Thursday 9 November 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council



[11.35 a.m.]

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, there are many points I do not need to cover because they have been so well covered by the members for Launceston and Mersey.  This bill is a step towards the Government's intended abolition of suspended sentences, to which I, like many others, including most legally qualified Tasmanians, are totally opposed.  I am sure we will engage in that argument in the future, but in the meantime we can consider this bill in isolation. 

As the Leader said in the second reading speech, this bill is intended to increase the range of sentencing options available to address criminal behaviour in Tasmania.  I appreciate the briefing the Leader provided for us today; some of my questions were answered.  It almost seemed she knew exactly what she was talking about when she was addressing some of the issues we were discussing. 

Clause 7, though, is somewhat puzzling.  In the implementation of powers available to the judiciary under the bill, reference to 'court' means not just the Magistrates Court but also the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal.  Appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal are frequently about the severity of the sentence imposed by the trial judge.  It is going to be interesting to see how three judges sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal will be able to agree that a sentence of imprisonment imposed by the trial judge be set aside, and then direct that the matter be sent back to a magistrate, whose standing is much less than that of the sentencing judge, to determine a drug order program for the convicted person.  I may receive some response to that circumstance.

Most of the bill deals with sentencing drug offenders, but it does not spell out whether there will be magistrates who have a particular skill in management of drug users.  Not knowing the breadth and depth of the issue and how often magistrates are dealing with these cases, one would trust that skills are built and there is strong understanding of the issue. 

It is probable that more magistrates will need to be appointed to deal with drug offenders.  That question was highlighted during our briefing.  Will the budget be able to cope with the expense of additional magistrates and their accommodation?  If this program is going to be utilised more then there is going to be a need for expansion of resources available.  I heard what the Leader said about the 'suck it and see it' principle that might apply in this process.

The effectiveness of the bill is going to depend on four points.  There must be enough magistrates dedicated to dealing with drug offenders.  Hospitals must have the ability to receive and treat offenders remanded by the courts.  There must be adequate staff to supervise offenders to ensure conditions of bail are observed.  Finally, there will be need to be prompt reports to courts about breaches of bail and other orders.  There is probably a bit of ironing out to be done but I support the thrust of the bill.