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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 13 Hansard (7 December) . . Page.. 3874 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

The Greens are, therefore, supporting Mr Hargreaves' amendments which have the objective of deleting the minimum period of disqualification included in the Bill. The amendments keep in the Bill clear guidance to the courts over what is regarded as an appropriate period of suspension for an offence. But it gives judges discretion to impose a different suspension period, depending on the individual case.

A related aspect of the licence disqualification issue is the ability of offenders to gain professional - or what is now called a restricted - licence during the suspension period. The Government proposes that, where a licence is suspended for drink-driving offences, and also other dangerous driving offences such as culpable, negligent, serious or reckless driving, the offender should not be able to get a restricted licence. I accept that the ultimate sanction for drivers who break the rules is to prevent them from driving. Fines can be paid relatively easily, but people can be affected much more significantly if their licence to drive is taken away. It is a pity that our society has become so dependent on cars for transport that not being able to use a car is such a great loss. But that is the reality we have to deal with.

This is recognised in the existing provision that allows people to apply for restricted licences, if their normal licence is suspended or cancelled. The Greens are inclined to the view that, if someone drives in such a bad way so as to lose their licence, they should have to accept this penalty. I would prefer to keep irresponsible drivers off the road so that everyone can feel safer, rather than allow these people back on the roads straight away through a restricted licence. On the other hand, I am aware and respectful of Mr Moore's argument that there may be exceptional cases where someone really needs a car for either work or family reasons and that these people should be able to put their case before a magistrate to avoid suffering the double penalty of losing their licence and their ability to get work.

The Government has suggested that it is too easy for offenders to get a special licence. However, they have not provided any statistics on how many people get special licences relative to those who apply. My office contacted the Attorney-General's office last week requesting these statistics. We still await a reply. When this issue was debated last time, an effort was made by the Greens to tighten up the criteria for being able to obtain a restricted licence rather than deleting it altogether.

The current wording in the Motor Traffic Act refers to the court granting a special licence in "exceptional circumstances". It then lists five criteria. They are: Whether the person would suffer unreasonable loss; availability of alternative transport; whether anyone's health would be put at risk; the applicant's infringement history; and the likelihood of the applicant complying with the conditions of the special licence. For re-offenders, the Act refers to the court only granting a special licence in "the most extraordinary circumstances". I would have thought this was pretty clear guidance to the courts that restricted licences should only be given out very rarely to people who really need them. If the Government is concerned that these criteria are not clear enough for the courts, then it should amend the criteria rather than just deleting them.

The issue of mandatory sentencing is one that has come up around Australia quite often in the last few years. It is a very concerning trend to many in the community. Members supporting this are supremely confident of their right to make these sorts of decisions

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