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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6174

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (9:39 AM) —At a later stage we will move an amendment to the amendment that I have moved in relation to possession. But I respectfully suggest that the advice given to the committee be somewhat more robust. If the explanation that has just been provided is to be accepted by this place, can the government tell us why it is a crime to be in possession of narcotics? Having regard to the reasoning that has just been given, there should be no offence of possession in relation to a whole range of crimes, be they involving narcotics or, indeed, as simple as the offences of unlawful possession under the Excise Act 1901, section 117C. For example, a person must not without permission possess or have custody or control of tobacco seed, tobacco plant or tobacco leaf.

For simple offences like those involving tobacco, mere possession is an offence. If the rationale that was just provided is to be sustained, then one wonders why we have `possession' littered throughout our legislative regimes, be it in narcotics, tobacco or, indeed, in a range of other areas such as forged banknotes. You are not allowed to be in possession of forged banknotes. You could run the line: `Well, it's a crime to make them, it's a crime to export them and it's a crime to import them; therefore, we do not need the crime of possession of forged banknotes.' If that is the approach that is being taken in this debate, I think we will have to have a rewrite of all our criminal legislation. I say this now because I think this is pre-empting the debate on possession, but I would expect that when we do come to that amendment there would be some more rigour involved.

In relation to penalty units et cetera and the Attorney-General's approach to these matters, I have a discussion paper titled `Model criminal code' of 1998—not all that long ago—which deals with offences against humanity. There is an offence here relating to sexual servitude. It states:

A person who causes a person to enter into or remain in sexual servitude is guilty of an offence. Maximum penalty: seven years.

There is no requirement for intention in this draft discussion paper circulated with the authority of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. All of a sudden we are told that intention is absolutely required if the penalty unit is above $550, yet here is an example of a crime against humanity where a seven-year prison sentence was being suggested. I do not mind sound arguments being put up, but not ones that are so easily blown out of the water. I know there is not support for strict liability, so chances are I will not speak on this again, but I would have expected that the arguments that were put up would have been treated with some greater degree of rigour and with more respect rather than their being dismissed in such a manner that, if I were so minded, I could have embarrassed those who are providing this advice by indicating that what they were saying is in fact contradicted by numerous documents circulated by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General.