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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 13 Hansard (7 December) . . Page.. 3878 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

I am also advised by the officials that there is still provision for section 556A to apply. Section 556A provides that where, because of exceptional circumstances and/or a previous excellent record, the court deems it inappropriate to proceed to conviction, it can either release the person forthwith or discharge them upon entering a bond of good behaviour. This is often the case. If you read the Canberra Times you will see a number of people who enter a bond of good behaviour for 12 months, and they may have to pay, as a condition of the bond, $200 to a charity. That is something our courts have been doing fairly frequently. The effect of that is that it is not recorded as a conviction.

If they are charged with a further drink-driving conviction within five years, that is regarded as the second conviction. You cannot keep receiving 556As. They are provided only where exceptional circumstances or an excellent driving record applies. The rule of thumb in the ACT - or the last time I was prosecuting or doing defence work until about 1995 - was that, if you had been driving 20 years without a conviction, there would not be a magistrate in the place who would not give you a 556A. That is fairly common across the border. We all know that ACT courts are notoriously much more lenient than their interstate counterparts, but even in New South Wales that would pretty well apply. So section 556A still applies for exceptional circumstances.

The lawful alcoholic limit for a junior driver is 0.03. For an adult, the minimum is 0.05. Let us say that they have been driving for 10 years and they have received one speeding fine. If they are over 0.05, they would get one month. If that person desperately needs a licence and this is their first offence, there is provision within this Bill for special licences with conditions. Again, that is not terribly different from what we have at present. The mandatory minimum set-up here is not as draconian as those opposite might think. It is very similar to what we currently have in the Territory. You can get a special licence with a minimum disqualification if you absolutely need it and if the court is so satisfied.

I do not know what all the fuss is about. In many ways these provisions are better than what was the case 10 years ago. Back then, if you did not qualify for a 556A, the court would have to suspend your licence for a first offence for three months. As I indicated when I first spoke, you would invariably get a special licence. Some of the magistrates started whingeing about that because they felt they had no discretion to not give a special licence in certain circumstances. They had to suspend for three months, and that was a mandatory minimum. In this legislation there is a little bit more flexibility, if anything. There is a broader range of minimum penalties and default penalties than there was before. If anything, for PCAs and drink-driving offences, there is probably a lot more scope for courts to exercise their own discretion. The officials are nodding, so obviously I have relayed these Bills effectively. I do not see what they are worried about. If anything, there is more flexibility in this legislation than there was in the past.

I will close by reiterating what I said: These are very, very serious offences. From my experience in the ACT courts, they as a matter of course - sometimes too much so - tend to bend over backwards in terms of offenders' circumstances. All in all, this legislation seems to be quite a fair piece of legislation, with graduated scales of penalties, both default disqualifications and minimum mandatory disqualifications.

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