Australia — Firebugs could be subjected to GPS tracking by next year’s fire season under the plan. The election pledge would also enable courts to slap GPS tracking devices on convicted sex offenders and high-risk suspects on bail.
Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said GPS units would replace outdated monitoring technology and better protect the public by enabling broader surveillance.
He said the $5 million plan had broad support and could be up and running next year if the coalition won the November state election.
But the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) says it was never consulted, has serious reservations about the plan, and has sought an urgent meeting with Mr Baillieu.
Arson experts have questioned whether it would have any impact on curbing the number of deliberately lit bushfires.
LIV president Steve Stevens said tracking suspects on bail would breach their right to the presumption of innocence and could result in high-risk defendants, who would otherwise be held in custody, being allowed out while they await trial.
“It’s a gross extension of a monitoring system for people who have not been found guilty of any criminal offence and are entitled to the presumption of innocence, and we think that’s an unwarranted extension of the monitoring system,” Mr Stevens told AAP on Monday.
He said there was no detail about how the surveillance information would be used or evidence the community would benefit.
Under the coalition plan, the courts could order bail applicants and convicted criminals on supervision orders, including sex offenders and arsonists, to wear a GPS monitor to track their movements and enforce curfews and no-go zone restrictions.
Currently, criminals serving home detention and sex offenders on release are monitored by an electronic device linked to a base station.
Mr Baillieu said there had been cases where criminals under surveillance had disabled monitoring devices, gone interstate undetected and re-offended.
“We think it’s important to make electronic monitoring accurate, reliable and comprehensive,” he said.
Dr Janet Stanley, who heads the Australian Bushfire Arson Prevention Initiative, questioned whether monitoring arsonists would have any impact.
She said the policy assumed arsonists were known when, in fact, few were identified. She said much more research was needed.
“Few arsonists are caught, few are charged with the offence, few are found guilty and few receive a custodial sentence. They’re very low rates,” she said.
United Firefighters Union state secretary Peter Marshall said the policy reeked of political opportunism and had not been canvassed before, including at the bushfires royal commission.
“Firefighting and community safety should not be used as a political football. This sounds to me more like a grab for headlines rather than something of substance.
“If you can show me the research where this has been effective, fantastic. I’d like to have a look at it.”
Victorian Premier John Brumby said the Department of Corrections was trialling GPS monitoring technology this year.