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Wednesday, 12 May 1993
Page: 434

Senator SPINDLER —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. I refer to the Victorian Sentencing (Amendment) Bill 1993 and the Victorian Crimes (Amendment) Bill 1993 and ask the Minister: is he aware that these Bills propose to introduce indefinite sentences of imprisonment for a large number of offences, permit fingerprinting of adults and young people 15 years of age and over without court order and whether or not they have been charged with an offence, and abolish the right of citizens to contest a police application for a court order permitting the taking of body samples? Secondly, does the Minister agree that these provisions contravene articles 12 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and articles 9, 10, 17 and 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to both of which Australia is a signatory? Will the Minister refer the Bills—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Time has expired.

Senator BOLKUS —I am advised by the Attorney-General that he is aware of the Bills, both from extensive press reports about them and also from a number of letters that have been sent to him by community groups. The Attorney-General recognises that the community is concerned on the one hand that it be provided with effective law enforcement. However, he believes that there are serious questions as to whether the Bills in fact strike the appropriate balance between the need to take a strong stand on crime and the need to meet our international obligations in respect of those two instruments to which Senator Spindler refers.

  I am informed that the Attorney-General has not as yet seen copies of both Bills, and he has not reached a conclusive view on whether the provisions of the Bills breach those two particular conventions. However, in view of his responsibilities as Commonwealth Attorney-General, particularly the responsibility to ensure that Australia complies with its international treaty obligations, he wrote to the Victorian Attorney-General on 7 May about these Bills.

  In that letter Mr Lavarch asked for copies of the Bills and referred to the fact that the human rights commissioner had written to Mrs Wade informing her of his intention to examine the Bills in the light of his functions and responsibilities in monitoring Australia's compliance with a number of international instruments. Mr Lavarch also put to Mrs Wade some of the concerns that had been raised with him about possible human rights breaches arising from provisions in the Victorian Crimes (Amendment) Bill and invited her to respond with her views on those concerns.

  Finally, in view of the importance of ensuring that the Bills do not breach Australia's international obligations, Mr Lavarch also asked Mrs Wade to allow further time for him, as well as interested members of the public, to consider and make productive comments on the Bills before they are enacted.