Second Reading - Crimes Amendment (Remissions of Sentences) Bill 2021

Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (10:40): I thank senators for their contribution to the debate on this important bill. The Crimes Amendment (Remissions of Sentences) Bill 2021 will enhance community safety by addressing the unacceptable and unjust consequences of remissions that Victoria is granting to federal offenders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The effect of section 19AA and the application of emergency management days in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many federal offenders who are incarcerated in Victoria— including terrorists, child sex offenders and drug traffickers—are receiving substantial discounts off the sentence expiry date set by the sentencing court. Removing the automatic recognition of these remissions, known as emergency management days, will ensure that federal offenders serve the sentence as set down by the court at sentencing, regardless of the state or territory in which they serve that sentence. It will promote community safety and achieve certainty about the release date for offenders. I thank the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights for their careful consideration of the bill. The government welcomes the recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee that the bill pass and does not accept the recommendations made by the Australian Greens in its dissenting report. The government agrees with the committee that, on balance, the concerns about retrospective application do not outweigh the clear advantages of ensuring greater certainty that sentencing decisions for federal offenders are not reduced or amended, especially where offenders continue to pose a serious risk to the community. The bill restores certainty about the end date of a federal offender's sentence, so the matters relating to retrospectivity don't change that in the slightest, and it allows agencies and prisoners to plan the rehabilitation process ahead of their release. The circumstances that allowed high-risk federal offenders to serve shorter sentences than those set down by the courts in Victoria must not occur again. Keeping Australians safe is the government's highest priority, and this bill ensures that offenders who are in prison from the time of commencement will not receive any remissions off their sentences and will instead serve the sentence that the court considered at sentencing was appropriate for them in light of their circumstances, their offending and their risk profile to the community. The bill addresses the significant risks to community safety and unacceptable and unjust consequences of high numbers of emergency management days being granted by Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, I thank senators for their contribution to the debate, and I commend the bill to the Senate.