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Sentencing Amendment Bill Bill No.51 of 2016 - Second Reading

Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, like the honourable member for Mersey, I support this bill, but I have concerns about taking one tool out of the toolbox. While I accept the Government made an election promise to remove suspended sentences, I find it strange to be removing something that has worked in some part. It is similar to having a toolbox and taking one out simply because you promised you would, even though it might serve a purpose.

I agree the community often expresses concern when they see sentences, and many times they think a sentence is much weaker than it should be. We do not know all the facts when we see that either. I am sure the President made comment on occasion that only a court knows the circumstances when a sentence is made. Having said that, I accept to have the court be diversionary and to be able to send people off - whether it be drug rehabilitation or any other means - before you make a sentence is good. It gives other options to our magistrates.

Like the member for Mersey, I am also concerned about the cost and a cap at 80. I wonder if the Government has considered the $26 000 per annum, and whether it could be something like a HECS scheme. Perhaps those being offered the diversionary option, rather than going to jail, could repay when they earn over a certain amount of money. If you have given the option of saying, okay, you have your cap of 80, but people may prefer, whether they take a loan or if it was like a HECS, once you earn over a certain amount of money you pay it back. At least it gives you some incentive.

I do not know about others in the Chamber but I always remember, with my own children, that things are valued much more if you have to pay for it. When you consider these people have done something wrong - they have committed a crime - then we are expecting the community to pay. Maybe they should pay themselves, or perhaps it should be something like HECS such that if they do earn over a certain amount in the future then they pay it back. It is an option worth considering. I am sure in many cases it would be preferable to going to jail if you knew you had to pay it.

Going back to suspended sentences, I believe it is like giving a prisoner one last chance. As parents, I am sure most know the feeling of one last chance we give to children. It is something I do not believe we should be removing from the options available to a magistrate or judge.

I will not repeat much of what the member for Mersey said. My main concern was that we are capped at 80 offenders. I see it as grossly unfair that people in the same circumstance will get a different outcome. You could call it discrimination, or what you like, but someone goes before a court and is able to get a deferred sentence, but someone else with exactly the same or even less criminal circumstances will not have that option and will go to jail. I believe the community would see that as grossly unfair. There might be someone who has done something far worse that is suspended or deferred. I understand they come back and are checked and have to do the right thing, but someone else goes to court who perhaps has not committed nearly as serious an offence as the person before them, but because there is not enough money they go to jail. I cannot see that as appropriate at all.

I hark back to the Treasurer saying how on track the budget is and how well we are going with funding. It would have been hoped, if that is the case, that money could go into this if for some reason we reach our 80 cap. Apparently we have and probably will for some time. We only have to look at the other side of the ledger, for whatever we can save on this side we save in money from the prison system. I appreciate there is a certain cost regardless of how many prisoners are in there, but we also have to look at the cost to the community. For every prisoner who is rehabilitated and stays with their family, who realises they have made a mistake and does not want to go to prison, does the right thing, keeps their job and contributes to community, there is a huge cost to community if they go to prison, and there is a cost if they come out. For every person who does the right thing and does not reoffend - we were told that 60 per cent are unlikely to reoffend - that certainly has to be looked at for the potential of what we can do for our community.

What a reflection on our society if, because of money, people go to prison who should not, or would not if there was room for them. Then they see money being spent in all sorts of other areas. I could name many but I will not. It is not appropriate to name where I think money should not be spent. We have only to look at wages and salaries of certain people, which hit the press. You think, well, $100 000 is five more people who could go into diversion and not go to jail. I ask the Government if they could consider something like a HECS scheme, some way for these prisoners who would not go to prison if there was room for them.

Apart from that, most of it was covered by the member for Mersey. He went through it quite well. What the Government has put up is commendable. The member for Mersey delivered it extremely well and went through many sections that I do not need to repeat. I had taken copious notes and I thank the Leader for the briefings.

I note that this is only after someone has been found guilty. It does give them incentive to plead guilty, so hopefully that might shorten the court time. If someone has a prolonged court appearance and is not pleading guilty, this gives incentive to plead guilty and hopefully do the right thing. On the other hand, if they happen to see it is already full then there is no incentive to plead guilty if they already have 80. They would be thinking, 'Why would I bother pleading guilty because I'm not going to get the diversion anyway?'. I find that the very unfortunate part of this bill. I ask the Government to look at funding as many people as we need. If they are going to get rid of suspended sentences, then fully fund the options or alternatives available.

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