Sentencing Amendment (Sentencing Standards) Bill 2017 Second Reading

8 Jun 2017

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I rise to speak on the Sentencing Amendment (Sentencing Standards) Bill 2017. I welcome that the debate has diverged into TAFE. There is a bit of work to go in TAFE, because we know what the Auditor-General’s report into TAFE finances said. They are still struggling to stay financially sustainable with the recurrent funding. The balance sheets are only being kept in the black by the TAFE Rescue Fund and these other grants from the government, and they are all due to expire in 2018, so there is still a lot more work to be done to save TAFE after the disastrous, disastrous reforms implemented by the Brumby Labor government and continued on by the previous Liberal government.

Onto the bill itself, this bill does repeal the baseline sentencing scheme. It establishes a new standard sentencing scheme for certain indictable offences, it enhances the guideline judgements scheme and it amends the definition of the arson offence. From the Greens perspective, we certainly support the part of the bill which deals with the repealing of baseline sentencing provisions. The Greens always opposed this baseline sentencing being introduced. When that was introduced Sue Pennicuik, our justice spokesperson and a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the other place, argued that that would be unworkable and would make the sentencing regime far too complex. That is exactly what has been found by the Court of Appeal, which held that baseline sentencing was incapable of being given any practical operation. So we certainly welcome that the government is acting to repeal baseline sentencing.

We do support the enhancement of guideline judgements. It was the Sentencing Advisory Council that, in its sentencing report in identifying offences where sentencing guidance is required, recommended that guideline judgements are the most effective, influential and persuasive form of providing sentencing guidance. They made it clear that guideline judgements have the best capacity to address the issues when identifying those sentencing issues. They said that guideline judgements can address sentencing concerns that are broader than the concerns relating to the particular offence, particularly around family violence offences. We feel that the government should be giving these guideline judgements the chance to be utilised first to address any problems with sentencing for certain offences rather than going ahead with the standard sentencing scheme in conjunction with guideline judgements.

We do not support the standard sentencing scheme, given that the Sentencing Advisory Council said that the standard sentencing scheme was not their preferred model of sentencing guidance. They have indicated that all the offences where there were problems with sentencing could have been appropriately dealt with by guideline judgements from the Court of Appeal. This bill does implement a number of Sentencing Advisory Council recommendations that the Court of Appeal have the power to provide guidance in terms of guideline judgements, which does then beg the question why we actually do now need the sentencing scheme.

In terms of public confidence in sentencing within the judicial system, as identified by the Sentencing Advisory Council, research demonstrated that when informed of facts relevant to sentencing, members of the public do not generally consider that the sentences imposed by judicial officers to offenders are too lenient, with the exception being for particular sexual offences against children. Again, we question why the scheme is being introduced when guideline sentences could be a much more effective option according to research in terms of public confidence within sentencing.

We are also concerned that the bill establishes mandatory minimum non-parole periods for the standard sentencing scheme, which we feel does undermine judicial independence to ensure that we get the right sentences, given the seriousness of the offence and the circumstances around the offending. We also suggest that further training for judicial officers in sexual offences — and the Sentencing Advisory Council has actually identified that this is an area where there is a problem with sentencing consistency — would be extremely useful, just as I understand it is being used for training judicial officers around family violence to assist in a greater understanding of these matters and ensuring that appropriate sentences are delivered.

We also feel that the government needs to start taking justice reinvestment seriously, far more seriously than it is, whether it is ensuring that the justice system is addressing those issues with offenders that are outside their offending, whether it is their mental health issues, whether it is family violence issues, whether it is drug issues or whether it is homelessness, because the evidence is clear that it is justice reinvestment that is the most effective in reducing crime. The route that this government is going down, following the lead of the opposition with their policies, will just simply lead to more crime and more recidivism.

Whilst this bill provides for the enhancement of guideline judgements, and certainly we support that, we do not support the implementation of standard sentencing. We will not be opposing this bill in this place, but we will reserve our judgement and our right to move amendments in the other place.

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