Legalise Cannabis WA MP Dr Brian Walker has slammed the state government for what he called an “almost criminal lack of action” on confiscation reform.
WA’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 currently requires a court, following an application by the Director of Public Prosecutions or a police prosecutor, to declare a person to be a drug trafficker if they are found to have been in possession of a particular quantity of drugs – either in terms of overall weight, or the number of plants grown.
The court has no discretion, and must issue a Drug Trafficker Declaration as requested, leading to potentially harsher penalties and the confiscation of the person’s property and even their home.
A review of the Criminal Property Confiscation Act 2000 (WA) by former chief justice Wayne Martin tabled in 2019 said the 1981 act “has the undeniable potential to inflict injustice, and to operate arbitrarily and unfairly,” given the lack of judicial discretion.
His review recommended “courts be given a discretion to decline to declare a person to be a drug trafficker if satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the person has not engaged in the trafficking of significant quantities of drugs for commercial reward”.
Speaking after his private members bill to address the flaw was talked out (filibustered) by Labor MPs, Dr Walker slammed what he called “five years’ worth of government inaction in this space”.
“Former chief justice Wayne Martin was appointed to review the Criminal Property Confiscation Act in 2018, at a cost of many thousands of dollars, yet neither the McGowan nor the Cook governments have acted on the damning report he handed down,” he said.
Dr Walker said his bill would have closed a loophole in the confiscation laws that Martin had called “incoherent,” “inconsistent,” and “unjust,” causing “undue hardship” to innocent parties.
He added: “Why the Labor members in the chamber have chosen to conflate the bill’s clear intent with the broader issue of cannabis legalisation is frankly baffling, and I can only presume that they were instructed to filibuster until our parliamentary time expired out of a sense of embarrassment at their own government’s failings.”
“Justice Martin called this ‘the most significant issue’ in his review of the act, concluding that the reintroduction of some form of judicial discretion was ‘overwhelmingly supported’.
“But the current attorney general, who commissioned that report, has done nothing to solve a woeful situation which sees ordinary West Australians, often innocent of any crime, losing their homes and other legally purchased property on a regular basis.
“The current situation is unconscionable, the government has known that for close-on five years now, and its continued inaction… speaks volumes.
“It amounts to an almost criminal lack of action, and should be of concern to every right-thinking citizen of this state.”