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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2228

Senator CHIPP —I ask the Attorney-General another question about Murray Riley. I acknowledge the real difficulty the Attorney is in with respect to this vexed question. I restate the fact that this man, a former senior serving policeman, was sentenced to 17 years gaol for conspiracy to import into the country one of the largest packages of cannabis, said to be of the value of several million dollars. He was convicted of conspiracy to cheat and defraud, forging a passport and possessing an unlicensed pistol. His 17-year gaol sentence was reduced to 5 1/2 years and he was released this week. Am I given to understand by the Attorney's reply to Senator Durack that in future any practice or law of a State government will automatically apply or will have quasi-automatic application to Federal prisoners? Riley was indeed a Federal prisoner serving a gaol sentence for a Federal offence. I ask a purely hypothetical question: Should a Minister in charge of corrective services in any State be corrupted to the extent of releasing prisoners early, by virtue of the Attorney's answer to Senator Durack would that embarrass the Federal Attorney of the day, Liberal or Labor, in following suit and giving early release?

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator will know from his long experience that under standing order 99 hypothetical questions are not in order.

Senator CHIPP —I am trying to be a respecter of persons and a respecter of a Minister of the Crown at the moment by making the question hypothetical.

The PRESIDENT —I thought I ought to draw the matter to the honourable senator's attention.

Senator CHIPP —I hope that it is appreciated. I want to express to the Attorney the deep concern that is felt by asking him: If this is to be the practice, can he explain why a large number of parliamentarians, lawyers and public servants are currently spending countless hours in an attempt to establish a viable national crimes authority to combat organised crime when criminals such as Riley , who are caught and convicted, are let off in this manner?

Senator GARETH EVANS —There is not a great deal that I can add to my previous answer in explanation of the considerations that were regarded by me as relevant in dealing with this prisoner. I can only say that, however distasteful or horrific one might regard a particular crime, nonetheless the criminal in question does get out of gaol sooner or later. It is the case with prisoners who are well behaved in terms of their gaol career that it is not at all uncommon-in fact, it is almost usual, taking into account non-parole periods and the kinds of remissions that are granted-for them to be out of gaol when only around one- third of the head sentence has been served, as was the case here.

Senator Walters —In New South Wales it is sooner.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is not at all unusual, however much Senator Walters or anyone else might feel threatened by that state of affairs. It has been ever thus.

Senator Chipp —It is unusual in Victoria.

Senator GARETH EVANS —The difficulty is that it is not as simple as that because the sentences that are given originally are given by the judges with an eye to the practice of the parole board and the remissions that operate within a particular jurisdiction. One cannot simply compare a sentence of a term of years in one jurisdiction with a sentence of a term of years in another jurisdiction because the term of years may well be designed by the judges in question. Even applying exactly the same sorts of standards and with exactly the same objectives the term of years might be different bearing in mind the likely date of the actual release in question. It is a very complex question.

As to the second part of the question-whether it is the case that the Commonwealth will now automatically follow the law in practice as it operates in particular States in the sentencing area-the answer is no, it is not the case that the Commonwealth will automatically follow that practice. It is the case that the Commonwealth will have regard to what the law in practice is in a jurisdiction and decide whether, taking into account the desirability of uniform treatment, the Commonwealth should so follow suit. It is not the case that the Commonwealth did follow in any way the practice in New South Wales-the early release scheme, as it has been described-prior to the introduction of the present legislation in New South Wales, which was designed expressly to rationalise the law as it operated in the area of remissions.

The difficulty the Commonwealth had as far as the pre-existing early release scheme was concerned, which overlapped with my administration of this portfolio for a considerable number of months, was that it was difficult to work out what the basic rules were that were operating in that jurisdiction because a great deal of discretion was being exercised in the circumstances of each case with no overriding principles applicable on a uniform or universal basis to every prisoner. It is the case now that in New South Wales there is such a uniform set of practices that operates with respect to remissions which does not involve the exercise of any discretion other than the normal parole board type discretion which has regard to the conduct and prospects of a particular prisoner. As such, it is possible for us to apply those standards to Commonwealth prisoners in New South Wales gaols. It is against that background that I made the policy decision , for which I have to account in this Parliament-I am happy to so do-that balancing all these respective considerations the interests of uniformity of treatment should be regarded as paramount.

Senator CHIPP —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It is not asked to score party political points. Stemming from the Attorney's answer, I ask simply: Does not the Attorney's attitude and answer make it mandatory for criminals who now contemplate committing Federal offences to move to Sydney?

Senator GARETH EVANS —That is a clever question, but it does not have regard to the first part of my answer, which is that it does not automatically follow that prisoners in New South Wales are, in terms of the actual number of years gaol they are tending to serve for particular kinds of crimes, being treated any more lightly or leniently than prisoners in other States. In fact, my recollection is that Victoria, in terms of the tariffs that are applicable or the average duration of terms in gaol, is lighter in its sentencing practices than is New South Wales. I stand corrected on that, but I have some impression that that is so. One simply cannot make judgments based on the actual rules as they look like they operate on paper so far as remission and non-parole periods are concerned. It is a matter of taking into account the way in which those rules are applied in practice and have traditionally been applied by the judges in the different jurisdictions.