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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- My submission is along lines similar to those of the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant). I think that the refusal of the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) to agree to the suggested amendment by the Australian Labour Party is cruel, sadistic and inhuman. I was taught at Sunday school " Suffer little children to come unto Me ". But the Attorney-General's approach in this matter is, " Suffer little children to come unto me ". Through an emotional disturbance in the home or through some economic circumstance, such as the father having to go away many miles to employment and leave the guidance of a young person to the mother, a child may embark on a career of crime. Clause 14 will enable persons to be declared habitual criminals at the age of seventeen or eighteen years.

The State Labour Government of New South Wales has approached the problem of habitual criminals in an entirely different way. Section 4 sub-section 1 of the Habitual Criminals Act 1957 in New South Wales reads as follows: -

When any person of or above the age of twentyfive years is convicted on indictment and he has on at least two occasions previously served separate terms of imprisonment as a consequence of his convictions of indictable offences, not being indictable offences that were dealt with summarily without his consent, then if the judge before whom such person is so convicted is satisfied that it is expedient with a view to such person's reformation or the prevention of crime that such person should be detained in prison for a substantial time, the judge may, in addition to passing sentence upon such person for the offence of which he is so convicted, pronounce him to be an habitual criminal and shall thereupon pass a further sentence upon him in accordance with the provisions of section six of this Act.

The table which forms part of the AttorneyGeneral's second-reading speech gives the following information concerning clause 14:-

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

Yet the New South Wales law does not provide for the declaration of persons under the age of 25 years as habitual criminals. The Victorian Government has a similar law to that of New South Wales. These are the principal States of the Commonwealth - the two States with the biggest populations. They are moving towards a more humanitarian approach to this matter. They believe that a person of seventeen or eighteen years of age has not reached maturity or adulthood and should not be declared an habitual criminal. That approach is humane, Christian and everything that is good and decent. But the Attorney-General refuses to subscribe to the Labour Party's proposal that the age at which a judge may declare a person an habitual criminal should be raised to 25 years.

I have had long experience in the criminal courts and I have several judges in mind in this connexion. I will not disclose their names. Frequently, some years ago, they declared young person of eighteen to be habitual criminals and so made them heroes in the eyes of other criminals. From my own personal knowledge, I know that they never escaped the effects of having been declared habitual criminals at that age. When released from prison they continued to break the law and were a total write-off to society. They have been in and out of gaol all their lives and they are still practising crime at every opportunity when they are released. I appeal to the AttorneyGeneral to yield to the Opposition's request in the cause of humanity, in the cause of decency, and in the cause of progress so that a person cannot be declared an habitual criminal until he has reached 25 years - an age of maturity and of adulthood at which he will know the seriousness of what he is doing.

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