Amnesty International and 11 other Indigenous and legal organisations have sent an open letter to the Western Australian government urging it not to pass the controversial Criminal Law Amendment (Home Burglary and Other Offences) Bill 2014 in its current form.
Calls to withdraw bill
The organisations have called on WA Premier Colin Barnett, Attorney-General Michael Mischin and Minister for Police Liza Harvey to withdraw the bill, or at least amend it so as not to apply to children.
The 12 National and local WA organisations are united in their condemnation of the Bill, which they say "expands the mandatory sentencing regime in Western Australia, including for 16–17-year-olds. This will adversely affect Aboriginal young people who are already massively over-represented in the justice system. In 2013-2014 Indigenous young people made up 78.3 per cent of all young people in detention in Western Australia, and were 53 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous young people.
"A dozen organisations across Australia have spoken with one voice, calling on the WA Government to live up to its promise to reduce the rates of Indigenous people in prison, and adopt a smarter approach to community safety," said Julian Cleary, Indigenous Campaigner at Amnesty International Australia.
The letter says, "The Government has justified this Bill on the grounds that it will increase community safety. But evidence shows that mandatory sentencing does not reduce offending rates. By increasing the number of young offenders in detention the Bill will perversely result in increased offending behaviour."
The letter raises concerns about estimates by the Department of Corrective Services that the bill will lead to an additional 350 to 400 prisoners.
It flags the estimated costs to WA taxpayers. These include $93 million for a new detention facility, $43 million in costs of detaining people caught up by the stricter bill, and the untold social costs of many more young people being caught up in the juvenile detention system.
"This Bill also introduces mandatory minimum three-year sentences for serious violent offences committed during an aggravated home burglary. We do not downplay the seriousness of these offences, but they already carry very heavy penalties and there is no evidence the existing sentences given to 16 and 17 year olds are inadequate," said Julian Cleary.
The letter also objects to the bill’s breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that the arrest or imprisonment of a child, ‘shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time’. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has said that Western Australia’s mandatory sentencing laws are contrary to international law.
The letter is signed by the following organisations.
- Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (Inc)
- Amnesty International Australia
- Australian Lawyers Alliance (WA)
- Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
- Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR)
- Civil Liberties Australia
- Deaths in Custody Watch Committee of Western Australia Inc
- Just Reinvest NSW
- Mens Outreach Service
- Mowanjum Aboriginal Corporation
- National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS)
- Western Australian Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (WANADA)