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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 707


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (18:10): The Greens do support Labor's amendments to introduce new offences to manage the new offences that are encapsulated in the bill. I note that the minister's response really just relied on saying 'Labor has a weaker positon', without really backing that up. I think this is actually an important debate when we come to deal with the issue of mandatory sentencing. It is worth reflecting on and giving that some time, because it is an important issue when it comes to delivering fair justice in our society.

But, first off, just on mandatory sentences, this is something that the Greens have long had concerns about, because they take the power away from the judge, the person best placed to pass a sentence. Mandatory sentences are not effective at deterring crime. I would like to again share some advice from experts in the field because, as I said, it is a very important matter and when we have the Attorney-General actually arguing for mandatory sentencing, I think it is worth fleshing this out.

More police powers are rarely the right answer to problems. We have seen that in New South Wales with a very strong law and order approach from Labor, Liberal and National parties over the years. We are seeing it with the failure of terrorist laws that take a similar approach. I just want to put on the record yet again that the Greens—while we are supporting Labor amendments, really there is a major failure with this legislation overall in its approach to public safety when it comes to firearms. We need a national firearms agreement that works and that is strengthened. We still do not have that national firearms integration system. We still cannot trace firearms from the cradle to the grave.

We hear from the coalition that this is about public safety. But, unless we have the means to be able to track firearms that are already in this country, the hypocrisy of the government talking about their commitments is really on display. Because this is also a debate about one's position on mandatory sentencing, it is worth noting what some of the experts have said on this. The Law Council has voiced its unconditional opposition to mandatory sentencing as a penalty for any criminal offence on the basis that it raises the potential for unintended consequences. They have set that out in detail in many documents over the years. The Law Council goes on in their submission on this bill to say that imposing mandatory minimum imprisonment sentences is contrary to other sentencing provisions which judges apply. They point out that section 17A of the Crimes Act provides that a sentencing court shall not pass a sentence of imprisonment unless, having considered all other sentences, it is satisfied that no other sentence is appropriate in the circumstances.

All that ability—the nuances that judges need in determining the human aspect of it, the circumstances that cannot be encapsulated in law—is lost if you go down the path of mandatory sentencing. That is why I wanted to speak further on this, because it is a very, very serious move that the government is attempting to use here, again just to bang the drum that they are doing something about firearm violence when they are not addressing the main game.

To stay with some of the advice from experts on this issue, it is also worth noting that the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has been very informative on mandatory minimum penalties reducing or deterring the importation of illegal firearms. This is a quote from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute:

… if the desired outcome is to reduce the availability of illegal firearms in Australian communities the focus needs be on strategies which increase the likelihood that a firearms trafficker will be caught. Those strategies should focus on continuing to enhance our border agencies' capabilities to detect and investigate illicit firearm trafficking at the border.

Mandatory sentencing of illicit firearms traffickers … won't deliver the desired results.

It is very emphatic. The people who work in this field—and the Attorney-General would clearly know this—have rejected this approach time and time again. Considering the strength of the body of evidence from experts that mandatory sentencing does not work, I would like to ask the Attorney-General why he is persisting to use this discredited approach to firearm crimes. Why does he persist? I am interested in your response, Attorney-General.