CRIMINAL LAW (SENTENCING) (CHARACTER EVIDENCE) AMENDMENT BILL

Thursday 05 June, 2014

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (16:15): I would like to echo the words of our deputy leader. Recently I also met with Professor Briggs in relation to this bill and others and can also attest to her support for the bill. I commend the Attorney-General for his efforts in instigating this bill, and I truly believe through conversations that I have had extensively in the community that it certainly captures the community sentiment on this issue.

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (16:15): I would like to echo the words of our deputy leader. Recently I also met with Professor Briggs in relation to this bill and others and can also attest to her support for the bill. I commend the Attorney-General for his efforts in instigating this bill, and I truly believe through conversations that I have had extensively in the community that it certainly captures the community sentiment on this issue.

I rise today to speak also in support of the bill. I certainly will not monopolise the house's valuable time with a long speech, but I do believe that resolving the ambiguity that exists in character evidence in South Australian sentencing laws is certainly a sensible amendment to section 10(1). It is important to state that this act only applies to sentencing and, of course, guilt has already been determined by a jury or by plea at this stage.

I note, as the deputy leader also pointed out, that the Law Society has taken a view on the issue. Every now and then politicians will disagree with the Law Society. I learnt that a long time ago, and I believe that this is also the case today. I certainly believe that this bill is necessary to resolve the inconsistency in the way that section 10 of the Criminal Law Sentencing Act has been applied by courts, and by appeal courts especially.

Evidence of supposed good character has been used in the past where persons have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to indictable offences involving sexual offences as a mitigating factor to reduce their sentence, and it has been an argument on appeal in several prominent South Australian cases that the deputy leader alluded to. Some members will certainly recall the case of R v Liddy, where Peter Liddy, a former magistrate, was convicted of numerous child sexual offences against young boys. In that case, he submitted on appeal using his previous good standing and involvement in the community as a magistrate and as a volunteer in local surf lifesaving—I am led to believe—and other organisations as well, as evidence of this good character that should have, in his view, been taken into account.

What is even more disgraceful is that Mr Liddy actually used these organisations, his office, and his position in these organisations to solicit countless children for sex. His argument was rejected by a majority of the quorum in the Court of Criminal Appeal but, as the deputy leader pointed out, there was not a unanimous rejection of the argument. There are similar other cases, which I am sure the Attorney-General and the deputy leader are aware of, that I will not mention today, but while this argument and others have not been routinely successful when originally sentenced, there does not appear to be a consensus of opinion in the Court of Criminal Appeal.

This amendment to section 10 will certainly bring us into line with other states, for example, New South Wales, where the act there prevents the use of character evidence in circumstances where they have used community service as a vehicle for offending. While this is by no means a serious problem in most instances of sentencing in our courts, we certainly must be careful to, I believe, remove any ambiguity to ensure that offenders are properly punished. I cannot emphasise enough that this is certainly a current community sentiment that I hear out in the electorate and, as parliamentarians, we are here to put in laws representative of the views of the people. That is why this amendment is an appropriate addition to section 10.

I want to speak a little bit about the case of R v Liddy, where the late Justice Mullighan speaks about this exact issue. He discusses this issue to the extent that there are a number of subjective factors that the court will consider in sentencing. He touches on, and I quote, 'disparate elements'. He goes on to refer to a past judgement and says:

The art of the advocate may be to place those features in one light rather than another.

He goes on:

There will be many competing strands of information which are available to be taken into account.

So he touches on this exact subjectivity that exists, and I believe that any law which goes to the heart of this, which assists the court in being more consistent in its judgements on this issue, is a good thing. Speaking to the other amendment, the amendment of section 20AAC(2)(a), it is really just a tightening of the existing provision.

Nevertheless, I certainly support that proposal as well, and it is important that both sides of the house, regardless of who holds government, assert that anyone who is guilty of either a serious firearms charge or a serious child sex charge of this nature will go to gaol, unless the most unusual circumstances arise. General and personal deterrents in our system, I believe, should certainly be primary factors for deciding the appropriate sentence in such offences.

I also note with pride that gun crime and accessibility of firearms in Australia have substantially been reduced across all states. I think we can thank in large part the Howard government's gun buyback in 1996 as the start of that. But in getting back to the overall bill, I completely agree with the thrust of this and the common-sense approach to this bill, and I hereby support the bill.