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Tuesday, 4 April 2000
Page: 15113

Mr BEAZLEY (2:02 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, given that yesterday you said that the issue of mandatory sentencing is `a serious issue and it ought to be debated', will you permit this House to consider and debate the Human Rights (Mandatory Sentencing of Juvenile Offenders) Bill 1999?

Mr Howard —Is that the Andren bill?

Mr BEAZLEY —No, it is the Senate bill.

Mr Howard —Is it to the same effect? I am seeking a bit of guidance, Mr Speaker, from the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr SPEAKER —Will the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition resume their seats for a moment. I will recognise now the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr BEAZLEY —The bill I am referring to is the bill that was transmitted to this House by the Senate.

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —As I understand it, that is in shorthand called the `Brown bill'. The Brown bill deals with mandatory sentencing in both Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The position of the government in relation to these matters is well known. We believe that ultimately these matters ought to be within the legislative competence of the parliaments of the state and territory concerned.

It remains, however, the case that I and many members of the government take the view that the principle of mandatory sentencing is flawed. We have particular concerns about the operation of the mandatory sentencing laws of the Northern Territory as far as they affect juveniles. In fact, shortly before question time I spoke to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. I indicated to him that we continue to have significant concerns about the operation of the mandatory sentencing laws in the Northern Territory—consistent, however, with the government's view that, in the end, it is within the legislative competence of the Northern Territory to finally resolve these matters—and that the government does not believe in using the legislative power of the Commonwealth to override the Northern Territory law.

Nonetheless, there are serious concerns the government has, and the Chief Minister has agreed to meet me to discuss those concerns. That meeting will be taking place shortly. Amongst other things, we will be exploring during that meeting the suitability of diversionary programs and other initiatives which were dealt with in part in the Senate committee report, and we will discuss a range of other concerns the government has. I said to the Chief Minister that, in the spirit of cooperative relations between the Commonwealth and the Territory that ought to characterise these matters, I expected the Northern Territory government to take seriously the Commonwealth's concerns.

That is consistent with the view that I have put for some time that, although I respect the ultimate legislative right of local communities in these matters, I personally, and many members of my government and many members of the government parties, have significant concerns about both the principle of mandatory sentencing and the operation of those laws insofar as they affect juveniles. Insofar as the Brown bill is concerned, I think we have indicated a disposition in the past not to debate that. With no disrespect to the member for Calare regarding what I might loosely call the `Andren bill', if there is a proposal that that matter be dealt with, then I invite those who might want it to be discussed to seek a suspension of standing orders.