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Tuesday, 28 March 2017
Page: 3462


Ms O'NEIL (Hotham) (17:54): I rise to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Penalty Unit) Bill 2017, yet again rising to speak on a bill that is a government bill but in fact gives execution to a Labor policy that we were very proud to take to the last election. The increase in the value of a penalty unit contained in this bill was a policy that we took to the last election. We are glad to see the government embrace another Labor commitment. We proposed this policy because we believe that it is important that our penalties are not effectively weakened as the cost of living increases.

Penalty units were a creation of Labor governments, first implemented by the Keating Labor government in 1992. They were implemented in response to the Gibbs inquiry, which found that the Victorian penalty units system 'encourages a more principled approach to the choice of the appropriate maximum penalty in regard to a particular provision'. They have since been adopted as best practice in a range of jurisdictions, for good reason.

The concept of the penalty unit, a smart initiative, means that with one amendment the Commonwealth government can amend a pecuniary penalty associated with all crimes, rather than having to revise each and every penalty for each and every crime under each and every Commonwealth law which contains criminal offences. Penalty units apply where a person or company commits a Commonwealth offence. This includes offences such as firearm offences, drug offences and other offences under the Criminal Code. The legislation before us will also target criminals engaging in white collar crime and workplace crimes, such as the increased penalty unit that would apply to laws including the Corporations Act 2001, the Fair Work Act 2009, the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009, the SPAM Act 2003 and the Telecommunications Act 1997.

It is very important that the value of penalty units is maintained over time to ensure that penalties keep pace with inflation and remain an effective tool for us to deter crime. When the penalty unit was first introduced by a Labor government in 1992, its value was set at $100. Since then it has had fairly regular increases, broadly made in concert with CPI increases. The bill before us will increase the value of each Commonwealth penalty unit from $180 to $210. This will be indexed to the consumer price index every three years. The bill will also delay the first automatic indexation of the penalty unit to CPI from 1 July 2018 to 1 July 2020.

The new penalty unit value will only apply to offences committed after these amendments come into force. That means that the proposed changes will not affect current proceedings or offences committed before this date. Those offences will be based on the value of the penalty unit at the time the offence was committed. I commend this bill to the House.