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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 3 Hansard (5 March) . . Page.. 569 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

by the then Attorney-General was entitled "Government responds to anthrax hoaxes: tougher penalties". Yes, more policy by press release. And the response to every crime is tougher penalties.

But over four months have passed, and the Assembly has been given handwritten amendments today by the former Attorney-General listing 10 years or $100,000 in fines. Perhaps, more correctly, that should be 1,000 penalty units. A drafting error? Or perhaps it is because the shadow attorney expects this amendment to be defeated, and then we will have another press release accusing people of being soft on crime.

I will conclude by stating again that increasing penalties and creating an offence so broad and so subjective that it creates bad law is not a practice that the Australian Democrats can support. This is a time for cool heads, rational debate and leadership because each time a building is evacuated, each time a citizen thinks twice about opening the mail and each time the government reacts with high rhetoric about increased sentences, the terrorist campaign to increase community anxiety is successful.

It is extremely important that we as a community do not start leaping at shadows; it is more important that we as Assembly members do not start legislating against shadows. Inventing an offence via bad law will not stop the hoaxes. Only lowering community anxiety will stop the hoaxes, and only calm debate and leadership can do that.

MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (3.47), in reply: As members are aware-although I am not quite sure now that they all are-the purpose of this bill is to ensure that there are appropriate sanctions against people who intentionally cause distress and alarm through hoaxes and that the legislation is drafted and couched in those terms: people who intentionally cause distress and alarm through hoaxes.

Following the anthrax attacks in the United States last year there were numerous instances in Australia-not one or two, but dozens and dozens-of suspect substances being placed in public places or sent through the mail. Dozens. Here in Canberra the Australian Federal Police and the authorities responded to about 100 incidents in the flow-on from September 11.

In the ACT suspicious substances resulted in the evacuation of buildings and in decontamination procedures being followed. While none of the substances involved in these scares were found to be dangerous, these events caused significant disruption, distress and costs. As I indicated when I introduced the bill, the only offence that was being committed at the time was the offence of public mischief in the Crimes Act. That was the only offence available for any of these actions or activities-activities that, in some instances, caused severe distress and alarm and were extremely expensive.

Rolling out the police, closing down buildings and taking on researchers is an extremely expensive process. There is an enormous financial cost involved, let alone the cost in terms of anxiety and distress. And what was the offence that is currently available? Public mischief. And what is the penalty for causing public mischief? Public mischief is a summary offence, and it carries a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment or a $2,000 fine. We are talking here about somebody not really thinking about what they

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