Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 3340 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
except to conclude that all reasonable action has been taken to secure payment and that there is no reasonable likelihood of the fine being paid. Once the registrar comes to those conclusions, under the Attorney's legislation the registrar must then commit that person to prison. He has no discretion; he has no choice. They go to gaol.
All my legislation seeks to do is to give the court a discretion in suitable cases. You cannot deny that there will be circumstances in which a more appropriate option at the point when all other options have been secured would be to give some fine defaulters a community service order rather than a prison sentence. The existing legislation denies the court that potential.
Poverty is not a crime, and poverty should not lead to prison, but that is the situation we currently have. To suggest that a community service order is a soft option is absolute nonsense. Who in this place would willingly undertake to fulfil a community service order? Who is seriously suggesting that a member of the community sentenced to serve a community service order is not paying a fairly significant price?
Mr Hargreaves: Or suffering a big stigma.
MR STANHOPE: There is an enormous stigma attached to being required to serve such an order. It is a genuine punishment. I am very concerned at the notion that there is only one real punishment, namely, prison. At the base of my concern is the suggestion that the attitude to community service orders indicates a real lack of commitment by the Government to exploring other sentencing options. Statistics in the annual report of the Attorney's department give some credence to those concerns. Average daily occupancy of the Belconnen Remand Centre has gone up from 30 two years ago to 36. The average number of ACT prisoners in New South Wales prisons has gone up from 80 two years ago to 116. The average number of detainees in the Periodic Detention Centre has gone up from 26 a couple of years ago to 80.
Mr Humphries: What is your point?
MR STANHOPE: My point is an apparent lack of commitment by this Government to exploring alternative sentencing options. I am going through the statistics. Community service hours worked have declined over the last two years, from 42,000 hours in 1995-96 to 27,000 hours in the last financial year.
It is significant that, despite the fact that the number of community service orders has increased, the number of hours worked has almost halved in the last two years. Could it have anything to do, perhaps, with funding decisions made within the department? Could it have anything to do with the abolition of the gang-based community service order scheme?
Mr Humphries: Read the Estimates Committee evidence about that and you will see what the reasons are.
MR STANHOPE: The report reveals that in the last two years the number of community service hours worked in Canberra has reduced from 42,000 to 27,000. There must be some very significant reason for that. It also indicates a change in focus,