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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 1

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (9:32 AM) —I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted

The speech read as follows—

Customs Amendment Bill 2004

The fight against the illicit drug trade in Australia and internationally remains a high priority for the Australian Government consistent with the Government's Tough on Drugs strategy. The offences of importing and exporting illicit drugs across Australia's national border are some of the most serious federal offences.

In relation to drugs such as heroin, judges have the capacity to impose sentences of up to 25 years imprisonment where the offence involves a trafficable quantity of the drug and up to life imprisonment where the offence involves a commercial quantity. Consequently, sentences of life imprisonment have been handed down. To date, the option of life imprisonment has not been available in relation to certain other illicit drugs, such as amphetamines, because the Customs Act has not prescribed `commercial quantities' for those drugs.

I understand in a recent case involving the importation of 200 kilograms of methylamphetamine (known as `ice'), the judge suggested that, if there was a commercial quantity listed, he would have been able to consider imposing a life imprisonment penalty. In that case, the maximum penalty that could be imposed was the penalty for the lower threshold `trafficable quantity', being 25 years imprisonment. Prior to the judge's comments, the Attorney-General's Department sought to address this issue by preparing regulations but have concluded that this could not be done because the drugs in question are already listed in the Act.

This Bill will prescribe commercial quantities for all illicit drugs currently covered by the drug importation offences in the Customs Act and therefore ensure that judges have the full spectrum of penalties available to them when sentencing those found guilty of importing large quantities of any illicit drug, including new and emerging drugs.

The Australian Government is committed to a proactive approach to ensure that judges will always have the capacity to make the penalty for drug offences reflect the seriousness of the crime.

Next year the Government will be bringing forward further improvements, including new serious drug offences for inclusion in the Criminal Code. In the meantime, it is essential that this anomaly in relation to sentences be addressed.

Debate (on motion by Senator Webber) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.