Tuesday 22 May 2018
Hansard of the Legislative Council
Young Tasmanians' Inadequate Understanding of Laws


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, many young Tasmanians, especially young males, are becoming embittered and disillusioned because they have little understanding of laws and how they are administered.  I will get to how that might be remedied shortly.

Few young Tasmanians have any understanding of the reasons for some laws when they see them being administered in an arbitrary way with a lack of transparency.  Driving licence and gun licence laws are a case in point.  Take driving licences for young Tasmanians.  The process for a young person to obtain a full licence is so bureaucratic, lengthy and time-consuming, it encourages people to circumvent the system by gaining a licence in another state that has a more efficient licensing system and then converting it here.  There seems to be no attempt to coordinate Tasmania's driving licence laws with, say, Victoria, where the system is more straightforward and logical.

Any minor breach by a probationary licence holder is harshly penalised and often threatens employment, especially if that licence applicant lives outside our major cities with no public transport.  A minor breach can put a would-be driver right back at the beginning.  Often young people do not understand why they have been treated so harshly.  Breaches by probationary licence holders often happen because of deficient driver education.  What should happen, instead of the harsh penalty, is obligatory advanced driver education.

There is a major problem with the way gun licences are administered.  Gun licences for farmers' sons and others is a vague concept where morals and good character determine where a license is granted.  Reasons for granting and rescinding should be clear, objective, transparent and attainable, or authority loses respect.

In one case a young person's gun licence have been suspended with no reason given.  The young male on a rural property had his gun licence suspended after holding it for more than 12 months.  He had committed no offence and no reason was given.  Even the two police officers who delivered the suspension notice were at a loss.  I am reticent to use the name of the officer and I will quote just from the beginning of the notification document -

(1)  … being a delegate of the Commissioner of Police under section 156 of the Firearms Act 1996 am satisfied you may no longer be a fit and proper person to hold a firearms licence.

Gun licences are expensive and there was no mention of any refund.  This young person had invested more than $2000, with his rifle, scope and gun safe now useless.  In effect, the suspension was the equivalent of a $2000 fine, with no offence committed.  His rifle, undergoing voluntary repairs at a Launceston gun shop, was impounded there at a rental of $20 a month.

I point out this young man was not embittered by the suspension but remains puzzled and believes he has been unjustly treated.

Young people have other problems with laws in Tasmania, in particular the Community Service Order Scheme.  This scheme is not working; it is alienating young people and hampering their job prospects.  Offenders can be stuck on probation in the system for years.  They are unable to go to another state or take full-time jobs because the system is so underfunded community service hours cannot be worked out in a reasonable period of time.  The community service work is often meaningless instead of an opportunity to genuinely repay society by undertaking work of real value to the community.

Inadequate systems are alienating young Tasmanians and pushing some of them into positions where they are more likely to offend and break the law.  These need addressing.  The big problem is young Tasmanians have an inadequate understanding of laws and how they are applied.  Often those expected to assist young people interpret the rules and laws, like parents, teachers, social and young workers, struggle to understand the laws themselves.  Young people miss another opportunity to know when their rights should be upheld.

One large secondary school in Victoria employs a full-time lawyer who lectures, holds workshops and gives legal advice to both students and parents.  He explains laws and their context and the reasons for them.  Helping students to understand their rights means they are more likely to obey laws and not try to circumvent them because they do not respect them.

Tasmanian high schools and colleges cannot employ full-time lawyers, but why not have regular lectures and workshops held by a lawyer who moves from school to school? Something has to be done to make decisions on laws that affect young Tasmanians more transparent and understandable.  A legal education program would reduce the number of offences committed by young people.