A new report from the Law Enforcement Conduct Committee (LECC) shows that ‘consorting laws’ are being misused and disproportionately targeting Aboriginal people in NSW, and continue to be used against people under 18.
Consorting laws allow police to charge people simply for associating with someone who is named in a warning, even where there is no unlawful intention or criminal purpose.
The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS), the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the NSW Bar Association welcome the report’s strong recommendations for changes to the laws and how they are implemented. Many LECC recommendations reflect recommendations made by our organisations.
Key recommendations include that consorting laws should not be used against people under the age of 18 and that legislation should be amended to explicitly state that the purpose of the laws is to prevent serious criminal offending.
LECC reviewed the use of consorting laws by NSW police between February 2019 and February 2022. Its findings include:
- Police issued 16,480 warnings to 2,671 people.
- Many of the warnings were in relation to less serious offences and were given by general duties police officers, not specialist officers targeting serious crime.
- 4,257 people were subject to consorting laws, by being warned or named in a warning. 1,797 (42%) of those people identified as Aboriginal.
- Close to half (46%) of all people who received a warning or were named in a warning from general duties officers were Aboriginal.
- In Western NSW over 75% of people warned or named in a warning were Aboriginal, in the Central Metropolitan Region 49% were Aboriginal and in the Southern Region this was 48%.
- Of the 48 young people (aged under 18) issued with a warning, 12 were Aboriginal.
Nadine Miles, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT Principal Legal Officer
‘The review provides concrete evidence that consorting laws disproportionately and unfairly impact Aboriginal people.’
‘When Parliament passed these laws, they handed police another tool to unfairly target Aboriginal communities. Far from targeting serious and organised crime, consorting laws have been used to criminalise social interactions and relationships between Aboriginal people.’
‘It’s now up to Parliament to rectify this, and we hope to see this law reform prioritised soon after the election. The recommended changes would help protect the rights of Aboriginal people – and importantly, children and young people.’
Jonathon Hunyor, Public Interest Advocacy Centre CEO
‘Consorting laws are meant to target serious, organised crime. But this report shows they are being used by police on kids drinking in parks and people catching up for a coffee after attending a methadone clinic.’
‘The LECC report also shows that people who are given a warning often don’t understand what it means or the consequences if they don’t comply. Young people shouldn’t be turned into criminals just for spending time with someone who has committed an indictable offence.’
‘The Ombudsman and now the LECC have recommended that consorting laws should not apply to children. That’s the position in Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania. It’s beyond time for the NSW government to listen and bring our law into line with the national standard.’
Gabrielle Bashir SC, President of the NSW Bar Association
‘This legislation was introduced to target serious organised crime. Instead, the figures reveal a grossly disproportionate use of the consorting provisions against First Nations people. They are shocking figures. Equating warnings for consorting with diversion from the criminal justice system reflects a fundamental misunderstanding, which must be immediately rectified.’
‘The LECC’s findings are further evidence of an underlying and persistent problem with the exercise of police discretionary powers when it comes to First Nations people in this state. They underscore issues highlighted in recent research by Professor Don Weatherburn and Mr Brendan Thomas, which found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are less likely be diverted from the criminal justice system than non-Aboriginal young people – taking all other relevant factors into account.’
‘Consorting laws simply have no place when it comes to children. The misplaced issuing of warnings to children described by the LECC exposes a further inappropriate use of police powers and demonstrates that these laws should not apply to children under 18 years of age.’
- Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Review of the operation of amendments to the consorting law available here.
- Law Enforcement Conduct Commission fact sheet about the review available here.
Dan Buhagiar, PIAC Media and Communications Manager, 0478 739 280