Wednesday, 19 August 2015
Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015; In Committee
Labor will be supporting these amendments. The Abbott government has continued to accuse Labor of not putting up a fight against organised crime because of our successful amendments to the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Psychoactive Substances and Other Measures) Bill 2014 which removed mandatory minimum sentencing for the trafficking of firearms into Australia, and this simply is not the case.
Back in 2012, Labor introduced legislation that would have increased the maximum penalty for firearm trafficking to life imprisonment. That would have made it the same as the maximum penalty for drug trafficking, and our position in this case is consistent with that position taken in 2012. While Labor supports the government's intentions to protect the community from gun related violence, we urge the Abbott government to adopt a similar sentencing regime in relation to the proposed firearms trafficking offences. This would send a strong message to serious criminals but avoid the issues associated with mandatory minimum sentences.
The Australian Labor Party maintains its position that the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of firearm trafficking offences should be avoided. We note that the provisions have already been considered and rejected by this parliament, and that the government has failed to justify the need for such provisions.
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee received evidence from a number of submitters who strongly oppose the introduction of these amendments. The Law Council of Australia referred to a number of unintended consequences of mandatory sentencing, which include undermining the community's confidence in the judiciary and the criminal justice system as a whole. For Senator Brandis's benefit—although he is not in the chamber at the moment—I should perhaps reiterate that point: the Law Council of Australia were concerned that this approach would undermine the community's confidence in the judiciary, one of Senator Brandis's principle concerns.
The Australian Human Rights Commission noted that these amendments give rise to the potential for injustices to occur, and run counter to the fundamental principle that punishment should fit the crime. We also note the concerns previously raised by state prosecutors who believe that these provisions can lead to unjust results and impose a significant burden on the justice system. In the committee hearings I questioned the DPP and asked, 'Can you not find some justification for this?' And really all they could allude to was that it was government policy, with no justification.
While there is no evidence that mandatory sentencing laws have a deterrent effect, there is clear evidence that they can result in injustice because they remove the discretion of a judge to take into account particular circumstances that may result in unintended consequences. In addition, mandatory sentencing removes any incentive for defendants to plead guilty, leading to longer, more contested and more costly trials.
Labor supports the intention to protect the community from gun-related violence. We do not support the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences. While there is no evidence that mandatory sentencing laws have a deterrent effect, there is clear evidence that they can result in injustice because they remove the judge's discretion. We have consistently urged the government to replace the imposition the of mandatory minimum sentences for firearm-trafficking offences with increased penalty provisions, with particular reference to the reforms proposed by Labor back in 2012.
Senator Lazarus's proposal to increase the maximum penalty for firearms to 20 years does send a strong message to serious criminals but also avoids the issues associated with mandatory minimum sentences. The proposal is consistent with the most serious firearm offences in most states and territories, and for these reasons we will support Senator Lazarus's amendment.