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Thursday, 11 November 1971
Page: 3384

Mr UREN (Reid) - In this debate I want to refer to a case that is reported in volume 45 of the 'Australian Law Journal' of July 1971 at page 337. It reads:

Prison for Non-Payment ot Fines

At 45 A.L.J. 167 we mentioned the problem of prison before trial. A somewhat similar problem exists in cases where, upon conviction for a comparatively minor offence a fine is imposed on a defendant, or an order is made for the payment by an unsuccessful informant or defendant of the costs of proceedings, in either case with the alternative of imprisonment in default of payment, and the person concerned (though able to pay) declines to do so, either because he claims there is a principle involved, or because he seeks to make political capital from his subjection to imprisonment. While one can understand the motives of such people in the circumstances, a wider community interest is involved. In the first place, the recalcitrant individual is taken away from his usual avocation and therefore ceases to be productive; secondly, the cost of his sustenance, lodging and being guarded has to be borne by the community. There is no reason why either of these burdens should be thrust upon the taxpayer.

There is, of course, a recent precedent in this country. I refer to the case when I took before the court Constable 3136 of the New South Wales Police Force. After a hearing lasting 3 days the magistrate found that there was no case for the constable to answer. The court ruled that I would have to pay the costs. I called the costs a type of fine. I refused to pay the fine because of the belief that I held. I expressed this belief in this Parliament on 17th February this year when I said, in part:

I will not pay the fine. A law which threatens people with punishment if they dare to take their grievances to court is an unjust law. It intimidates people into not making criticism of public officials. The money awarded is called costs but in reality it is a fine. It is not paid to the defendant policeman; it is paid into Consolidated Revenue. The law in this respect reeks of inequality. In our courts of petty sessions, which handle police work, there is no genuine equality. Policemen have more equality than citizens. They have far greater rights than any citizen. If the defendant police officer in my case had charged me with assault and had failed to prove his case he would not have been required to pay my costs; he would not be threatened wilh a gaol sentence. My case was commenced in the public interest. My refusal to pay fine is in the public interest. To threaten a man wilh gaol when he has broken no law is a stupid law, and the sentence of 40 days hard labour for failure to pay a $80 fine is a stupid law.

And it was a stupid law, so much so that the New South Wales Cabinet and Government changed that law the day after I was released from gaol. Instead of one day's imprisonment for every $2 the law was changed to provide one day for every $5. This meant that one-third of the prisoners in New South Wales who were imprisoned for the non-payment of fines had their sentences reduced by 60 per cent. That decision has saved the taxpayers of New South Wales tens of thousands of dollars.

I again want to bring to the notice of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen), who represents the AttorneyGeneral - and I reminded him of this matter previously when he was the AttorneyGeneral - the law which exists in the Northern Territory and in the Australian Capital Territory. In reply to a question I asked of him the Minister said at page 495 of Hansard of 20th August 1971 that in the Australian Capital Territory a person spends one day in gaol for each $2 owing, or part thereof, with a maximum of 12 months imprisonment. In the Northern Territory it is one day for each $2. It is about time that the law in the Northern Territory and in the Australian Capital Territory reached at least the position of the law which now exists in New South Wales. The report I earlier referred to and which is set out in the Law Journal questions whether a man should be sent to gaol at all for failure to pay a fine. The report went on to state what the British law is. 1 ask the Government to examine this matter. It is long overdue for consideration. Recently the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party determined that the policy of our Party will be that no man will be sent to gaol unless he breaks a law or commits a crime. We will not send a man to gaol when he has broken no law or committed no crime. All I did in my own case was to charge a policeman who had assaulted me. Even though he perjured himself the magistrate said that there was not sufficient evidence although he admitted it was a strange case. This occurred despite the fact that I was able to select the policeman out of 5 or 6 plainclothes policemen in the court. The New South Wales Police Department would not identify the policeman, but I was able to identify him when he was wearing plain clothes. I had charged constable No. 3136. He claimed he had never seen me in his life. Apparently through some magic on my part I was able to pick out this man - who had never seen me before in his life - from five or six others in the court. I was able to choose him. I could go on and talk about the corruption and stupidity of the New South Wales Police Force, some of the senior members of which, if they do not perjure themselves, stretch the truth.

Be that as it may, this is a law that the lawyers themselves are questioning. They are saying that we should alter this law. In this day and age we want to try to keep people out of gaols, not put them into gaols. This report, which I draw to the attention of the eminent lawyer at the table, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, asks why the taxpayers of this country should have to pay to keep people in gaol. We want to minimise the number of people going to gaol. The time is long overdue for this Commonwealth Parliament to involve itself in prison reform. We know that there are no votes in improving prison conditions. But the conditions under which prisoners live and the food they eat are appalling.

Even though I disagree with the attitude of the Minister for Justice in New South Wales, Mr Maddison, on the Bathurst gaol bashings - I think he made a foolish mistake in this case - I believe that he is probably one of the best Ministers for Justice we have had in New South Wales tor many years and probably better than many Labor Ministers. I do not criticise the State where I live because there is much work to be done. The only way to bring about prison reform is for the Federal Parliament to work in co-operation with the States to solve the problem of prisons in this country. Unless we face this responsibility the States have no chance of solving this problem. I am aware that there are no votes in prison reform. We know that the States are starved of funds, and no programme is more starved of funds than is the Department of Corrective Institutions. At this stage of our civilisation we should begin at least to look a little more enlightened than we are. This Commonwealth Parliament should do something about working in co-operation with the States. I hope that the Attorney-General does something about prison reform and locking people up in gaol for one day in lieu of every $2 unpaid fine imposed by courts in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Department of Civil Aviation

Proposed expenditure, $88,830,000.

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