From sex romps to protests, public nuisance exposed
PLANNING on having a big New Year's Eve? Don't join the almost 8000 Queenslanders sentenced for public nuisance offences last financial year.
A report released by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council found that misbehaving Queenslanders were fined an average of $469 for behaviour that was disorderly, offensive, threatening or obscene.
Of the 7527 people sentenced for 8440 public nuisance offences over the 2018-2019 financial year, 73.2 per cent were male. In one case, the offender was an 81-year-old. In another, police arrested and charged a 10-year-old.
Only 7 per cent of those sentenced were juveniles.
The most common penalty was a fine.
"Behaviour that is disorderly, offensive, threatening or violent, and interferes with a member of the public peacefully passing through or enjoying a public place (can constitute a public nuisance offence)," the QSAC snapshot details. "(It) Can include using offensive, obscene, indecent, abusive of threatening language."
The maximum penalty is a $1334 fine or six months' jail, with larger penalties if the offending happens in the vicinity of a licensed venue.
Bond University criminologist and former senior detective Dr Terry Goldsworthy said police tried to be tolerant of public nuisance offenders, but quick action was often needed to stop situations from escalating.
"Public nuisance can quickly turn into a brawl, and as we know, one punch can be deadly," he said.
Dr Goldsworthy said major entertainment precincts were usually patrolled by plainclothes officers and monitored by CCTV - so bad behaviour would usually bring a quick police response.
"One New Year's Eve, I was in an unmarked police car on the Gold Coast and we saw someone jaywalking towards us who then proceeded to kick the car door. He worked out it was a police car when we jumped out and arrested him. That was the end of his New Year's Eve."
Three women escaped being charged with a public nuisance offence after their daytime drunken sex romp on a busy Fortitude Valley street was captured on camera - and widely shared - earlier this year. But the scene was also witnessed by countless pedestrians - including elderly shoppers, mothers with prams and restaurant workers who could be seen walking by.
The women performed lewd acts on each other on busy James St, with the romp broken up by police after about 10 minutes. Officers took their details and sent them off in an Uber.
"They did not witness what is by definition wilful exposure," he said. "You cannot see the women's genitalia, hence they did not witness an offence."
But Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts said the video evidence would constitute a public nuisance offence.
"People are entitled to enjoy their lunch or enjoy the use of public spaces without being forced to watch that type of behaviour," he said.
Extinction Rebellion members were often seen in court charged with public nuisance offences after staging repeated protests that blocked traffic.
Serial offender Eric Herbert was arrested at least eight times while staging protests and was charged with various offences, including public nuisance. His penalties included probation and a community service order.
"We try to assist people in court without moving to imprisonment for such a young person," Magistrate Judith Daley told the 20-year-old.
"Science tells us your brain hasn't fully developed," she said.
Police spend months in planning for New Year's Eve festivities to keep revellers safe, with the Brisbane CBD attracting crowds of up to 85,000 to see fireworks displays.
"New Year's Eve is the busiest time of the year in the policing world," Assistant Commissioner Cameron Harsley said last year.
"It's a time of year that we look after each other, that anti-social behaviour is not tolerated, that you start to think about planning ahead for yourself and your families."