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Mandatory Sentencing is a matter for State and Territory Legislators

By Ross Lightfoot - posted Wednesday, 19 April 2000

Mandatory Sentencing is an integral part of the legal system in every country on the globe. Australia has it for murder, drunk driving, speeding etc. The United States, which, ironically, heads the UN committee that condemned Australia, not only has a myriad of mandatory sentencing laws, but can execute children. Saudi Arabia, a strong Western ally, executes, publicly, women and children by be-heading or stoning to death for having illegal sex.

Pakistan’s court recently condemned a multiple murderer to death by slow strangulation and then ordered that the body be cut into one hundred pieces and dissolved in acid. China executes over 2000 people annually and while the bodies are still technically alive, although clinically dead, removes organs for sale.

Execution for murderers in many countries of the world, through hanging, shooting, garrotting, electrocution, gassing or lethal injection, is all part of the mandatory sentencing process in those countries, but there has been no


United Nations committee determination or inquiry into these myriad of nations, all members of the United Nations. What Western Australia and the Northern Territory have enacted, in their sovereign parliaments (with variations), are not laws allowing those respective governments to execute their subjects, but merely, at the third conviction (not just arrest or offence) for home invasion or breaking and entering, to jail them.

For the UN, an organisation that is becoming increasingly irrelevant to Australia, to temeritoriously condemn Australia for allowing a mandatory

custodial sentencing for the third conviction for breaking and entering, but to be mute with respect to public executions, legal stoning to death, organ removal from executed persons without parental consent, legal slavery, child labour (as young as six years old), decades-old African civil wars and the growing number of nations, particularly in Africa, that regress to dictatorships is absurd.

It is also ludicrous and, by comparison, of no consequence in the international scheme of things, for the UN committee to offer a condemnation of Australia – a model UN member – when so much tragedy, inequity, hopelessness and entrenched and legalised racism and murder exist in the world, that does not attract the discriminatory eye of the UN.

Mandatory sentencing does not compel a judge to bring down a custodial sentence for stealing a packet of biscuits, or cool drink or a can of beer. What the presiding judge must do under the WA and NT laws, is to jail third time offenders for breaking into homes or premises for the third or subsequent times. The intent of stealing or actually stealing, only exacerbates the serious primary offence.

The laws in any case are not racist; they are written without the slightest bias to any race or another. It is a strange phenomenon that society, perhaps through the press, has become focussed on the perpetrators of crimes and not on the victims. The elderly have become mandatory prisoners in their homes: public buildings, sports centres, local government buildings, schools etc – have become tolerated targets for trashing and torching. The young, in our frontier towns, wander the streets with impunity. What mandatory sentencing does is at least give some satisfaction to taxpayers, home-owners, and the elderly, that every effort is made by their governments, that have, in the case of the states, the constitutional right to make such laws. The states and territories have not just the constitutional right to make laws of this nature exclusively, but are in the best position to make these laws – they are in a real sense, on the ground.


If the laws need to be changed, and perhaps in an evolutionary sense, they should be revisited and fine-tuned, that re-examination of the legislation should not be forced upon the states or territories by either the UN who should have much more to do with its time, or the Federal Government. Bully-boys are never welcomed or respected. They may impose their wills, but that does not bring respect. If the Northern Territory is forced to withdraw its mandatory sentencing laws, Territorians would forever view Canberra as anathema. But it would leave WA as the pariah in the Commonwealth. The Andrews Euthanasia Bill was successful and the might of the Federal Government’s muscle was manifest. It was predictable after this success that other members would want to pick on the constitutionally weaker Northern Territory. So before any more members of the House of Representatives or Senate want to make a name for themselves before the next elections, the repetition of private members bills must be stopped. Five minutes in the national media spotlight is not sufficient compensation for a ruined political career.

The issue of law and order must remain with the States and Territories, and the egos of those wishing to change those laws in States other than their own, should be hosed down.

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About the Author

Ross Lightfoot is a Liberal Senator for Western Australia.

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