I rise to speak on my Private Members Bill: the Road Safety Amendment (Hoon Events) Bill 2021.
As you’re all aware I used to be a cop before I was elected to this place.
I worked at Victoria Police and as most officers do, I attended many incidents and accidents and witnessed some atrocious behaviour on the roads.
It makes no sense to me why people would gather together to conduct frankly stupid behaviour on our roads and carparks.
Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission set up Towards Zero some years ago and many people since have wondered: ‘is that even possible?’
Unless we get serious about all facets of road safety, we cannot expect to make the number of deaths on roads zero. It blew my mind recently that the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into the Increase in Victoria’s Road Toll had no mention whatsoever of hooning. Nothing.
Not only this, but the Government’s own submission had zero mention of hooning also.
Hoon events are inherently dangerous. This is because hoon drivers ;
- are often driving unroadworthy and unregistered vehicles
- they often have drug and/or alcohol in their system
- they have a blatant disregard for the danger they put themselves and those around them in
- they do donuts, burnouts, street races, burn rubber, have people sitting out windows with no seatbelts on and the list goes on.
Between the 1st of July 2020 and March 2021, there were around 6000 vehicles seized for offences including excessive speeding, street racing and unnecessary noise or smoke. In the calendar year of 2016, impoundments were 1200 greater than 2015, at around 18 per day. Offences included driving while suspended, excessive speeding, drink or drug driving and evading police. Men aged 31 and over had the highest rate of impoundments with 2689 last year.
In an event in St Kilda in January this year, charges laid besides hooning offences included: endangering a person, possessing prohibited or controlled weapons, drug possession, possessing imitation firearms and attempted criminal damage. Generally speaking, these gatherings aren’t your friendly catch ups to talk about your new set of wheels or kick some tyres.
when the Government says they are ‘serious’ about hoon laws, I would question this. I do commend the Government on a series of laws since the mid-2000s, where they’ve cracked down on hoons by introducing seizure provisions for VicPol. They’ve also funded more drug tests and recently introduced immediate license suspensions for some situations.
This is all well and good, but one problem that hasn’t been addressed is how to deter people from providing an audience to the idiots who are behind the wheel at hoon meets.
A recent Herald Sun article titled ‘Victoria Police to go ‘back to basics’ to tackle crime concerns’ outlined what local police stations are hearing are the biggest issues in their communities. Of the eight ‘pilot sites’ for community policing, FIVE identified hooning as being in their top 3 law and order crime issues. Clearly this is a concern of residents.
We’ve been hearing from people left, right and centre about hooning for probably well over 12 months now. Some of these are active VicPol members who are regularly called to attend hoon events, disrupt the crowd and attempt to arrest, charge and prosecute drivers. VicPol members are doing a great job, but their hands are tied as they have no powers to charge attendees for encouraging and participating in the hoon behaviour. It is very difficult to pursue charges in the courts for passengers participating in hoon driving as they weren’t behind the wheel, even with them hanging out the window whilst the driver’s performing doughnuts.
It should go without saying, but without a crowd there is less of a chance of death, injury or damage that would otherwise be present with a crowd.
In an A Current Affair special on hoons recently, Acting Senior Sergeant Dean Pickering said: “no spectator; no show. Any sport is pretty boring without spectators. If you’re spectating, you’re participating, you’re just as bad.”
Our police are becoming fed up by attending events where idiots are encouraging idiots who are putting their own lives – and that of their friends – on the line. Councils are also frustrated at dealing with complaints from residents who are being woken up from smoke, noise and who find destroyed public and private assets.
To address this, Brimbank Council took things into their own hands. Almost four years ago in January 2018, they introduced Local Laws that outlawed exactly what Members will see before them today: 8 penalty units for attending, participating in or encouraging hoon events.
And to say it has been a success would be an understatement.
During an operation utilising the new Local Laws, VicPol members successfully disrupted, charged and prosecuted large numbers of participants where they had previously no chance. In fact, on a single night, police raked in $80,000 for the Brimbank Council in just 17 minutes.
No fines were contested or appealed and the money was paid within 2 months.
Since the introduction of these local laws, local police believe that the number of events in the Brimbank LGA has dwindled considerably.
This is how many people are attending these idiotic events. The partnership between VicPol and local council has to be absolutely commended. I should note that VicPol’s prosecutors actually assisted each local council in drafting the local laws so as to ensure they’d be airtight to reduce court challenges and unpaid fines.
However, in saying how wonderful these laws have been, I will acknowledge there has been one major problem.
The hoons have started to cotton on to the local laws, and are taking their dangerous, stupid events to neighbouring Local Government Areas. The problem isn’t going away, it is moving to the next neighbourhood.
Councils recognise that they can’t be implementing road laws specific to their LGA as a common practice and that this is a matter for State Governments to lead on. So, in May this year, when the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) held its AGM, a resolution passed. It stated:
“That MAV [should] advocate to the State Government for the introduction of legislation to create an offence for spectators or other people to attend a hoon event.”
As a result of this Frankston Council sent a letter to Attorney-General Ms Symes in June this year. It said – among other things – that:
“To avoid the onerous approach of authorising police members under individual municipal Local Laws it would be preferable to enable consistent enforcement practice across Victoria. As such, Frankston City Council is urging Government to support the MAV advocacy efforts and provide state legislative authority to make it an offence for spectating and attending skid races.”
The response from Acting Police Minister Pearson was disappointing to say the least.
Acting Minister Pearson responded that the Government had been tough on hoons and that Operation Achilles had been created to “combat the rise in illegal hoon gatherings and other intentional high-risk driving events”.
I welcome the creation of this taskforce, however, ironically, the Achilles Heel of this situation is that Operation Achilles cannot effectively achieve its objectives in deterring such behaviour when all but two drivers get away with taking part in the hoon event.
They also can’t deter behaviour in Geelong, for instance, because they don’t have the Local Laws, but they can enforce it in Dandenong, Frankston, Hume and Brimbank, but not neighbouring Councils like Casey or the Mornington Peninsula.
This is ridiculous.
This isn’t just coming from this ex-cop-turned-politician; it’s coming from serving VicPol members.
Minister Pearson further said:
“Information gathered through Operation Achilles will assist Victoria Police in its engagement with local government and road safety partners to discuss appropriate responses and potential infrastructure enhancements in key hoon hot spot areas.”
And whilst I’d agree that public safety infrastructure should be investigated, I’d warn against relying solely on CCTV for example, as these hoons will just choose a spot outside camera vision to conduct their meets. You’d need CCTV in virtually every public space which isn’t exactly feasible – certainly not in Geelong.
One particular Mayor of a Council who enacted these local laws said they are waiting for the Government to move with creating similar laws across the state. They mentioned other councils near them were taking action because local police command had requested them to, in order to deal with an increase in frequency and severity of hooning behaviour, and to keep people safe. Road safety shouldn’t be left up to the councils to deal with – this must be dealt with through a state government response.
The solution is very simple and is why I’ve introduced this very short and succinct Bill.
In full transparency, I had been requested to introduce an array of other offences related to hooning as securing prosecutions for hooning behaviour can be quite difficult. I have chosen to stick with ONLY enacting this simple offence that is used in local council areas because it has been tested for a number of years and we know it works.
The evidence is there, and it is resoundingly clear.
The Bill is extremely simple and has been drafted by my office in conjunction with local councils and police prosecutors.
It inserts a new section (65AB) into the Road Safety Act 1986 in relation to hoon events. This section has two parts or two very similar offences, the first being:
- A person must not organise, participate in, promote or attend a hoon event without a reasonable excuse.
And the second being:
- The driver or person in charge of a motor vehicle must not stop or park in close proximity to an area where a hoon event is taking place, without a reasonable excuse.
The first offence is intended to capture those who send out the notices/texts or information to others about attending hoon events. However, we note this will continue to be hard to police and will rely on intelligence provided by the community and taskforce investigations. It’ll also capture those who participate in, promote or attend the hoon event physically. This is where the by-laws have been used predominantly over the past 4 years.
The second offence is to assist police where hoon meets become more versatile. Basically, what happens is the cars will meet at a particular street or car park, then the cops will inevitably get a call and turn up and then the hoon participants and spectators obviously get moving in order to evade police.
Form then, an organiser or other participants will usually arrange an alternative meeting place to continue with the event, and everyone will move to the new location.
At this point, police are helpless with the current legislation as there is no current offence of a spectator or organiser of a hoon event to be charged with.
To those who think ‘oh but I’ll get fined for having my car parked in the street where a hoon event happens’, this is false for two reasons. Firstly, the legislation defines you as needing to be driving or in charge of a motor vehicle and secondly, there is a reasonable excuse immunity in the Bill. Police will continue to use their discretion and there is always the opportunity to give an explanation at court. To date under these local laws, there have been NO fines contested, demonstrating that police have been very accurate in fining those who do not have a reasonable excuse.
We’ve also included very plain-English definitions for both ‘hoon event’ and ‘hoon driving’ which again has been modelled off successful implementation by local Councils.
I will keep my contribution there as it really isn’t a large Bill and, in my view, it isn’t contentious.
At the heart of this move is to keep people safe on the road and deter the foolishness we see so often from hoons. It’s all fun and games until someone loses a leg, or even worse, loses their life. Actually, hoon events are not fun and games at all. They are a scourge on our community and a threat to the life. Simple as that.
Testing driving skills or capabilities of any vehicle must be conducted in a controlled environment and NO WHERE ELSE.
I’d like to thank those who have assisted me in preparing this Bill including local councils and my old colleagues at VicPol.
I should say lastly that I know the Government has a policy not to support Private Members Bills but this is a very small, very simple legislative change that would help the Government’s own cause to have zero deaths on our roads.
I hope you can see the common sense in this Bill and either support it or adopt it as Government policy. I really don’t care how it gets done – just get it done.
I look forward to Members support on this Bill in due course.
I commend this Bill to the House.