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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- I wish to make my first contribution to this debate on the Crimes Bill. This has been a feast for lawyers and would-be lawyers. I am not a would-be lawyer, but I feel that, in proposing this amendment, the Labour Party strikes a note for humanitarianism and common decency which should have more consideration from the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick). The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) have put the Labour Party's attitude spendidly in this matter. To declare a young man an habitual criminal at seventeen or eighteen years of age is to put the mark of Cain on him at the beginning. Any one who is declared an habitual criminal at that age feels that he has something bad to live down to rather than something good to live up to.

I feel that the Attorney-General would not detract from the bill if he added the words that we wish to add - " above the age of 25 years ". It is no pleasure for me to be informed that in Tasmania a man can be declared an habitual criminal at the age of seventeen years. That is a shocking state of affairs and I certainly suggest that the Premier of Tasmania, the Honorable Eric Reece, should look at it. He would be well advised to prepare an amendment to bring the Tasmanian law into line with the humane provisions that operate in New South Wales and Victoria. Both those States have moved towards a new outlook in this matter, a new attitude towards criminals or would-be criminals. Surely the Commonwealth is not going to lag behind in the introduction of such a Christian provision. We have led the way with the Matrimonial Causes Bill that we debated last year, and also with the Marriage Bill, which has not yet been passed, but no doubt will be. Here we are bogged down with this archaic attitude which requires that young men of seventeen or eighteen who have appeared in court and been convicted a couple of times will be declared habitual criminals. In these days of enlightenment and growth and humanitarianism it is a tragedy to think that the Government proposes to subscribe to such an archaic attitude as is revealed in this bill.

The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has had experience of these matters during his career as a police officer. We know that throughout the land there are men and women devoting their time to helping young chaps who get off the track early in life, and to rehabilitating and reforming them. We have chaplains in most of the major prisons in Australia today, whose humanitarian and Christian mission is also to try to reform such lads, and to turn them from the ways of crime into the ways of useful citizenship. They are trying to induce these young people not to waste their lives and not to think that they can become successful criminals - after all, no one has ever yet achieved that ambition - but to realize that there is a possibility of changing their way of living. Yet this Government proposes to say to young men of seventeen or eighteen, " You have made two mistakes, so we will put the mark of Cain on you, which you will carry for the rest of your life ". What chance is there of such a young man believing that society is on his side? He will most likely say to himself, " Society is lined up against me. I have been declared by the courts an habitual criminal when I am only seventeen or eighteen years old." I know how I would feel if I were in such a position. I would want to go out and fight society as best I could, and that is the kind of attitude that we will develop in the minds of these young people.

I therefore plead with the AttorneyGeneral to display a small spark of that liberalism that he has shown in relation to other legislation that he has brought down. From the interjections that I hear, it appears that other honorable members do not subscribe to my references to the Minister's liberalism. But big fires have resulted from small sparks. The Minister has shown one or two small sparks of humanitarism. I now plead with him to-night to kindle one of those small sparks and to accept our amendment in the name of Christian and social progress, so that our criminal law may be improved. I ask him not to line himself up with those who adopt the archaic policies which would smash a young man down at the age of seventeen and keep him down for the rest of his life, bearing the mark of Cain. If the Government does not accept this amendment it will show, as the honorable member for Hunter has said, that it adopts a sadistic attitude in its approach to this great problem.

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