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Wednesday, 28 October 1914

Senator BARKER (Victoria) .- It seems to me an anomaly that a clause of this character should find a place in this Bill. I recognise that heavy penalties are provided for every crime. Clause 29, for example, affirms -

Any person who, by violence or by threats, or intimidation of any kind, hinders or interferes with the free exercise or performance by any other person of any political right or duty, shall be guilty of an offence.

Penalty : Imprisonment for three years.

Under the clause which we are now considering, a Judge would have the power of inflicting vindictive punishment. To clothe him with such a power is, I think, undesirable. We ought not to authorize him to duplicate punishment in the case of a man who happens to have served a sentence of one year's imprisonment for a previous offence against the law of the Commonwealth or of a State. Take the case of the forgery of a Commonwealth document for which a penalty of ten years' imprisonment may be inflicted. We know that a Judge would not impose the maximum penalty for a first offence. But if a man had been twice convicted of a similar offence, the Judge might, under the clause relating to the indeterminate sentences, imprison him for life. In view of that clause I submit there is no need for the provision which we are now discussing. It cannot be urged that a man who has committed only two offences is a habitual criminal. I am opposed to this clause, which I think is quite unnecessary. It is all very well to say, as some honorable senators have said, that Judges will not exercise the power given them under this clause; but, if that be so, of what use is it to insert such a clause in the Bill ? We know what Judges have done in the matter of inflicting punishment even for trivial offences. Many years ago a case occurred in which a man who stole property of the value of £2 was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment; whilst, at the same Court session, a man who committed a forgery involving a loss of hundreds of pounds was sentenced to only twelve months' imprisonment.

Senator Keating - There is a case on record of a man getting two years' imprisonment for stealing eight pennyworth of baking powder.

Senator BARKER - The clause gives a Judge the power to double the maximum penalty attached to an offence if the offender appears before the Court for a second time. It is quite unnecessary, especially in view of the fact that in the very next clause provision is made to enable the Court to treat an offender as a habitual criminal.

Senator O'Keefe - On conviction for a third offence.

Senator BARKER - That is so; but there is nothing like that in the State laws. We should be the last to clothe Judges with undue powers to impose severe penalties. The penalties already provided for in the various clauses of the Bill are quite severe enough, and, in my opinion, it is quite unnecessary by this clause to enable a Judge to double the penalty attaching to an offence. Justice is not procured by the imposition of unduly drastic penalties. We know that juries very often fail to convict an offender because of the severity of the penalty attaching to the offence with which he is charged.

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