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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 3 Hansard (6 March) . . Page.. 605 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

My next point concerns the intention of this government, stated in its autumn legislation program, to wind back reforms made last year to the Crimes Act, reforms to empower the police to deal effectively with crime. Those reforms brought our police into line with New South Wales, especially in terms of the standards required to arrest someone without warrant: the reasonable suspicion test as opposed to the very difficult reasonable belief test.

That brought us into line with the state across the border, and meant that the same test was applied to police apprehending criminals in Queanbeyan, as to those in the ACT. I have not seen what the government is doing in that regard-none of us have yet-and I do not think I should comment much further on that. However, I am very concerned that, in his autumn legislation preview, the Attorney appears to indicate that those very important reforms, which are so important to properly policing our territory, properly apprehending criminals and properly protecting the citizens of this territory, are going to be wound back.

I look forward with interest, maybe some trepidation too, to seeing what is actually dropped on the table. However, I will leave further comment until then. I just hope that, if the government is thinking of winding back those sensible measures that give police the power to go about their jobs without one hand tied behind their backs, they will think again and not go off half-cocked.

Having been involved in several criminal law jurisdictions, I suppose I know a fair bit about sentencing, and I can certainly comment on it in terms of our jurisdictions in the ACT. For many years, in fact since stats have been kept-probably over 20 years or more-the ACT has had the lowest incarceration rate per 100,000 people of any state or territory. I think the next lowest now is Victoria, but we are very much lower-often two or three times lower than other states. That is just a historical fact.

That is fine if we do not have the same crime rates. However, there is a real problem in our community: many ordinary citizens in our community have the view that sentences are often not as tough as they should be. I do not know if that is exactly what the Chief Minister is looking at. He seems to be looking at making it even more difficult for people who should go to jail to actually go to jail. I hope not.

I think it was ACTCOSS who put out a press release saying that they hope that a lot of people will be able to comment on the review, a lot of ordinary citizens. I certainly hope that is the case, because I am regularly accosted by ordinary citizens who have some real concern and who think our courts are far too lenient. I hope those people can add their views here too, which might actually assist the government.

It is interesting just to put some figures on the table here, Mr Speaker, which I will do. I am quoting from an article I actually wrote for the Canberra Times, and it is reasonably well set out, so I will actually just read the relevant parts onto the record.

I asked the Department of Justice and Community Safety, as it then was, for stats about crime sentencing patterns, stats about what our District Court did, and about what the New South Wales criminal courts did for equivalent offences, that being their Supreme Court and, in some instances, their District Court.

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