Page 859 - Week 03 - Thursday, 10 March 2005

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Spent Convictions Act in its application to real estate agents. Government policy in relation to spent convictions is expressed through the Spent Convictions Act of 2000. That policy, as expressed in that legislation, is that the period that should elapse before a person is free of the stigma of a conviction, in these circumstances, is 10 years for an adult and five years for a person under the age of 18 years.

That is the legislated position in relation to that period, which you might call a sin-binning of a person convicted of an offence who is, say, a professional, such as a real estate agent, to which they will be henceforth disqualified from re-entering that profession. So what we are being asked, through this amendment, is essentially to amend the Spent Convictions Act, as it applies to real estate agents, to remove the period of 10 years and replace it with a period of five years. We can have a debate about that.

With any legislation that imposes a criminal penalty I always ask myself: whether the penalty is a bit extreme. Is it going too far? Are we being too soft? There is debate within any legislature, or even within the community, about the effectiveness—Mr Stefaniak and I have this debate constantly—or the appropriateness of certain penalties in relation to certain offences, and that is essentially at the heart of the amendment.

Is it appropriate for a real estate agent who commits a criminal offence and suffers a penalty as a result of that to be disqualified from ever perhaps regaining the entitlement to act as a real estate agent? What is the appropriate penalty or period of exclusion? What is the appropriate length of the sin-binning? Is it a 10-year sin-bin or is it a five-year sin-bin? We have provided in the Spent Convictions Act that, across all the professions, the period for an adult is 10 years and the period for a person under the age of 18 is five years.

If there is a reason for debate—I must say I have received absolutely no representations on this—and if there is a view within the community or a view within the place that our spent convictions legislation is out of kilter, that the 10 years is too long, and we need to bring it back to five years and reduce the period in relation to people under 18 to, say, 2½ years, then that is a debate that we should have in relation to the Spent Convictions Act and we should deal with it across the board.

Why are agents to be regarded differently from other professionals who might transgress in the same way as an agent might transgress? What is the difference? This is essentially an argument about the spent convictions legislation. I do not understand why we would actually introduce this discretionary difference through the Agents Act, rather than addressing it as a broad issue in relation to the spent convictions legislation.

MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra) (11.43): Mr Speaker, I listened with interest to this debate. Unfortunately, having received the amendment only about half an hour ago, I have had absolutely no time to ring up any agents or the real estate institute just to see what is their position. Maybe Dr Foskey can enlighten me on whether the real estate institute does have a position on that, because I think that that is important and I think that we do need to listen to what these representative groups actually feel about something like this.

I must say that I have some sympathy for what Dr Foskey is actually trying to achieve here, as I see it. Might I start by saying that she is seeking to amend section 27, dealing

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