Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015; In Committee

12:38 pm

Photo of Penny WrightPenny Wright (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move Australian Greens amendment (2) on sheet 7736 to oppose schedule 6 of the bill.

(1) Schedule 5, page 10 (lines 1 to 26), TO BE OPPOSED.

(2) Schedule 6, page 11 (lines 1 to 23), TO BE OPPOSED.

Schedule 6 of this bill introduces mandatory minimum sentencing of five years imprisonment for firearm trafficking offences. In its 22nd report of the 44th Parliament, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights found that the mandatory sentencing amendments proposed in schedule 6 of this bill were 'likely to be incompatible with the right to a fair trial and the right not to be arbitrarily detained'—a human right which the Australian government has signed up to and has ratified.

Mandatory sentencing provisions have long been shown to be ineffective and unfair. For this reason, the Australian Greens have always opposed them whenever governments of any persuasion have sought to introduce them in what is often a populist bid to look like they are being tough on crime. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws remove the time honoured role for judges to exercise discretion and judgement by being able to take into account the circumstances surrounding a particular offence and offender.

There is absolutely no evidence that mandatory sentencing reduces crime, so why would a government want to introduce it? Again, one cannot help but come to the conclusion it is about looking like they are doing something, playing to a populist notion that having this kind of provision will actually prevent crime when in fact there is no evidence that that is the case. There is, however, much evidence that mandatory minimum sentencing can lead to manifest injustice. The Attorney-General's own department has confirmed under questioning that it is not aware of any cases where the current sentences for trafficking a firearms or firearm parts have been insufficient.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells has wanted to assuage our concerns about this provision by saying that because there would be a capacity for judges to use their discretion in relation to the setting of parole periods that that should be enough to allay our concerns. But of course the actual charge is a significant matter in that that is the charge and the sentence that a person would be subject to, and that would be on their record irrespective of the particular circumstances surrounding the offence. And it is that ability of a judge to judge, essentially, to look at the circumstances and to determine what is an appropriate sentence that is being removed by this proposed schedule.

The other issue I would raise is that the Senate recently conducted an inquiry into the capacity of law enforcement agencies to reduce gun violence in Australia. A lot of evidence was taken in that inquiry as to the derivation of illicit firearms in Australia. While there was a lot of huff and puff and a lot of assertions and claims being made about so-called porous borders—the coalition is very fond of using the term 'border' to press panic buttons in the Australian population—there was actually very little evidence before the inquiry to show that the main source of illicit guns in Australia, in the black market, is from trafficking. Certainly it is something that we need to be wary of. We need to look at strong laws to prevent trafficking; the Australian Greens are not complacent about that. But if the government is serious about guns getting into the hands of criminals then they need to look at the whole situation and they need to look at what will be effective changes to the law and not just changes that make it look like they are doing something when in fact there is no evidence that minimum mandatory sentencing would work.

For all these reasons, the Australian Greens are moving an amendment to remove schedule 6 from the bill.


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