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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 15637

Mr LAWLER (10:52 PM) —Mandatory sentencing is the result of community frustration that existing judicial penalties do not eradicate crime at a level that is satisfactory relative to community perceptions of crime. In particular, people in the Northern Territory believe that the punishment for property crimes—the offences most likely to be committed against themselves, their families or their friends—is too lenient in terms of deterrence. While I oppose the rigid and intrusive nature of the Territory's governing apparatus imposing its will over the courts, I nonetheless recognise that communities have the right to create their own solutions for their particular problems. It concerns me greatly, however, that we are focusing on the symptom and not on the problem. What concerns me is that I believe that, in fighting property crime, the crackdown inevitably affects the most disadvantaged, as evidenced by the large proportion of impoverished Aboriginal people, and children, caught in this current war on theft. That people so severely disadvantaged exist in this wealthy nation reflects poorly on the huge amount of time, money and effort that has been invested by all governments to try to eliminate the most extreme of these deprivations.

This current administration, and to some degree previous governments, has implemented numerous programs designed to enhance job opportunities, alongside health and education initiatives that have clearly benefited many people. But a combination of the cycle of poverty and the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in the most isolated underserviced area of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and my electorate in western New South Wales, has undermined the overall success of such programs.

I strongly support this government's effort to restore a work routine into the lives of the longer-term unemployed through Work for the Dole. But in some geographic areas this is simply not enough. Job training programs and work experience only succeed where job vacancies exist or where they complement the limited skill pool provided by such initiatives. In the small far flung towns of the Northern Territory and the far west and north-west of western New South Wales, too often that is not the case—there are no jobs and there is precious little of anything else constructive to do. What is needed in these communities is a circuit-breaker for this cycle of aimlessness and temptation and the mainstream backlash it creates against those people adrift in an otherwise comfortable society.

I believe the federal government should fund jobs where no jobs are being created by the public or private sector—a situation commonplace for Aboriginal people in numerous communities but one which may be difficult for someone with an urban existence to imagine. Inventing jobs, for want of a better description, has paid rich dividends in the past in at least one town in my electorate where optimum circumstances prevailed—that is, a chronic scarcity of employment and a large Aboriginal community whose social problems were raising frustration in both the indigenous and the non-indigenous communities.

Contrary to the views of some ministers and some metropolitan backbench colleagues, the omnipotent cost evaluation of this federal spending would be favourable in terms of the measurable savings made in reduced court appearances, hospital visits, DOCS cases, police time and welfare support. If we are prepared to offer the Northern Territory funding to defuse a national outcry, could that commitment in cooperation with the state governments also extend to paying for jobs elsewhere because the aforementioned savings would go to the state government? We need a system where the benefits to the community and all levels of government are considered and political differences are set aside to create positive outcomes for the people whom we are all here trying to help. If our efforts to provide purpose and at least minimal prosperity to Aboriginal communities in remote areas had been at all successful, the chances are that mandatory sentencing would never have become a reality.