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Thursday, 8 September 1983
Page: 635

Mr BLANCHARD(10.15) —Mr Speaker, the House is well aware of the overuse today of imprisonment in Australia in comparison with its use in countries overseas. My own State of Western Australia, I regret to say, has in the past had an embarrassing record of overusing incarceration as a sentencing option. I see that the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil) is one South Australian member who is present in the chamber. He will be interested in the following statistics which illustrate my point. In April 1983, the daily average number of prisoners in Western Australia was of the order of 1,500 compared with 750 in South Australia.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Perth knows that it is forbidden for an honourable member to walk between the member who is addressing the Chair and the Chair. He has no special exemption from that rule. The honourable member for Moore will proceed.

Mr BLANCHARD —I am not quite sure that this difference is related to behaviour, as the honourable member for Grey seeks to suggest. I think it reflects the pattern of sentencing in South Australia. If we look at the rate per 100,000, we find that the rate in Western Australia is 117.7 per 100,000 as compared with a rate in South Australia of 58.8. Fortunately, there are signs that the new Labor Government in Western Australia is changing this position as the high rate of imprisonment in Western Australia is slowly declining as a result of the use of non-custodial sentences. The use of non-custodial sentencing is increasing in Western Australia. At this stage, I must pay tribute to the staffs of the Prisons Department and the Probation and Parole Service in Western Australia. These are dedicated men and women working sometimes under very difficult circumstances and with very little public recognition of their efforts. Therefore, I am pleased to pay this tribute to them.

I have previously expressed my concern to the House of the over-representation of persons of Aboriginal descent in criminal statistics in this country. Figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology indicate that, although Aboriginals represent 2 per cent of the Australian population, in terms of the prison population they represent approximately 30 per cent. In this connection, I pay tribute to the Aboriginal Legal Service which vigorously works to protect the Aboriginal caught in the criminal justice net. Imprisonment today is seen as an expensive luxury and the community is more prepared to accept alternatives to imprisonment.

Recently I attended a conference of the Australian Crime Prevention Council in Brisbane. The conference theme was 'The alienated generation'. At that conference Mr David Biles, a well-known criminologist and the Assistant Director (Research) of the Australian Institute of Criminology, stated that there were many in prison who could have been dealt with by alternative penalties. He urged that only those who are considered to be a dangerous risk to the community should be locked away at the expense of the public. He also shrewdly added that there is a danger in placing under community supervision as an alternative to imprisonment people who could be dealt with in other ways. The effect of imprisonment is felt more by the prisoner's family. I pointed this out to the House previously. Firstly, the family is affected by the loss of income by the breadwinner and, secondly, through social stigma suffered by the family.

Finally, I refer to a first in Australia-the recent opening of a bail hostel in Western Australia. The concept of a bail hostel is fairly recent. I might add, with some modesty, that I played a not inconsiderable part in introducing that concept to Australia.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.