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Thursday, 17 November 1960


Mr WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) .- I move -

Before paragraph (a) insert the following paragraph: - " (aa) by inserting in sub-section (1.) after the word ' person ' the words ' of or above the age of twenty-five years

Section 17 of the principal act deals with what are called in the margin " indeterminate sentences ". The Government is proposing two amendments to section 17 and the marginal note now will read " habitual criminals ". During the course of his second-reading speech the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) was given permission by the House to incorporate in " Hansard " a list of minor amendments of which this is one. His description of the proposed amendment of section 17 of the principal act by clause 14 is in these terms -

Amends section 17 of the Act to enable the provisions of section 17 as to habitual criminals to fit in with the existing laws of the States on this subject.

The amendment that the Opposition has now moved will provide that a person can only be declared an habitual criminal under the Commonwealth Crimes Act in the same circumstances as those in which he can be declared an habitual criminal under the New South Wales Habitual Criminals Act or the corresponding legislation in Victoria, that is, if he is of or above the age of 25 years. I am indebted to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) for bringing to my notice the amendment in this regard that has been made in New South Wales. He also mentioned this matter to the Attorney-General some days ago.

The Federal Parliamentary Labour Party believes that the Commonwealth act should not be more archaic or less advanced than is the legislation in New South Wales and Victoria. In New South Wales a new act - the Habitual Criminals Act 1957 - removed the old limitless provisions for declaring persons habitual criminals and provided that a person could be declared an habitual criminal only if he was 25 years of age or over. We believe that it is rather drastic to declare a teenager, or a person in his early twenties, an habitual criminal with all the disadvantages which attach to the declaration. We believe that by 25 years of age a person is more set in his ways than is a younger person, and that 25 years therefore should be the minimum age at which a person can be declared an habitual criminal. It is now the minimum age at which he can be so declared in Victoria and New South Wales. We believe that that should also apply in respect of Commonwealth crimes. In the light of the amendments to the principal act which the Attorney-General himself is sponsoring, it would seem that in New South Wales or Victoria a person under the age of 25 who had a record of convictions under Commonwealth or State acts, or both, could be declared an habitual criminal under our legislation, but not under State legislation. If his crimes had been under the Commonwealth act alone or under both State and Commonwealth acts he could be declared an habitual criminal, although under the age of 25; but if his crimes had been only breaches of State acts, he would not be so declared while under the age of 25 years. It is true that under the principal act, as amended by the Attorney-General's amendment, it would be possible for the AttorneyGeneral to release a person under the age of 25 at any time after he had been declared an habitual criminal, but we do not believe that it is satisfactory to leave this purely to the benevolence and the discretion of the Attorney-General. The Parliament is making the law, and the Attorney-General has Stated that the intention is to make this act, in this respect, equivalent to the State legislation. The amendment which we have moved will achieve that object.







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