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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3981

Senator BOB COLLINS(1.03 p.m.) —The International Transfer of Prisoners Bill 1997 provides mechanisms through which Australians imprisoned abroad may be returned to Australia to serve out their sentences. The bill also provides for foreign nationals imprisoned in Australia to be returned to their home countries to complete their sentences. The bill makes this provision both in relation to prisoners convicted of war crimes and to prisoners convicted of general offences.

In the case of prisoners convicted of war crimes, this bill complements Australia's commitment to prosecuting international war criminals. Australia has vigorously assisted the international efforts in this regard through our participation, pursuant to the International War Crimes Tribunal Act 1995, in the tribunals established to deal with war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. That legislation was moved by the former Labor government and received bipartisan support.

I note that some concerns were expressed at the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs hearings into the bill that the bill might undermine the efforts to fight serious crime, particularly drug-related crime. These arguments seem to rest on the erroneous assumption that the transfer of these prisoners will result in prisoners receiving less severe sentences. This is clearly not the effect of the bill.

Whilst it is true that in being closer to home prisoners are more likely to be held in more culturally sensitive conditions and closer to their families and friends, these conditions are hardly likely to promote criminal activity. It would be a rather strange individual who decided that they were prepared to commit a serious criminal offence where previously they were not, simply because they knew that, pursuant to this bill, they might ultimately be returned home.

Rather, this bill recognises that, despite the serious wrongdoings these prisoners have committed—wrongdoings that may be deserving of the gravest censure and punishment—those prisoners have rights to humanitarian treatment. It also recognises that the best way to rehabilitate these prisoners is to return them to culturally appropriate and supportive environments.

As far as the general community is concerned, surely that is one of the prime considerations we should be concerned about: to minimise the prospects that criminals will offend again; that other innocent people will suffer from any future action. Punishment is an important part of the criminal process. However, punishment that increases the prospect of recidivism is not in the interests of society nor the prisoner concerned.

This bill also facilitates greater cooperation between Australia and foreign law enforcement and custodial agencies. This increased confidence in and support of international law enforcement and custodial agencies, will ultimately increase our combined ability to tackle the ever growing rate of international crime. This will help to ensure that more criminals are brought to justice, and help to make the world, including Australia, a safer place.

I know that the aspects of this bill relating to the transfer of prisoners convicted of non-war crimes and related offences will ultimately rely for their success on the cooperation of the states and territories. I note that the state and territory attorneys-general have given in-principle agreement to the operation of the legislation. I urge all attorneys concerned to conclude the final agreements with the necessary legislative support as soon as possible.

I also note that the government's proposed amendments to the bill clarify the wording of clause 24 in accordance with recommendation 7 of the unanimous report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The opposition supports the bill and the amendment.