Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


Crimes Amendment (Remissions of Sentences) Bill 2021

11:56 am

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Remissions of Sentences) Bill 2021. The Australian Greens will definitely not be supporting this bill, and I'm sure it comes as no surprise. It takes away people's human rights, which is what this government is very clever at. The bill seeks to amend the Crimes Act to repeal section 19AA, which applies remissions or reductions granted under state or territory laws to federal sentences.

Remissions or reductions in sentences are usually granted in recognition of restrictions placed on imprisoned people that are necessary in emergency circumstances. Usually, remissions are automatically applied to reduce the federal offender's head sentence as soon as they have been granted. Victoria is the only jurisdiction with laws providing significant remissions or reductions that apply to an imprisoned person under a federal offence. In Victoria, these remissions are known as emergency management days, EMDs.

This bill would repeal section 19AA of the Crimes Act 1914—so old—so that it would no longer apply reductions or remissions in sentences granted to imprisoned people serving periods of imprisonment for federal offences. It would apply to people imprisoned for a federal sentence who are serving that sentence in a state or territory jail immediately before the date of commencement. However, this bill would be retrospective and take away remissions or reductions to people who have already received them. Therefore, any remissions or reductions they had already been granted are taken to be of no effect.

As of June 2021, 1,151 people were imprisoned for federal offences around this country. Of these, 317 are imprisoned in Victoria. In Victoria, emergency management days are granted to reduce the sentence of imprisoned people for good behaviour or to imprisoned people who suffer a disruption or deprivation during an emergency, or an industrial dispute in the jail where the sentence is being served, as well as for other unforeseen circumstances—like COVID-19. Generally, emergency management days provide an incentive—hello, an incentive!—for imprisoned people to maintain good behaviour. But you don't want that; you want to cause riots. This could or would result in these people being further deprived of their liberties. So, they'll get punished for being on good behaviour. It makes a lot of sense, right! But this incentive in turn helps to maintain security and good order in prisons.

Secondly, emergency management days compensate imprisoned people for the impacts of increased deprivation and disruption during their imprisonment. This has been really important during the current COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in even greater restrictions and deprivation of liberties in jails—not to mention that many of these jails didn't even do the minimum to prevent COVID infections; some didn't even have soap. When this country was running around telling everyone to wash their hands, prisons didn't even have soap for people to wash their hands with. So, 'minimum protection' for prisoners really means minimum. And now this government wants to kick imprisoned people even further with this bill that would apply retrospectively. The prisoners are told, 'Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, although we said that you're going to get out earlier and we were going to compensate you for that time, actually, no, we're not going to do that anymore.' Tell me how you'd feel if you were locked up.

The Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, in Scrutiny Digest 15 of 2021, reported:

The committee has a long-standing scrutiny concern about provisions that have the effect of applying retrospectively as it challenges a basic value of the rule of law—

To the lawyers: do you hear that? The rule of law—I'm not a lawyer; you should know better—

that, in general, laws should only operate prospectively (not retrospectively)—

Don't go backwards!

The committee has a particular concern if the legislation will, or might, have a detrimental effect on individuals.

In its scrutiny report of the bill, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights noted:

Questions remain as to whether the measure is arbitrary, noting that it does not only apply prospectively to ensure future grants of remissions will not apply to federal offenders, but also applies retrospectively so that those who have already had remissions applied will no longer receive them.

This government is as committed to not upholding basic human rights as they are to not being accountable for their many, many failures. We see what this government is doing—trying to ram through these nonsense law and order bills so that the country won't see how dysfunctional they really are.

This bill should not proceed. Instead, the government should enact a human rights charter. But they're too scared to do that: we don't want people in this country to have human rights, do we?—because you want to keep abusing them! We need a charter of human rights in this country to ensure that no-one is blocked from asserting their rights and dignities—for example, by preventing the retrospective enacting of laws. All you've done all week is bring incredibly problematic legislation. Talk about unity in this country! You're bringing disgusting, racist, punitive legislation that ain't gonna win you votes at the next election. You're kidding yourselves. You've got half of your bench and half of your party absolutely disgusted by some of your behaviour. They are quietly saying, 'I know it's really bad, you know?'

As I said, instead of bringing in incredibly problematic legislation, have a look at its serious impact on people's human rights and dignity. Because you care about that in your lives. You walk around free, privileged—very privileged, I might add—and you make up laws that hurt people and discriminate against people. That's what you're doing. How do you sleep at night knowing that? How do you sleep at night knowing that a person in prison has been locked down because the prison went on strike? The prison went on strike because you didn't give any favours to your mates running the private prisons, like Serco. You're in bed with them too. How do you sleep at night being buddies with Serco, which is hurting people in prison and detention centres—black, refugees? It's a horrible thought.

You can sleep well at night in your privileged little bed while that prisoner gets locked down because the prison went on strike last week. What happens with this bill? That prisoner thinks that they are getting out. They've been on good behaviour, they've been doing all the right things and they're looking forward to getting out a bit earlier because the prison went on strike. But, no, this government is saying: 'Well, sorry, we've changed our mind. We're going to introduce some legislation that takes all your rights away now. We know that you've been on good behaviour but we're going to take them away anyway. Bad luck, buddy!' Imagine if that were your family member—and I know you live in a privileged bubble; they're all protected—who got told that the government had just made a decision that takes away their rights even though they've been doing the right thing. We've just made a decision that's going to screw up their life even more.

We just want to keep you locked up so you stay away from my little white privileged family so I can live our perfect little life and not believe in climate change, not believe in working for the people who really, really need help and not worry about people's human rights. We're going to make decisions because we're so privileged that we don't care about those people. We don't care about blackfellas; we don't care about people in prisons; we don't care about refugees; we don't care about climate change; we don't even care about people voting for us anymore, because we're—I can't say the word—pretty 'effed'.


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