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Wednesday, 28 October 1914

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - There might be something in the plea of urgency as applied to certain clauses of the Bill, but, taking the measure as a whole, it does not seem to me that that plea can hold good. The Government would have been well advised if they had introduced a special measure to deal with the matters which are considered of an urgent character. If we pass this Bill as it stands, it will be one of the most drastic measures dealing with offences against the law that I have ever come in contact with. Honorable senators should bear in mind that the whole trend of modern thought is opposed to long terms of imprisonment. The provisions which have been made for penalizing crime have not had the effect of curing one per cent. of our criminals. We seem to have gone upon wrong lines altogether. Instead of taking a new departure in a better direction, the Government propose, in this Bill, that we shall go further into the thicket in which we at present find" ourselves. I intend to vote against the clause. I consider it altogether too drastic. It provides for doubling the maximum term of imprisonment for any offence under the Bill in the case of an offender who previously served a term of imprisonment for one year or longer for an offence against a law of the Commonwealth or of a State or of a Territory. That seems altogether out of reason and out of harmony with modern thought on the subject of the punishment of crime. The circumstances in connexion with every case ought to be taken into account, but the Judge has no option. He must double the sentence. The Government would have been well advised to take the advice of those who have studied this aspect of our social system, and instead of going in the direction of greater severity, which, in the past, has produced no good effect, tried something in a more humane direction. A little more than 100 years ago men were hanged for petty thefts. I read of one case where a woman whose husband had been dragged away by the press gang went into a shop with a famished infant and stole a loaf worth 2d. She was brought before a Court, and hanged for that wretched, paltry offence. The same spirit is embodied in this Bill. What we want is reformation, not vengeance. The more lenient sentences which have been passed in recent times have not only not increased crime, as many of the bloodthirsty people who lived 100 years ago prophesied, but have gone a long way towards its abolition. Let us take a step further in this direction, and not be led away by the idea that the only way to deal with those who offend against the law is to exhaust our severity upon them. I shall vote against the clause.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8p.m.

Progress reported.

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