets, and the wait times to receive government payments have increased dramatically. But there can be no excuse for violence and aggression towards any Australian Public Service employee.

This bill amends existing offences for causing or threatening to cause harm to a Commonwealth public official in the Criminal Code. Currently there are two tiers for that offence. The base-level offence applies to Commonwealth officials generally. There are more serious penalties that apply for harming or threatening judicial officers or law enforcement officials. This bill would create a new category of Commonwealth official called a Commonwealth frontline worker—that's to say, a Commonwealth worker whose primary function involves dealing with the public. The bill would make the penalty for assaulting a frontline worker the same as for assaulting a police officer or a judge.

The coalition strongly believes that every Australian has a right to be safe in his or her workplace, regardless of his or her field of work or the work they are doing. As with similar legislation which has sensibly sought to keep Australians safe, the coalition will support this bill.