Ms JO HAYLEN (Summer Hill) (20:02:00): A number of locals have spoken to me recently about strip searches conducted by the NSW Police Force. It is easy to dismiss this as a young person's issue, but the fact is that it is parents who are overwhelmingly concerned. The recent revelations from the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission's review into police actions at last year's Splendour in the Grass festival are appalling. We have learned that seven minors were strip searched at the event and only one in the presence of a parent or guardian, as is required by law. We have learned that just 8.4 per cent of people strip searched at the Splendour in the Grass were found to be in possession of illicit drugs. Today we heard from one of the police officers involved who said that none of the strip searches conducted at the festival may have been legal.
This experience is reflected in the report from the Redfern Legal Centre, in conjunction with the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales, entitledRethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police. The report reveals that there has been a twentyfold increase in the number of strip searches between 2006 and 2018, with a total of 5,483 searches conducted in the 12 months up to 30 June 2018; only 30 per cent of strip searches in that period resulted in a criminal charge, with 82 per cent of charges for the summary offence of possession and less than 16.5 per cent resulting in charges of supply; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for 10 per cent of all recorded strip searches; and 45 per cent of all strip searches—that is almost half—were conducted on people aged 25 years and younger.
Those statistics lay bare a stark truth about strip searches: They are not effectively targeting supply and, similar to sniffer dogs, are wrong more often than they are right. The story that the statistics do not tell is the emotional damage that is wrought on young and vulnerable people. Reading case studies from the Redfern Legal Centre's report confirms that conclusion. A young woman, Emma, was strip searched at a music festival after a false identification by a drug dog. Emma was a survivor of sexual assault. She said:
… when I was being strip searched, I felt the same feelings I felt during that assault. This is just one of the stories in the report and it shows how it is the most vulnerable who are often impacted most by strip searches. In fact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for 10 per cent of field strip searches, 22 per cent of strip searches in custody and 45 per cent of all recorded strip searches of people under 25 years of age. Strip searches disproportionately impact survivors of sexual assault, with the report finding that strip searches "reproduce the dynamics of sexual assault and re-traumatise" survivors. A local parent who visited and spoke to me about strip searches did not want their kids to take drugs; but they know that a "just say no" approach will not work.
Continuing to approach illicit drug use through a punitive law-and-order approach will only get us so far. That is broadly accepted, it seems, except by those opposite. The parents who speak to me are deeply concerned that their kids will be strip searched, often in a public space; asked to strip or partially strip, asked to squat and cough, to bend over, and to lift their breasts or testicles. They are concerned at the lack of clarity in the definition of what actually constitutes a strip search: Is pulling clothing from a person a strip search? It is important to have clarity because the definition determines the procedures police are to follow.
I am concerned at reports that this lack of clarity is leading to basic procedures not being followed, including reports where officers of the same sex have not been present during strip searches by officers of the opposite sex. I am concerned about how this lack of clarity may determine whether strip searches occur with minors, particularly without the presence of a parent or guardian. It is clear that the use of sniffer dogs and strip searches is more about intimidation than results. It is my firm view that these methods of enforcement should not be used in the way that they are as a method of deterrent—and it is clear that this is not working.
We need to act now to strengthen the legislative framework under which strip searches occur, including making the law clearer about what constitutes a strip search; strengthening limitations on when strip searches can be conducted, both in public and at police stations; ensuring searches of children are conducted in accordance with child protection principles and only with a court order; and improving accountability, record keeping and review mechanisms. The report offers appropriate recommendations that deserve consideration by this House and the Parliament. Parents have made it clear to me that they will not stand silent as their kids are subject to humiliating and degrading strip searches, seemingly allowed by a loose interpretation of the current law.