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Minimum Mandatory Sentencing

7 August 2019

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise in my capacity as the Greens spokesperson for children to express my extreme disappointment, and in fact disgust, at the content of the motion that we are debating today, at the unashamed politicisation of children who have been sexually abused or at risk of it in order to score political point. As Ms Haddad has just pointed out, this motion in itself is wrong and deeply flawed. Unfortunately, we are going to see, as Mr Tucker indicated, an attempt to keep bringing this issue back as a talking point, politicising children who have been harmed by sexual predators, by paedophiles in order to try to score points against Labor.

We are here to act in the best interests of children, Mr Tucker, and the advice from the Sentencing Advisory Council is very clear. They are strongly opposed to mandatory minimum sentencing. My recollection is that the Commissioner for Children and Young People is opposed to mandatory minimum sentences in this capacity. One of the reasons is that mandatory minimum sentences reduce the incentive for offenders to plead guilty, which means that there is a much higher risk of a child who has been sexually abused having to go through a court process, retraumatising them and compounding the damage.

If your concern is actually the wellbeing of children you cannot support mandatory minimum sentencing. The Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council found that there is ample evidence that mandatory sentencing can and will be circumvented by lawyers, judges and juries, both by accepted mechanisms, such as plea bargaining, and by less visible means. The Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council notes:

The outcome of this avoidance is to jeopardise seriously another essential aim of mandatory sentencing, that is to ensure that proportionate and consistent sentences are imposed. Even if this circumvention, both formal and informal, could be addressed, imposing a prescribed sanction or range of sanctions for offences which invariably encompass a broad range of behaviours guarantees only a very superficial, artificial consistency and one that trades its subtlety for simplicity.

When we go to the issue of the sentences that are handed down by courts in relation to paedophiles, the Sentencing Advisory Council in their 2016 report to the previous Attorney-General made it clear:

There are already indications in the current research conducted by the council that suggest that the Supreme Court has increased sentencing for serious sex offences, particularly those involving children. Current sentences are not only generally heavier than they have been, but it may be that they have not plateaued yet. The decision in Tasmania vs KR is illustrative of this trend. In this case the penalty of 15 years imprisonment was imposed for three counts of rape and one count of maintaining a sexual relationship. This was the longest sentence imposed to date for sexual offending against children and there may be flow-on effects from a landmark sentence of this kind for the same crimes, as well as other sexual offences committed against children.

We have seen conservatives in government do this before, where they undermine the judiciary, where they will criticise judges who are not able to defend themselves in the public domain, as we just heard from the member for Lyons, Mr Tucker. If this Government is serious about protecting children from paedophiles it will invest much more. For example, it could ask the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute, with the widest possible mandate, to make recommendations about how we as a society can better protect children and reduce offences against children. This is not a notice of motion that is being brought forward in the best interests of the child. If there were mandatory minimum sentences imposed it would not, all the evidence tells us, keep children safer. It would not reduce the incidence of crimes against children and shouldn't that be our aim? You would think that would be our aim.

We recognise this for the junk, highly political notice of motion that it is. Mr Tucker, you might think you are on a merry ride here with this notice of motion, which now has two solid errors of fact in it, but what you are doing is not going to keep children safer in Tasmania. It politicises children who have been harmed by vile people and you can do better than that, Mr Tucker. You should have the courage to bring this on for a vote and then we can move on to other matters of substance in relation to how we can better look after children who we know look to us for protection.

Having this punitive approach to these crimes against children is doing nothing for the children and, in fact, it could harm them more because it will put them through court cases that will retraumatise them and compound the damage.