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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 14 Hansard (Tuesday, 7 December 2010) . . Page.. 5821 ..

MR SESELJA (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition) (12.12): The minister is particularly touchy on this point and he goes back and forth in his arguments. In fact, he started when it was first put to him that these penalties are the same as for various serious offences like supplying alcohol to a minor or other things, or more serious than for some other serious offences like taking a minor into a brothel. We received an advice that that is the same as it is for other similar offences. Then, when he was asked to show what are the similar offences, he compared it to serious illegal dumping. So his argument is that, if someone engages in some serious illegal dumping, that is the same offence and should be treated in the same way as someone who hands out a plastic bag.

It is insulting. It is insulting to the community. It is insulting to the intelligence of the community because they know the difference. It is insulting to the integrity of the community because it is suggesting that the person who hands out the plastic bag is always aiding and abetting a gross environmental offence. It is ridiculous.

He has been caught out on this and it goes to values. This is a value statement. When we compare it to other offences, we are saying how serious we treat various things. That is what we do with penalties, from the most serious offences—murder, life imprisonment—right down the chain to the less serious offences. And by putting it as more serious than some pretty serious offences, by putting it on the same plane as selling alcohol to a minor and serious environmental dumping, what this minister is saying, and what this Assembly is saying by backing him, is that these are the values of those people who vote for it; they compare these offences; they are on an equal footing with these other serious offences.

The community do not accept that. Most of the community do not want to see this ban at all. I wonder what sort of response you would have got if you had added the question in that survey: if we are to proceed with a ban, should the fine be the same or more than that for supplying alcohol to a minor? I wonder what kind of response you would have got to that question. I do not know that you would have got one per cent in favour—maybe one per cent; there is always someone who will back silly pieces of legislation, as has been demonstrated today with the Labor Party and the Greens in their votes saying that this offence, this heinous offence, of handing out a plastic bag is worse than some other serious offences.

Now the minister’s defence—it was first put by Mr Rattenbury and now by the minister—is: “It is only a maximum offence; it is only a maximum penalty.” But that is true of all those other offences we point to. The maximum penalty for supplying alcohol to a minor is the same as the maximum penalty for supplying a plastic bag.

Then we saw another iteration: he said, “But the $27,500 is only for those big bag corporations.” But that is true of illegal dumping; it is true of a whole range of other things. So he is saying it is okay for the checkout operator to have a $5,500 fine—a $5,500 fine is reasonable for the checkout operator who hands out a plastic bag—and it is okay for the small business operator to have a $27,500 fine because it is such a heinous offence.

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