By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim
Yarrawonga woman Amber Holt was driving to work on 7 May, when she heard over the car radio that prime minister Scott Morrison was attending the Country Women Association’s state conference at the Albury Entertainment Centre.
The 24-year-old Cotton On employee pulled her car over at a Coles supermarket. She bought a carton of eggs and proceeded onto the entertainment venue, where the then unelected prime minister was speaking with rural women, as part of his campaign for the coming federal election.
Ms Holt entered the event and spotted the PM speaking with a couple of women. She then made her way over, walked up behind Mr Morrison and tossed an egg onto the crown of his head. The egg proceeded to ricochet off the prime minister’s skull with its shell unbroken.
Mr Morrison’s security guards tackled his assailant to the ground. The scuffle resulted in a 70-year-old woman being knocked over. The PM reached down, helped the woman to her legs and gave her a hug.
Ms Holt was charged with common assault over throwing the egg, as well as drug possession, as she was found to have 0.3 grams of cannabis in her pocket following her arrest. Holt explained that she carried out the failed egging in response to the PM’s treatment of refugees in offshore detention.
The offences in NSW
On 27 May, Ms Holt appeared in Albury Local Court. She pleaded guilty to one count of drug possession. But, in regard to the charge of common assault, her lawyers and police were set to have further discussions, so she didn’t enter a plea. Her case has been adjourned until 8 July.
The offence of common assault falls under section 61 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). It sets out that the crime involves an assault that doesn’t cause actual bodily harm. An assault is any act that intentionally or recklessly causes “another to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence”.
The law definition of assault differs to its everyday use, as while people commonly think of assault as the inflicting of unlawful force upon another, in law, along with the act of unlawful force, the mere threat of it can also constitute an assault, if the subject of it feels fear of violence.
In Morrison’s case, the egging constitutes an assault, as force was inflicted upon him. If it’s shown Holt meant to subject the PM to unlawful violence, she perpetrated the act intentionally.
Doing time is unlikely
The offence of common assault is most often dealt with in the Local Court, although the matter can be committed to the District Court. The maximum penalty for the offence is 2 years imprisonment, regardless of whether it was perpetrated with intent or recklessly.
According to Judicial Commission of NSW data, the vast majority of offenders found guilty of common assault receive a non-custodial sentence. For those found guilty in the Local Court, only 9 percent were sent to gaol, while in the District Court, almost 38 percent were put away.
Despite an offender being much more likely to be incarcerated for common assault if they go before a judge, this disparity between District Court and Local Court outcomes isn’t as distinct when it comes to sentencing.
The average prison sentence for common assault in the Local Court is 7.7 months, with a non-parole period of 5.4 months. In the District Court, the average sentence is 7.6 months imprisonment, with a non-parole of 6.1 months.
The prosecution’s aim
There are two types of common assault offences: those where physical force is applied – as in the case with the egg hitting Mr Morrison’s head – and those incidents where no physical force is involved, which could be the raising of a fist in a threatening manner.
In the case of an assault with no physical force, the Crown must prove beyond reasonable doubt that an accused caused another to perceive a physical threat, whereas when force is applied, it must be proven that the accused struck, touched or applied force in a different manner.
For both forms of common assault, the prosecution must also prove the accused carried out the act without the consent of the other person, that they perpetrated the act with intent or recklessness and that the conduct had no lawful excuse.
Assault without physical harm
Striking a person with a fist or a stick can constitute a common assault if the act doesn’t cause injury which is more than “transient or trifling”. In the same way, throwing a bottle at a person can amount to the offence if no physical injury transpires.
Striking a horse to cause a rider to fall off can be an assault. So too can the raising of a hand in a menacing fashion, thereby causing fear in another person, even though the perpetrator might never end up striking the other.
Both spitting and biting can constitute an assault, when no actual bodily harm results from the act.
Both these forms of common assault are taken quite seriously due to the chance of causing disease or infection, as well as the dim view society takes of this kind of behaviour.
Even causing another person to fear for their immediate safety can amount to a common assault, even where no contact is made at all. So, for example, raising a fist at another person in anger and thereby causing them to apprehend that they will be struck can amount to a common assault.
Usman’s brother guilty
Meanwhile, the brother of Australian cricket player Usman Khawaja has been found guilty of common assault in Waverley Local Court. On 13 June, Arsalan Khawaja was given a 9 month conditional release order (CRO) relating to the offence.
A CRO allows an offender found guilty of an offence to avoid conviction by agreeing to enter into a good behaviour bond. There are a number of conditions that can relate to the bond, two of which are mandatory: not committing any other offence and appearing in court if called to.
Mr Khawaja was found to have assaulted Sydney parking ranger Kamini Narayan. The 39-year-old screamed at the Randwick Council worker, who was writing him up a ticket, before grabbing her phone and throwing it last August. The former IBM worker made Ms Narayan fear for her safety.
However, Mr Khawaja is already in prison and he has to remain there, as he was refused bail over a charge of allegedly framing an ex-UNSW colleague with a fake terrorism plot.