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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 13 Hansard (26 November) . . Page.. 4724 ..

MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Environment and Minister for Community Affairs) (6.17): Mr Speaker, the government won't be supporting this bill, essentially because the government doesn't believe that the bill does anything to address either the causes of crime or criminal offending.

The government is serious about addressing the issues that make people vulnerable to involvement in the criminal justice system and last year initiated a complete review into sentencing. I reiterate the government's commitment to address the underlying causes of criminal behaviour and to examine existing law and programs with a view to improving their ability to deal effectively with offending behaviour.

An issues paper on sentencing was released in September by the review committee and has been followed up by an issues paper examining the use of restorative justice and victim offender conferencing in the territory. Submissions from the public and key stakeholders have been sought and received, and wide community consultation has taken place and continues to take place. I anticipate that a reform package of legislation in relation to sentencing will be introduced very early next year.

I don't think that community-based sentences should be regarded as a soft option. It is the soft, the easy and the populist response to law issues to simply accuse your opponents of being soft and pretend that you have really got the matter under control just by ramping up penalties. For those that experience community-based sentences, they can offer great challenges while enabling them to address their offending behaviour. The government has chosen to focus on whether existing sentencing law and programs can be improved to achieve outcomes from sentencing that deal effectively with offending behaviour, reflect legitimate community expectations and address the causes of crime.

That is, Mr Speaker, in stark contrast to the bill that we are debating now. There are a number of elements in that that I will touch upon. The bill firstly would empower the Court of Appeal to issue guideline judgments to be taken into account by courts when sentencing offenders. The primary purpose of guidelines is allegedly to promote consistency amongst judicial decision makers. There is arguably a much stronger case for the introduction of guideline judgments in larger jurisdictions such as New South Wales where there may be some scope for inconsistencies in sentencing outcomes to develop. Consistency however is much easier to maintain in the ACT where we have four judges and eight magistrates.

I have to say, Mr Speaker, the government is of the view that not only do guidelines have very little utility in the ACT-and we do oppose their introduction-but there is quite a legitimate view being expressed through decisions of the High Court that there is a real danger that guideline judgments, in other words legislatures interfering in relation to issues such as the form the judgment should take, do represent a real challenge to the separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary. I think it represents a real interference in that issue of judicial independence and integrity which is just a fundamental part of our court system.

The bill, secondly, seeks to increase the maximum penalties for a number of offences in the Crimes Act in an attempt, we are advised by the opposition, to bring them into line with penalties in New South Wales as if there is some sort of magic about the way in which criminal justice is conducted in New South Wales.

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