I speak in support of the Criminal Legislation Amendment (Knife Crimes) Bill 2023. I note the presence in the Chamber of the Attorney General. I thank him for bringing this legislation to the House. The bill amends the Crimes Act 1900 to transfer and modernise the offences of having custody of a knife in a public place or school and wielding of a knife in a public place or a school from the Summary Offences Act 1988. It also doubles the current maximum penalties for these offences. The Government is sending a strong message that knife‑related crimes are not to be tolerated in New South Wales. As the Minister for Police and Counter-terrorism, I know all too well that knife‑related violence can lead to the loss of life, severe injury and trauma for the victims, their families and of course the broader community. This bill will support our police to continue getting knives off our streets and keeping our communities safe. It builds on the outstanding results of Operation Foil, which last month resulted in the police charging 172 people with 565 offences and seizing a whopping 294 knives.
I will now move to the contents of the bill. Schedule 1 to the bill will double the maximum penalties available for the offences of having custody of a knife in a public place or school and wielding a knife in a public place or a school. Specifically, the maximum term of imprisonment for those offences will double from two years to four years. The maximum fines will also double. That means that if a person is caught in possession of a knife, they can be fined up to $4,400, or 40 penalty units. If they are caught wielding a knife, they can be fined up to $11,000, or 100 penalty units. The offences are currently contained in section 11C and section 11E of the Summary Offences Act 1988. They will be moved to the Crimes Act 1900, recognising that they are now indictable offences rather than summary offences, which are more minor. Other than the changes to penalties, the structure, definitions and defences for those offences will remain largely the same. In response to the recent spate of knife‑related crimes in New South Wales and the high rates of reoffending for people convicted of knife possession, this Government is taking swift action to deter people from possessing or using knives in public.
I turn to schedule 2 to the bill, which makes consequential changes to other legislation. It amends the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 to enable these knife‑related offences to be tried summarily in the Local Court, unless the prosecution or defence elects otherwise. This is consistent with other indictable offences with similar maximum penalties and promotes the efficiency and allocation of court processes. Schedule 2 also repeals the current offences under the Summary Offences Act 1988 to avoid duplication of offences across various Acts of Parliament. This bill will commence on proclamation so that the new offence for custody of a knife can be inserted into schedule 4 to the Criminal Procedure Regulation 2017 as a penalty notice offence. This means police officers will have the discretion to issue a penalty infringement notice instead of requiring a person to attend court. This discretion will be available only for someone's first knife‑related offence because issuing a penalty notice to someone with previous offences would not reflect the seriousness of their continued behaviour.
Penalty infringement notices are an important and immediate deterrent that police can use to divert offenders away from the courts when appropriate. Under this bill, there will still be options to divert children and young people who commit these offences away from the justice system. Children and young people will still be eligible to receive a caution or referral to a youth justice conference but not warnings, which are available only for summary offences. This strikes the right balance between protecting the people of New South Wales, ensuring that the reforms do not disproportionately impact certain cohorts and efficiently allocating resources in our criminal justice system. In conclusion, the bill sends a strong message that people who carry or wield knives without lawful excuse will be subject to tough penalties—double what they are now. This Government is taking important steps to prevent any more tragic events involving knives that we have seen in New South Wales in recent times. We are supporting the fantastic work being done by our dedicated police officers to target knife‑related crime and violent offenders, such as through Operation Foil. I commend the bill to the House.