Thursday 16 November 2017
Hansard of the Legislative Council
BILL 2017 (No. 55)
 Second Reading

Mr FINCH (Rosevears)  - Mr President, this is probably going to be early, because there is more information.  From the briefings there is more for us to cogitate on, but from what I have heard today I am likely to support the bill into the Committee stage and then flesh out new developments, ideas and amendments.

If I get this off my chest, I can listen to what other members have to say when the debate resumes, and also I will concentrate during the Committee stage.  Anyone with a logical mind and a little imagination can see a suspended sentence is a strong incentive not to reoffend.  A quote from the Australian Lawyers Alliance from an email on 12 October last year puts this argument in a nutshell -

Suspended sentences are in many cases an effective and appropriate sentencing measure, and are used to achieve both punitive and rehabilitative ends during the sentencing process.
The Lawyers Alliance believes that if suspended sentences are to be abolished, they must be replaced with appropriate sentencing options and the Lawyers Alliance sees no sign of this.

I have seen absolutely no evidence that abolishing suspended sentences would reduce crime.  In the long term it would probably increase it by putting more people into the school of crime, Risdon Prison.  The rub is, as we have heard from a question asked today, that we are pretty close to capacity at Risdon Prison.

Mr Valentine - Twenty-five spaces.

Mr FINCH - Twenty-five spaces.  Even as we speak, they are getting fewer and fewer.  I am confused about exactly what the Government wants to achieve by abolishing suspended sentences, apart from trying to convince some Tasmanians that it is tough on crime.

This bill is driven by idealism, and a rigid idealism at that.  This House has rejected some, but not all, mandatory sentencing bills in the past and this bill falls into a similar category.

Tasmania has a well-trained and highly respected judiciary.  We should be giving our magistrates and judges more sentencing options, not fewer.  As I implied, this House has generally been opposed to mandatory sentencing and it has been suggested it is more opposed to bills originating from a Liberal Government.  I heard that comment on the wireless the other day.

If you look at the record of bills from any party since 1947, you will see a fairly constant, although very low, rate of outright rejection of proposed legislation.  Bills are more likely to be amended than rejected.  The recent bills that have been blocked have been about mandatory sentencing.  Of the five from the Liberal Government that were blocked, three were about mandatory sentencing.

Mr Hall - Six.

Mr FINCH - The numbers are going up as I speak.  What a routine this is.  However, three of those were about mandatory sentencing.

Talking about blocking, what normally happens is that a government will pull a bill rather than take it to a stage where it is actually blocked.  That argument and that comparison are odious.  The point is that the comparison was not right, was not appropriate and did not offer the fullness of the figures available from our researchers in the library.

It could be argued that this House rejects bills which it considers are not in the interest of Tasmanians.  As far as I am concerned, I could not care less where a bill comes from, whether it is from a Labor government, a Labor-Greens government or a Liberal government.  All I am interested in is whether it is a good bill, is in the best interests of Tasmanians and whether it can be amended.

As an independent, I have no interest in party politics, only in good legislation.  That is the point we have tried to make in recent times in respect of the attacks we see on the processes of the Legislative Council.
This bill is a step towards the Government's intended abolition of suspended sentences, to which I, like many others, including our most legally qualified Tasmanians, are totally opposed.

I am sure we will engage in an argument in the future, but in the meantime, we can consider this bill in isolation.

As the honourable Leader said in her second reading speech, this bill is intended to increase the range of sentencing options available to address criminal behaviour in Tasmania.

We have clause 7, which is somewhat puzzling, at least to me, in the implementation of the 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 over the severity of the sentence imposed by the trial judge.  It will be interesting to see how three judges sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal will be able to agree a sentence of imprisonment imposed by the trial judge be set aside and direct the matter be sent back to a magistrate whose standing is much less than the sentencing judge to determine, say, a drug order program for the convicted person.

Most of the bill deals with sentencing drug offenders, but it does not seem to spell out whether there will be magistrates who have a particular skill in management of drug users.  I spoke with our former chief magistrate, Michael Hill, and he said he had developed those skills in management of drug users, but he is a rarity.  It needs particular skills.  It is probable more magistrates will need to be appointed to deal with drug offenders.  The question remains:  will the state budget be able to cope with the expense of the additional magistrates and their accommodation?

The effectiveness of the bill depends on four crucial points.  One, there must be enough magistrates dedicated to dealing with drug offenders.  Two, hospitals must have the ability to receive and treat offenders remanded by the courts.  Three, there must be adequate staff to supervise offenders to ensure conditions of bail are observed.  Four, there will need to be prompt reports to courts of breaches of bail and other orders.

I support the thrust of this bill.  Ironing out needs to be done and I am happy to vote to put this bill into Committee.