Harsher penalties for high-speed chases
The New South Wales Government is to introduce harsher penalties for offenders involved in high-speed police car chases.
A two-year-old girl, Skye Sassine, died on New Year's Eve when two alleged robbers hit the back of her parent's car during a police pursuit along the M5 in Sydney's south west.
The toddler's death sparked a national debate about police pursuits.
NSW Premier Kristina Keneally says it was a shocking case.
"Skye's family has endured a tragic loss and as a community we cannot relieve their pain and nor can we promise that no other family will undergo a similar circumstance," she said.
"But we can always consider how we as a community care for one another and make our roads as safe as possible."
At the moment, drivers who fail to stop for police face a maximum penalty of 12 months' jail.
Ms Keneally says the new legislation, to be known as Skye's law, will change that.
"Drivers who lead police on high-speed chases will face jail sentences of three years and up to five years for repeat offenders regardless of whether anyone is hurt," she said.
"This new police pursuit legislation will serve as a powerful deterrent."
Standing alongside the Premier to announce the new laws, the Attorney General John Hatzistergos says the legislation is similar to that in Queensland and South Australia.
He says the laws there appear to have made a difference.
"The evidence that we have is that it certainly has been effective in other jurisdictions - there's been drop off, particularly in Queensland in recent times, quite a significant one, and whether it's due to that law or a greater awareness of road safety is difficult to be able to judge," he said.
"But in any event, the most recent statistics show there has been a significant drop off there."
But some civil libertarians say the proposed laws will not do anything to deter offenders. They are calling for a ban instead on dangerous police pursuits.
The president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Cameron Murphy, says police should not engage in pursuits that put the lives of innocent people at risk.
"In many of these cases, like the recent tragedy that occurred over the Christmas-New Year period, the criminals, the people evading pursuit are being monitored in other ways," he said.
"When you've got a helicopter pursuing a car, there's simply no need for the police to engage in a high speed ground pursuit when they could follow people and apprehend them at another time.
"It's hard to see this acting as any sort of deterrent when in many cases people are fleeing from being pursued in connection to offences that carry a much greater penalty than that in the first place.
"What we need is a national code of conduct that governs the way police operate so that proper decisions are made about whether a police chase ought to be pursued or not."
The New South Wales Police Association says officers are required to obey strict protocols when it comes to pursuits.
The association's president Scott Weber has welcomed the new penalties but says they could go further.
"The stronger laws that are put out by the Government today are a great idea and a good step forward, but what police out on the frontline really want and would like the Government to see, is mandatory sentencing," he said.
"If someone breaks the law twice, especially in regards to a police pursuit, putting the public and the police at risk, they deserve to go to jail and they deserve the maximum sentence."
Mr Weber says banning police car chases is a ludicrous suggestion.
"Being a serving police officer and being out on the road there for 15 years and speaking to the highway patrol officers that go day in, day out, trying to enforce our traffic laws, they know as soon as you do that, and there's no punishment in regards to speeding away from police, or to committing a minor speeding offence, or going through a red light, it's just open slather," he said.
"People will break the rules, they'll put more people at risk."
The laws will be introduced to parliament later this month