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Thursday, 7 November 1935

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - The Assistant Minister (Senator Brennan) mentioned that in Victoria the courts had power to sentence persons who had not .previously been convicted, for indeterminate periods. He also mentioned that certain judges had suggested that this proposed amendment should be embodied in the Commonwealth Crimes Act. Is it not a fact that in Victoria, there is a board of laymen to deal with indeterminate sentences? Furthermore, can the Assistant Minister mention any other State where a man, having served his sentence, can be detained in a reformatory prison for an indefinite period? Some of our present judges may be lineal descendants of " Bloody Jeffreys." The majority of them are human, but certain judges are prejudiced against political offenders just as supporters of this Government have bitter prejudices against Communists. Personally I have no prejudices of this nature, because I recall that at one stage of my career I preached certain ideas, which I then believed to be well-founded, and for the benefit of humanity; I may not hold such ideas to-day. I point out further, that because they find themselves undeservedly in poverty certain people are drawn towards such organizations as the Communist party. These people, if their own circumstances were different, and gave them an opportunity for physical and mental development, would not hold such views. If this Government showed equal enthusiasm for the elimination of the economic conditions under which many people suffer, there would not be any need for this dastardly and damnable repressive legislation. Members of the Opposition claim that indeterminate sentences are wrong. No clean-living or clean-minded Australian would agree that any court should be given the power to send a man to prison for an indeterminate period after he had served his original sentence for a particular offence. If a man is sentenced to a term of one year or five years, and .serves that time, he should bc released. If the term of imprisonment prescribed by law is not sufficient, Parliament should fix a longer period, but whatever the duration of the sentence may be, a man having served it should not be kept under lock and key simply because he may hold political opinions opposed to those of the government of the day. I have no sympathy with certain agitators as such, but I point out that thousands of decent young men, because of their political leanings, may come within the ambit of these provisions, and render themselves liable to be kept under lock and key indefinitely. What is the need for such a provision?

Senator Dein - Such a course would only be followed under an order by the court.

Senator BROWN - Apparently in Victoria the court is not trusted; the offenders must go before a board composed of non-legal persons.

Senator Brennan - The honorable senator is entirely wrong.

Senator BROWN - My information comes from a Victorian "learned friend " of the Assistant Minister, but whether I am right or wrong, no court should have the power to sentence a man to indefinite imprisonment. The court should not have the power to detain a man in gaol indefinitely after he has served his sentence. The position would be different if a homicidal maniac were concerned. This bill, however, has in mind, not a homicidal maniac, hut a person who holds advanced or radical political views. Probably he holds such views because, under existing social conditions, he is deprived of his fair share of even the necessaries of life. If we were to legislate to give every citizen the right to live decently there would be no need for drastic legislation of this kind, for there would then be no revolutionaries or communists. The Labour party is opposed to the clause, and it hopes that the committee will reject it.

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