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Thursday, 25 September 2014
Page: 7247


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (20:24): The government does not support the amendment because it is entirely unnecessary. The amendment proposes that the following words be added to section 35P:

A court must, in determining a sentence to be passed or an order to be made in respect of a person for an offence against subsection (1), take account of whether or not, to the knowledge of the court, the disclosure was in the public interest.

Senator Xenophon, that is what courts would always and routinely do in a case of this kind. If a person were to be prosecuted and convicted of an offence of this kind and there was material before the court that enabled his counsel to urge on the sentencing judge that he was acting in the public interest, it is inconceivable that that consideration would not be had regard to as a potential circumstance of mitigation. The principles of criminal sentencing are a very, very, very well established discipline and the amendment you have proposed instructs by statute a court to do what a court always would do and since time immemorial has always done. So the government does not support the amendment because it is entirely unnecessary.

However, having regard to the concerns you have raised I have amended the explanatory memorandum to refer to the Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth, which actually explicitly indicates that public interest is a factor to be had regard to in relation to a decision to prosecute. So I spoke about a judge considering a sentence in relation to a convicted person; but at a prior stage in the process it is also, under the existing Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth, a matter to which a prosecutor must have regard in exercising a prosecutorial discretion.

Finally, I know that there have been some rhetorical flights from the crossbench tonight but might I remind you, as I pointed out before, that this provision does not take the law of the Commonwealth any further than it already stands. Under section 15HJ of the Crimes Act the same provisions apply, and have applied since 2010, to controlled operations by the Australian Federal Police. This provision merely applies the same regime as applies to controlled operations by the Australian Federal Police to special intelligence operations carried out by ASIO.