The Guardian August 2, 2000


Mandatory sentencing: deal, but laws remain

Moves are afoot in the Federal Senate to end mandatory sentencing laws 
in the Northern Territory and Western Australia with Greens Senator Bob 
Brown announcing he is preparing a sweeping new Bill to override mandatory 
sentencing on all property crimes and the Australian Democrats saying they 
will reintroduce the Human Rights (Mandatory Sentencing of Juvenile 
Offenders) Bill.

These developments came after the United Nations Human Rights Committee 
criticised the laws.

The Democrats called the decision by NT Chief Minister Denis Burke to give 
$5 million more funding for policing, "throwing good money after bad", part 
of a deal concluded between the Federal and NT Governments last week.

The deal includes the automatic jailing of juveniles for thefts of more 
than $100, and for their being sent to diversionary programs for crimes 
worth less than $100, whether they admit to the offence or not.

The Howard Government will chip in $20 million toward the diversionary 
programs.

The Northern Australian Aboriginal Legal Service welcomed the funding for 
diversionary programs but said the agreement will not prevent tragedies 
such as the death of the 15-year-old who committed suicide last February 
after being incarcerated under mandatory sentencing laws for a break and 
enter.

Senator Brown, meanwhile, says the Mandatory Sentencing Bill is history. 
"The debate has moved on. My 1999 Bill, co-sponsored by Labor and the 
Democrats, which outlawed mandatory sentencing for juveniles only, is now 
unsatisfactory."

He said it leaves untouched the NT and WA laws which mandate jail terms for 
property crimes such as theft by adults.

"This is in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political 
Rights." His new Bill is in keeping with Labor's proposed policy against 
mandatory sentencing for "juvenile offenders or property offences".

Back to index page