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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 4981


Senator GREIG (11:50 AM) —I would have to agree with the minister on both points and for similar reasons. I think it is worth noting that the maximum penalty in the United States, for example, for this issue is the death penalty. I personally do not support the death penalty under any circumstances, let alone in Australia, but when the Australian government is advocating a maximum penalty of 25 years in comparison to that international standard then this is rather modest and far more appropriate.

I agree that espionage is a very serious crime. As the minister correctly says, it can involve injury and death of civilians and citizens. For that reason I do not think that we should treat it lightly. I feel that 25 years is an appropriate maximum to reflect that—and it is a maximum. It is open to the judge or magistrate or whichever courts is dealing with the case to exercise discretion. Senator Brown and I have been involved in long debates over the question of judicial discretion on mandatory sentencing and we are across those issues and understand the necessity and importance of that. So I think that in relation to amendments (1) to (4), 25 years is acceptable and is appropriate.

In terms of Senator Brown's amendment (5), the proposal to change an imprisonment maximum of five years for the breach of a suppression order to 10 penalty units, as I understand it, is a change from an imprisonment term to a fine of $1,100. I would argue that, should a journalist, for example, or someone in the community, breach a suppression order by releasing or publishing information which was subject to a suppression order, such a person would not in any way be deterred by the prospect of being fined $1,100. I would argue that would be no deterrent at all for most people working in the Australian media for whom $1,100 would be all but a minute's salary. Breaching a suppression order is perverting the course of justice. I believe that it too should be taken seriously and treated seriously, and should be subject at the very least to the possibility of a jail term. For that reason I prefer that the bill remains as it stands, and we would have some difficulty in supporting amendments (1) to (5), as advocated by Senator Brown.