Do the crime but not the time in le­nient state

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - JOHN FER­GU­SON

Crim­i­nals were handed sig­nif­i­cantly less jail time in Vic­to­ria com­pared with NSW across 15 key of­fences rang­ing from homi­cide to rape and rob­bery, with the courts back­ing some of the low­est penal­ties in the na­tion.

As de­bate rages over sen­tenc­ing in Vic­to­ria, crime sta­tis­tics con­firm that judges are hand­ing out sig­nif­i­cantly weaker penal­ties across a range of se­ri­ous of­fences com­pared with NSW, South Aus­tralia and the North­ern Ter­ri­tory.

Aus­tralian Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics fig­ures show that Vic­to­ria is the joint low­est in­car­cer­a­tor of se­ri­ous crim­i­nals with of­fend­ers fac­ing me­dian jail terms of just 24 months com­pared with NSW at 36 months in 2015-16.

Vic­to­ria, Queens­land and Western Aus­tralia are at the bot­tom of the jail­ing lad­der, while NSW, South Aus­tralia (33-month me­dian terms) and the North­ern Ter­ri­tory (27 months) have the tough­est sen­tenc­ing.

Anal­y­sis of ter­ror­ism of­fences, which are not in­cluded in the ABS data, points to NSW hand­ing out the high­est penal­ties for that crime as well.

The ABS fig­ures show that for homi­cide of­fences, the me­dian penalty in NSW is six months higher than Vic­to­ria, six months higher for sex­ual as­saults and two years higher for rob­bery and ex­tor­tion.

The ABS fig­ures will add fuel to the de­bate about sen­tenc­ing in Vic­to­ria, which flared this week when it was re­vealed for­mer Vic­to­rian chief jus­tice Mar­i­lyn War­ren de­manded the state’s top pros­e­cu­tor try to sus­pend a sen­tenc­ing ap­peal to the High Court.

The High Court ruled this week that a 3½-year sen­tence handed to a man who sex­u­ally abused his part­ner’s 13-year-old daugh­ter was “man­i­festly in­ad­e­quate”.

The ABS cov­ered a range of of­fences when analysing the length of cus­to­dial sen­tences be­ing handed out by the ju­di­ciary across Aus­tralia last fi­nan­cial year.

The num­bers will add to the de­bate about the way crime is man­aged in some states, with state elec­tions loom­ing and voter dis­quiet about per­cep­tions that courts are soft on crime.

Op­po­si­tion le­gal af­fairs spokesman John Pe­sutto said the fig­ures con­firmed the views of crit­ics of the govern­ment’s sen­tenc­ing frame­work. “This data re­in­forces just what ev­ery­body al­ready knows about soft sen­tenc­ing by Vic­to­rian courts for vi­o­lent crimes and sex­ual of­fend­ing,’’ Mr Pe­sutto said.

Vic­to­rian At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Martin Pakula said the govern­ment re­cently passed stan­dard sen­tenc­ing leg­is­la­tion to in­crease sen­tences for 12 of the most se­ri­ous crimes, in­clud­ing mur­der, rape and sex­ual of­fences in­volv­ing chil­dren.

The leg­is­la­tion would re­place cur­rent sen­tenc­ing prac­tice with a higher stan­dard sen­tence.

“We’ve cre­ated new laws for car­jack­ing and home in­va­sion, we’ve re­stricted the courts from us­ing com­mu­nity cor­rec­tion or­ders for se­ri­ous of­fences, and we’ve made it harder than ever to get bail in Vic­to­ria,” he said.

“I wel­come the de­ci­sion from the High Court this week which gives Vic­to­rian courts greater free­dom to im­pose sen­tences that re­flect the grav­ity of of­fend­ing.”

The ABS sta­tis­tics did not cover ter­ror­ism, but anal­y­sis of dozens of ter­ror cases shows that NSW also has a trend to­wards tougher penal­ties, although ex­perts warn about com­par­ing cross-border cases, where ev­i­dence and cir­cum­stances dif­fer.

There were 35 peo­ple charged and 23 con­victed of ter­ror­ism of­fences un­der the Crim­i­nal Code between 2000 and 2013.

The Pen­den­nis cell mem­bers in NSW re­ceived penal­ties of between 23 years and 28 years for their of­fend­ing.

The high­est-pro­file Vic­to­rian ter­ror­ist — Ab­dul Nacer Ben­brika — re­ceived 15 years’ jail in 2009 for fail­ing to re­nounce vi­o­lent ji­had af­ter fac­ing a max­i­mum 25 years for di­rect­ing the ter­ror­ist group that had dis­cussed at­tack­ing key Aus­tralian tar­gets.

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