WHY is it a crime to beg when charity touts can ask us for money on the streets? Beggars can be annoyingly in your face at times but so can eagle-eyed collectors for UNICEF or Plan International, wielding clipboards, waving and waiting to pounce ...
Begging alms ... is a crime under the Summary Offences Act. Often police turn a blind eye to this crime and, importantly, they'll refer beggars to agencies for help. Still, between 2009 and 2011, the Magistrates Court heard 393 cases related to begging. (More than 44 per cent were dismissed but in 34 per cent of cases fines were issued.) In 2011-12, Victorian police processed 240 alleged beggars.Apparently it's all to save us from being annoyed.
Traditionally, categorising begging as a crime was justified as a preventive measure that promoted public safety. But does this argument wash? Personally, I'd rather a junkie ask me for money to fund his habit (I am, after all, free to say no) than rob my house. According to the Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic, a further reason cited for criminalising begging has been its "annoyance" factor. Indeed, in 2011, a County Court judge described how the law helped prevent beggars "imposing upon members of the community going about their business".It beggars belief that you can be prosecuted for alleging that you are poor and that someone in the street might be able to spare you a bit of loose change. Yes, I have seen some amazingly dressed and articulate beggars in my time. Though for really buggered-up beggars, try Pakistan where poverty practitioners are often seen with limbs missing and an eye or two gorged out.
And you thought the bloke on Elizabeth Street was annoying.
Words © 2013 Irfan Yusuf