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Justice Legislation (Mandatory Sentencing) Bill 2019 - Second Reading

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Tags: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I won't speak for long on this legislation. I commend Ms Butler on her excellent and thoughtful contribution and my fabulous colleague, Dr Woodruff, and Ms Haddad. All the points that were made by my colleagues on that side of the House are valid and they should be heard and they should be understood by Government, but they are not.

There is one thing in this debate I am sure we can all agree on and that is that people who inflict serious sexual crimes on children should go to jail. There is no dispute about that whatsoever, but if you want an understanding of how obvious it is that this is a political exercise, I challenge members of the Government or anyone who is watching here today to go back over Mrs Rylah's contribution. You could have played Labor bingo with Mrs Rylah's speech, so frequently did she refer to the Labor Party. She may even have mentioned the word 'Labor' more than she said the word 'children'.

This legislation is a political exercise after the Government has had a disastrous October and November. It has alienated the entire Westbury community by deciding to plonk a northern prison in that beautiful town. Quite understandably, the people of Westbury said, 'You have to be kidding, haven't you?'. There is anger in the community of Westbury, and rightly so.

Then we had the Auditor-General's report which made it clear that as a result of this Government's bent law and order policies, Risdon is bursting at the seams. This Government's tough-on-crime agenda for which, to quote them, 'they make no apologies', is jamming more people into Risdon Prison. It is not making our community any safer, just as this legislation will not make our children any safer.

This is not about protecting children. If that was the Government's priority, they would have listened to the previous commissioner for children, Mark Morrissey, who was oxygen clear about the trauma mandatory minimum sentencing can impose on children who are victims because the perpetrator pleads not guilty, requiring the matter to be heard in a court . If children and their wellbeing is the Government's number one priority it would not bring in legislation like this.

So, we have an Attorney-General who has a law degree, and an independent member for Clark who has a law degree, who are backing mandatory minimum sentencing in the face of people with expertise - judges, lawyers, people who pick up the pieces, for example, at the Sexual Assault Support Service, who have not backed this legislation. The Law Society points out that mandatory minimum sentencing can lead to unjust outcomes for victims. The Bar Association says that mandatory sentences do not work and are fundamentally wrong in principle.

The Law Council of Australia in its 2014 policy discussion paper on mandatory sentencing, which is in the Senate's report from the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee into Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2019, handed down in November 2019, has a dissenting report from Senator Nick McKim on behalf of the Greens, quotes the Law Council of Australia saying that -

Mandatory minimum sentences impose unacceptable restrictions on judicial discretion and independence, and undermines fundamental rule of law principles. The rule of law underpins Australia's legal system and ensures that everyone, including governments, are subject to the law and that citizens are protected from arbitrary abuses of power. Mandatory sentencing is also inconsistent with Australia's voluntary assumed international human rights obligations.

The Sexual Assault Support Service in its submission to the Senate inquiry said -

Whilst we are strongly supportive of reform to strengthen punishments against those who sexually abuse children, we do not feel that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that mandatory minimum sentencing is an effective response.

So, the Tasmanian Sentencing Advisory Council's position on the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences is that they will -

Create unjustified unfairness without achieving its stated aims of deterring offenders and increasing transparency.

Yet, the Attorney-General and the member for Clark with their law degrees, they know better than the experts and the peak legal bodies. They know better than the Sexual Assault Support Service, the Bar Association and Ambulance Tasmania. How shameful to have a law degree and to stand by this dreadful legislation. Your legal reputations will be trashed and you will deserve it.

Members interjecting.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order.

Ms O'CONNOR - We have an Attorney-General who supports these laws, an Attorney-General who was in Cabinet when the anti-protest laws were brought in, the Attorney-General who is prepared to support the most draconian anti-protest laws tabled anywhere in the country in contravention of advice from the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute, constitutional experts like Professor George Williams and Dr Brendan Gogarty. What would they know? They are just experts.

We are the politicians in here with our law degrees. We know better. That is what they are saying. They know better than the former commissioner for children. They are apparently unconcerned about his advice that mandatory minimum sentencing would create more trauma for child victims.

I want to close on this: we are not elected to this place to buck pass legislation to the Legislative Council.

Ms Ogilvie - Is that not the process?

Ms O'CONNOR - No.

Ms Ogilvie - Yes, it is.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is not the process. I am sorry to have to explain this to you, Ms Ogilvie. In this House, legislation is tabled, it is debated, amendments can be made. We can decide to pass or amend, or reject legislation.

Ms Ogilvie - Ms O'Connor, you have been quite robust in your contributions so far. It goes to the Legislative Council because that is our system. I would have thought you would agree with me about the size of the House of parliament.

Ms O'CONNOR - We can do that, but, no. The independent member for Clark with her law degree has abrogated -

Ms Ogilvie - Has made up her own mind.

Ms O'CONNOR - her responsibility as a legislator in the House of Assembly. Now you can argue that you are a jurisprudence purist and then buck pass your responsibility to the upper House, but it does not stand. It does not hold water. When we come in to this place, Dr Woodruff and I know it is our responsibility to look at every piece of legislation on its merits, seek to amend it if it can be improved, vote against it if it cannot, or support it. Never once in my 11 years as a parliamentarian have I made the decision to buck pass my responsibility as a legislator and let the upper House do the hard work. That is what has happened in here today. It does not bode well for this parliament to have a member for Clark who claims to be an independent, who votes with the Government all the time, self-confessed on Leon Compton's program the other morning, mind you -

Ms Ogilvie - This is a personal attack.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, you can claim it is a personal attack. A teaspoon of concrete for you, Ms Ogilvie. You are elected to the House of Assembly. Everybody raises their voice in this place from time to time.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order. All comments through the Chair please.

Ms O'CONNOR - Ms Ogilvie, I recommend to you each morning before you come in here to have a teaspoon of concrete; otherwise you will not survive in here.

Ms Ogilvie confirmed on Leon Compton that she votes most of the time with the Government now. In fact, the only time I can remember Ms Ogilvie not voting with the Government was on support for the climate strike, on a notice of motion, not on a piece of legislation.

It is an appalling abrogation of the member for Clark's responsibility to her constituents to look at every piece of legislation that comes into this place on its merits, to go through it, to determine whether it reflects your values or - in the case of the Greens or Labor - your policy and respond to that legislation accordingly -

Ms Ogilvie - I am not a member of a party, Cassy, you see. This is the problem.

Ms O'CONNOR - participate in the debate. But you are allegedly, Ms Ogilvie, an independent.

Ms Ogilvie - Not allegedly, I am an independent.

Ms O'CONNOR - An independent who votes with the Government all the time and it will be interesting to see what you do, Ms Ogilvie, when those draconian anti-protest laws are debated in this place. The unfortunate vibe I get from your contribution on Leon Compton is that you will be supporting the anti-protest laws as well.

Well, it is a disgraceful abrogation of your responsibilities, Ms Ogilvie. You have let down legal stakeholders who look to people with legal experience in this place for some comfort when legislation is going through here. I do not have a law degree. I do not have any degree and I am happy to confess that. What I do have is a set of values and a work ethic which means that when I come into this place and a bill is tabled, I will give it my best shot to scrutinise it as it should be, not give it the old 'punt' upstairs, which is what the so-called independent member for Clark has just done.