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Wednesday, 26 June 1996
Page: 2286

Senator CHAMARETTE(5.40 p.m.) —I would like to clarify my position. I understand what Senator Kernot is saying, but my understanding is that using the term `penalty units' does not preclude a prison penalty being given. It actually allows either a prison penalty of the same amount that is in the act or a fine. In my view it takes that connotation of imprisonment as a threat of first resort out of the bill. So to my knowledge it does not change the penalties which may be applied or the discretion that is available to the court. Instead, it starts to produce a climate committed to removing prison as a threat which we have been using over the Aboriginal community for 200 years. That is the reason why I would like to see the measure removed.

I wish it could remove the capacity to imprison people as readily as we do, but it does not do that. It is very nominal in that sense, and in a way it is tokenistic. I would rather say that it is symbolic than tokenistic, because I believe it is time that we started addressing the way in which imprisonment is used in this society. As Senator Kernot has pointed out, for offences concerning voting—or, in my belief, even if it is a serious offence—imprisonment is a penalty that should be used to protect the community from danger or to protect an individual from being a danger to himself or herself. It is not to be used simply as a first option in order to enforce a particular discipline. There are many appropriate penalties that may be applied, but we do not exercise them if we can so quickly resort to prison.