Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26574

Senator BROWN (5:48 PM) —Thank you. With 12 minutes to go before the guillotine falls, let me just briefly say that the Greens will be opposing this bill. The bill will take away the right to vote from some prisoners but not others. The right of every person to vote is recognised in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The European Court of Human Rights on 30 March this year ruled against a blanket restriction on convicted prisoners. There will be effectively thousands of Australians behind bars who will have their vote taken away by this legislation. Let me remind the Senate that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommended in 1993 that all prisoners in Australia, except those convicted of treason, be granted the right to vote because, firstly, prisoners should not be punished twice and, secondly, retaining the right to vote assists with the rehabilitation of offenders. That is the Senate's own advice from the expert committee that looked into the matter. Let me also quote from a Canadian judgment. In 2002, Chief Justice McLachlin said:

... denying penitentiary inmates the right to vote is more likely to send messages that undermine respect for the law and democracy than messages that enhance those values.

The whole basis of the respect for the rule of law rests on the participation of citizens through the democratic selection of their representatives making the law. How will prisoners subject to this feudal concept of civil death have respect for the law if they are banned from participating in its formation? One has to remember that it is our job to encourage people to take part in society, to feel empowered to be in society and to feel they have a role in society—not to take away that role. The one thing parliament should not do is intervene in the courts. This is effectively mandatory sentencing. This is effectively saying that the vote should be taken away from this group of prisoners without the court having the ability to levy that punishment—if it is expected to be a punishment that should be meted out against the international law and the proper precept of democracy.

On behalf of the Greens, I will be moving these amendments: firstly, to repeal all the provisions of the electoral act which remove the right of a prisoner to vote; secondly—and these are fallback provisions—to return to the five-year imprisonment threshold for the loss of the vote; and, thirdly, to oppose the retrospective nature of this bill—that is, extending it to people who commence serving a sentence before the provisions were passed—and to retain the definition of a sentence of imprisonment. It is again remarkable that the big parties have allowed this process of infringing international law, mandatory sentencing and interference in the courts through mandatory sentencing to not only creep into more and more law but also grow in the strength of application. It is a wrong law and it should be voted down.