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Wednesday, 15 March 2000
Page: 12794

Senator HARRIS (10:37 AM) —I rise to speak on the Human Rights (Mandatory Sentencing of Juvenile Offenders) Bill 1999 and indicate that Pauline Hanson's One Nation will not be supporting the bill. The reason we are taking that position is that I think we need to separate the facts from the rhetoric. I believe that people in the other states should not be telling the elected members of the Northern Territory how to carry out their parliamentary responsibilities.

The issue is not about race; the issue is about the incidence of crime in the Northern Territory. This is reflected in the other states. It is not acceptable when we have elderly people locking themselves up in their homes because of crime that is being committed on the streets. As a society, we believe that with rights come responsibilities. As individuals, to live in a society we have the responsibility of adhering to the laws on which our rights are based. I believe it is fair to say that part of the decreasing interest in the police forces as an occupation in Australia is due to the hamstringing of the police in carrying out their duties.

If we look at the mandatory minimum sentencing in the Northern Territory and the juvenile portion of that legislation—this information is from the Northern Territory's own documents—in the case of burglary, stealing, car theft and property damage, which cannot in anybody's consideration be classed as minor crimes—they are reasonably substantial offences against society—for the juvenile ages of 15 and 16, for the first offence they receive a caution. On the second charge, in most cases the court counsels young offenders without penalty and they are usually not sentenced. On the third occasion on which they are charged, they are to participate in a diversionary program, if suitable, otherwise 28 days detention. It is not until the fourth offence that the 28 days detention is mandatory and the court can decide more than that minimum. So it is not until the fourth offence for burglary, stealing, car theft and property damage that a 15- to 16-year-old comes under the mandatory sentencing provision.

For an adult 17 years or older, on the first court appearance the court is required to send the first offender to prison if the offender cannot comprehensively display that there were exceptional circumstances. On the second offence, it is 90 days and, on the third offence, 12 months. Documentation from the Northern Territory reads:

Let's look at some of the facts and myths being spread about this sentencing regime. Amidst all this hoo-ha, one would be entitled to ask how many juveniles, irrespective of their colour—

and I return to my opening comments that this is not about race, so these figures include both indigenous and non-indigenous—

are being held in Don Dale Detention Centre. The daily average of juveniles on remand and sentenced in 1998-99 was 27. In the six months to 31 December last year, the daily average was 17. Ten years ago it was 34. Yesterday—

on the date of this transmission—

there were 14 juveniles detained in Don Dale, four of whom had been sentenced under the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions.

So it is clear that there are fewer juveniles being held now than there were 10 years ago.

Let us look overall at Australia's support or disapproval on a state by state breakdown. In Queensland, 72.6 per cent of the people support the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing law. In New South Wales, it is 55.7. In South Australia, it is 72 per cent. In Western Australia, it is 70.7 per cent. In Victoria, it is 44 per cent. In Tasmania, it is 58.3 per cent. And in the Northern Territory itself, it is 67 per cent. So the average right across Australia is 58.7 per cent—a very clear indication from the people of Australia that in actuality they support the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing.

In concluding, I would also like to question where the Commonwealth is going to get its head of power to carry out the enforcement. I believe that the Commonwealth having to use our obligations under United Nations treaties is a clear indication that in our Australian Constitution there is no head of power for the Commonwealth to override the legal responsibilities of the parliamentarians who are duly elected in any particular state or territory.