Concerns raised over police stop and search powers

Fraser Barton |

Concerns have been raised over Queensland’s expanding weapon search laws.
Concerns have been raised over Queensland’s expanding weapon search laws.

Concerns have been raised over Queensland’s expanding weapon search laws that have gained national attention.

A civil liberties group has opposed a proposed extension to “Jack’s Law”, saying they are worried about the increasing scale of police stop and search powers.

Senator Matt Canavan has also weighed in, saying he is deeply uncomfortable with giving police the ability to randomly “spot check people”.

The Queensland government announced police “wanding” powers would be extended to shops and pubs under proposed new laws after a spate of NSW knife attacks.

More than 500 weapons have been seized since Jack’s Law passed in March 2023, initially giving police the right to search people in safe night precincts and public transport hubs with hand held metal detector “wands”.

It has attracted interstate interest with NSW considering adopting it and Western Australia also in talks.

Its success has also led the Queensland government to extend the wanding trial to 2026 and expand its scope.

Under the latest proposed laws, police will be able to search people at shopping centres, licensed premises, sporting and entertainment venues plus “high risk retail outlets” like service stations.

But the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (QCCL) has opposed it, saying they rejected the initial plan for police wanding at safe night precincts due to concerns it would be extended to other places.

“And to the shock of no one who has studied the increase in police powers this is what has happened,” QCCL president Michael Cope said in a statement.

“First it was extended to public transport. Now to shopping centres, licensed premises, sporting and entertainment venues and ‘high risk retail outlets’, vindicating our concerns.

“How are these places distinguishable from any other public place … no doubt one day the police will want these powers extended more broadly.”

Jack’s Law was passed after the 2019 stabbing death of teenager Jack Beasley on the Gold Coast.

Mr Cope claimed a Griffith University study found there was no evidence the searches had reduced offending despite the number of weapons seized. 

“This proposed law, like many tough on crime measures, is being proposed in response to a most tragic situation,” he said.

“Public policy has to have regard to a broad range of considerations … extending beyond the circumstances of any single case, no matter how tragic.”

Mr Cope said research indicated police assessments of who to search was often based on unwarranted generalisations and negative stereotypes.

He also cited a UK Metropolitan Police scrutiny panel, saying disproportionate stop and search practices could cause people to feel insecure, anxious, intimidated and helpless.

Queensland senator Mr Canavan said he was “not on board” with the expanding search powers.

“We are a free country and I just don’t like the idea that you could just be randomly treated as a criminal by going to get your bread and milk at the shops,” he told the Nine Network on Wednesday.