No space for celebrating when you live in a public space

As the holiday season kicks in, many of us are looking forward to spending time with family and friends at barbeques, dinners and lunches, often in the privacy of someone’s home. It’s easy to take for granted our private spaces, and forget about what pleasures they afford us. But if you don’t have anywhere to live and your home is a public space, engaging in the pleasures that come with this time of year can in fact amount to criminal behaviour.

In May this year, legislation was passed to give Victoria Police officers greater powers to move people away from public spaces. Police officers can now tell a person to ‘move on’ if they reasonably suspect a person is, or is likely to:

  • Buy or sell drugs
  • Unreasonably block a person or traffic
  • Stop another person from entering or leaving a building
  • Make someone fear potential violence
  • Breach the peace
  • Endanger the safety of another person, or damage property
  • Be a risk to public safety

Police also have the power to:

  • Direct a whole group of people to move on
  • Record the names and addresses of people they ask to move on
  • Arrest people who don’t leave the public space as directed

Further, if a person is directed to move on three times or more within six months or five times in 12 months, police can apply for an ‘exclusion order.’ This means the person has to stay away from the public place for 12 months.

Therefore, if police reasonably suspect that someone is doing any of the activities listed above and is asked and refuses to leave, they can be arrested and even imprisoned if it happens multiple times. This is a notable change in the law because of the low threshold required to trigger potential arrests – no evidence of criminal activity, just a reasonable suspicion.

Ultimately the people who will be most affected by these changes are people experiencing homelessness because quite simply, they don’t have private spaces to be in.

These changes to the law have even greater implications for personal freedoms. These are discussed in more detail in the current edition of Parity Magazine.