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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2410

Senator PATTERSON (11.31 a.m.) —The coalition will not be supporting the Greens' amendments. I have listened very carefully to the arguments that Senator Chamarette has put forward. Again, I say to her that this bill was referred to a Senate committee where some of the questions that she has raised and the issues that she has put forward could have been addressed. Obviously, the issues that Senator Chamarette is addressing here are much broader than this one clause and this one aspect.

  Rather than trying to deal with these issues on the run, I think a more appropriate way to deal with them is, after some consideration, to draw up a reference for a committee to examine whether there are widespread differences between the treatment of people who are supposed to get similar penalties under different acts, whether in fact those penalties are being interpreted and meted out in different ways under the different acts. Senator Chamarette has said that penalties are not as stringently applied for tax fraud as they are for social security fraud.

  That question needs to be examined, but we do not believe that the ultimate sanction should be removed because there are differences in the way it is applied. Maybe we should examine why those differences exist because, under subsection 16A(2)(m) of division 2—which is headed `General Sentencing Principles'—of the Crimes Act, the matters to which the court is to have regard when passing sentence are:

the character, antecedents, age, means and physical or mental condition of the person

If it can be demonstrated through an inquiry that those issues are not being taken into account in determining the extent of the penalty under the act, I think that would be a useful thing to do. But to try to do it this way is a rather difficult way for us to come to accept that the Greens' amendments are acceptable. Also, for the Greens to come in and say, `Look, I know that pecuniary punishment is not quite right, but could you just accept that in the interim?' seems to me not acceptable either. I suggest to Senator Chamarette that the way to address this issue more properly and more fully would be to go to a committee.

  But, at this stage, the coalition still believes that the government's amendments should remain. I am sure the coalition would be of a mind to support an inquiry. I cannot speak on behalf of my colleagues but I suggest that, if Senator Chamarette were to put forward an appropriate inquiry to examine whether in fact people benefiting from fraud are being treated differently, that deserves examination.