Aboriginal rights advocates’ calls to reject NSW knife ‘wanding’ laws

Aboriginal rights advocates’ calls to reject NSW knife ‘wanding’ laws
Image: A metal detector used for knife 'wanding'. Image: Queensland Police

Aboriginal rights advocates are urging parliamentarians to reject the bill that would give NSW Police extraordinary powers to stop and search people.

Debate on the Government’s controversial knife ‘wanding’ laws is resuming this week after a spate of knife crimes in Sydney and across the state.

But the Aboriginal Legal Service and Public Interest Advocacy Centre say that though everyone wants to live in a safer community, the proposed laws pose too great a risk to the rights of NSW residents and will not deter violent crime.

“We have years of evidence showing that arbitrarily increasing police powers doesn’t result in safer communities,” said Jonathon Hunyor, CEO, Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

“These laws will subject already over-policed communities to further targeting and harassment. That only builds distrust.”

Premier Chris Minns began considering stricter knife laws in NSW after a series of high-profile stabbing attacks in Sydney.

The legislation is modelled on Queensland’s ‘Jack’s Law’, which gives police powers to “wand” or “scan” people for knives without a warrant in designated areas.

However, an independent review found that though wanding “may help with detection in certain areas, there is no evidence yet that wanding deters knife carrying”.

“There is also no evidence yet that wanding has led to reduced violent or other crime, but it has led to an increase in detected drug offences in Surfers Paradise SNP which can increase the flow of minor offenders into formal criminal justice processes,” the review continues, according to its key findings.

This August 2022 report was published after a 12-month trial of metal detecting wand use by police in two sites in Queensland, where legislation for a trial was passed in 2021.

Nadine Miles, Principal Legal Officer from Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited, said there was “no evidence” that the laws would reduce knife crime, and that there was a high risk that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be disproportionately targeted.

“If Parliament is determined to let down the people of NSW by passing this harmful legislation, they must include safeguards to ensure oversight by the police watchdog,” she said.

“Robust and independent police accountability is essential to Closing the Gap and repairing community–police relationships.”

For parliamentarians who are determined to pass the bill, the organisations are urging amendments to bring the laws in line with the Queensland pilot they are based on.

They are also wanting the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission to independently monitor police actions under the new laws and deliver an evaluation after the first 12 months.

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