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Tuesday, 28 November 2006
Page: 83


Ms ROXON (5:37 PM) —Labor oppose these amendments, and I would like to record our opposition. We will be voting against the Crimes Amendment (Bail and Sentencing) Bill 2006 in its entirety and we oppose the specific amendments. We understand why the government is moving the first amendment; it is doing this on the basis that it is better to have a bad, consistent law than a bad, inconsistent law. But, make no mistake about it, this amendment does not actually improve the law in any way. We are opposed to the removal of the reference to cultural background in bail and sentencing procedures, as I have already indicated, as has been indicated in the Senate and as has been indicated by many other speakers.

Amendment (1) is an amendment to the procedure—in this case, when it is a discharge after conviction—and of course we also oppose this amendment. The reason that the question was raised at all in the Senate was simply to point out in the debate that the true motive for this bill was merely for it to be a diversion from the failures of the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the exposure of just how sloppy the government’s work had been in preparing and drafting this legislation: one rule for one provision and one rule for another. If the government did actually believe that this bill was about improving the law, then it would have been thorough, much more professional and much more consistent in its drafting, and it would have supplied a written explanatory memorandum that meticulously laid the case for change. I am not sure that the newly tabled explanatory memorandum does that.

The government is legislating on the run with these amendments. The Attorney-General has the audacity to mention that the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General is currently reviewing these provisions, but still the Commonwealth wants to act first. The government tries to pretend that it is an act of leadership rather than idiocy to act before any proper consideration of whether or not this will deliver what the government pretends it will. The government even calls it ‘an act of leadership’ because it would be unfair to ask the states to do this if the government were not doing it. It certainly would be unfair: it would be unfair when, despite the spin that the Attorney-General wants to put on the agreement from COAG, all the states have rejected this bill. All the states have indicated that they will not make changes that are consistent with this bill. So this leadership will actually leave the Commonwealth out there on its own, having legislated in a way that really will have very little impact on any Commonwealth criminal activity which is likely to be undertaken. Nevertheless, it wants to use this as an example when it will have no impact on the much more important issue of Indigenous violence and violence in Indigenous communities.

Amendments (2), (3) and (4) all deal with forensic procedures and are completely unrelated to the rest of the bill. It seems to me that the government obviously was a little put out by the questions that were raised—perhaps those raised by my colleague Senator Ludwig in the other place—about not being consistent. The government seems to have done a Google search for every time customary law has appeared and has now said that it is going to remove any reference, even in procedures which have nothing to do with bail and sentencing and nothing to do with what the rest of the bill is dealing with, and without any consideration of whether or not it is appropriate to make this removal.

It seems to me also quite extraordinary that we can be here at the last minute debating changes that deal with a different section of the act—entirely different procedures such as collecting DNA and other things—having gone through a Senate committee process that did not deal with these provisions at all because they were not even proposed at that time. They have not been talked about within the community and they certainly do not have the cover of any agreement with COAG or SCAG, no matter how far the Attorney wants to stretch it. It seems bizarre to me that the government moves these amendments in such an ill-considered way.

It is also quite extraordinary that a number of the speakers on the other side of the House were trying to make some point about the other provisions being introduced by the Keating government. However, they were supported by the previous Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, when he was in this place, and of course the current Minister for Justice and Customs, who has now had a change of heart on this issue. These provisions—the ones that are being amended by amendments (2) to (4)—were actually introduced by this government when it was amending the procedures in 1997. You have speakers on the other side of the House saying, ‘We have to amend these things because of these terrible things that people did under the Keating government,’ and now we have to amend them because of the terrible things that have been done under your government. It is all a complete mess and completely inconsistent. I do not think that there is any argument that is very persuasive for the need to do this. (Extension of time granted)

I think it is extraordinary that the previous Attorney-General was prepared to boast at the time of introducing these other provisions relating to forensics, and the model Crimes Amendment (Forensic Procedures) Bill 2000 was widely circulated for comment to about 600 groups and individuals representing many interests. The long list of those consulted included defence lawyers, law societies, civil liberties groups and legal aid organisations. We can contrast that with the current bill: the Senate committee condemned the government for its failure to properly consult in relation to the changes being considered, and these changes we are dealing with now were not even a twinkle in anybody’s eye at that time. What a stark example of how arrogant the government has become after its 10 years in power. The government has completely changed its tune when it comes to involving the wider community in the legislative process. The Prime Minister said he would not let control of the Senate go to his head, but it is quite clear that it has gone to the head of many of his ministers.

When the forensic procedures were originally introduced, Mr Williams spoke in this House of the many safeguards in the bills that would protect the rights of individuals, with particular provisions for Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders. There you have it: the first Attorney-General of the first Howard government promoting specific safeguards for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. Here, now, you have the Attorney-General of the last Howard government removing those same safeguards. How the standards seem to have declined since Attorney-General Williams left this place!

It is contemptuous of good process, it is contemptuous of the stakeholders and it is contemptuous of what the Senate recommended. I have to say that I also think it is contemptuous of the general liberal beliefs that we now see so rarely in this place. It is certainly contemptuous of the Australian people. Surely there is a better way for us to make laws, and we should do this in a more considered manner.

I am also interested in the brief that was provided to us about the latest amendments that the government has just introduced in this place—that is, the government is convinced that it is okay to remove a reference to customary beliefs because, and I am quoting from the government’s brief to the government members committee that was provided to us, that ‘the term religious beliefs encompasses all deeply held personal beliefs’. I think that would be an extraordinary revelation to many of our religious leaders, to think that any strongly held personal view that someone has will be considered a religious view, and I think it is certainly an affront to many people who do not regard themselves as religious who have many strongly held personal views.

It is an extremely contentious thing to say that customary beliefs or any other beliefs that people might hold can be caught up in religious beliefs. Maybe there will be another time or place to have a theological debate about whether that is right, but to me it is clear evidence of quite bad law-making for an assertion such as that to be made, for changes to our Crimes Act to be made on the basis of such an assertion, and for customary beliefs—which may well have nothing to do with whether someone has a belief in whether there is a god of any type in another place and may not be able to be referred to in any way as religious beliefs—to be automatically channelled into that reference. I think it is quite extraordinary. But this is not the time or the place to be able to convince the government of that sort of argument.

We strongly oppose this bill; we oppose the amendment. We do not think it makes the bill better, and in a number of instances we think it makes it significantly worse, particularly with the addition of changes to the forensic procedures part of the bill. This is an entirely separate part of the bill. It is completely separate to the bail and sentencing provisions, but obviously, if your staff or the department do a search, you are saying, ‘We want to be consistent, so we’ll just consistently make fools of ourselves and take these provisions out of the act.’ We cannot support it; we do not support it. We think the government has hit quite a low point in putting forward such a hastily drafted bill with such poor policy background for it. It will not help Indigenous members of the community; it will not help the broader community. It will just have to be fixed up when we win the next election.