New Federal Attorney General Christian Porter - he's a former DPP Prosecutor and was WA's Attorney General
Saturday, 30 December 2017
The Federal Government has a few injustices to fix.
It's up to the new Attorney General to do it.
This is an extract from Christian Porter's maiden speech to the WA Parliament in 2008:
In the area of crime and punishment, I am a true conservative.
Having worked and lectured in criminal law at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the University of Western Australia, I can say truthfully that there is no more interesting, relevant and curious area of the legal discipline—and I might add here that there is no harder legal milieu— in which to work. My work at the DPP has taught me about people and about life. I hope that that job and other matters have caused me to come into this place, although younger than some, sufficiently experienced in life’s triumphs and tragedies to feel real empathy for people’s problems even though they may not be my own. Also, for the public record, I take this opportunity to say that the men and women who work at the DPP perform the greatest of community services for us all, in what are often very difficult circumstances.
For many years now in Australia a divergence of views has existed between, on the one hand, the courts, the defence bar, academics and criminologists, and, on the other hand, the general public and the media.
The latter regard criminal conduct as burgeoning and as a near-crippling societal problem that is insufficiently checked by lenient sentencing.
The former maintain that in statistical terms, criminal activity is not quite the high-growth problem that it is perceived to be, and that the penalties have been stiffened in recent times.
There is truth in both views. The problem with this analysis is that there is no one crime problem in Western Australia. It is true that recent trends have been for longer custodial sentences, certainly for offenders who have been found guilty of engaging in serious criminal conduct; that is, conduct that has traditionally been labelled by the courts as the grave offences of serious and sexual assaults, armed robbery and homicide. This fact was stated clearly by the Chief Justice of this state as recently as last weekend in our state’s major newspaper service. It should be noted here, however, that the description of this as “leadership” on the part of the courts is in my view a mischaracterisation. Increased custodial sentences for grave offences has been a proper and appropriate response by the judiciary to sustained pressure from the people, their Parliament and the press. In my view, there is still some little way to go in this area.
Where the immediate public policy challenge now really lies is with those offences that are somewhat less than grave in the traditional legal sense, but whose cumulative effect has become debilitating for many local communities. I am talking here about what might be loosely labelled disorder offences—although this very label tends to diminish their cumulative seriousness. By this term I mean the occurrence and re-occurrence of property damage and graffiti to private residences and community facilities; the myriad forms of serious public misbehaviour fuelled largely by alcohol, the most prominent example of which is random violence associated with suburban parties; and the general absence of respect for authority and fellow citizens, one notable manifestation of which is all manner of idiotic behaviour on our roads.
Sadly, this is not an exhaustive list.
There should be no mistake about it: as a society, the maintenance of public order is tied directly to the ongoing maintenance of a general will to punish this sort of behaviour through the courts. This is not always easy.
Magistrates are faced with a continual stream of persons, many of whom are utterly un-notable other than for the fact of their sometimes isolated instances of misbehaviour. However, this does not lessen the debilitating cumulative effect of such misbehaviour. Magistrates face, day in and day out, the terrible job of determining whether this or that offender’s life will be changed forever by the punishment they mete out. However, once a person has been convicted by plea or by the conduct of a fair and open trial, punishment of these disorder-type offences must be real and hard-felt by the offender.
A failure of will at this level of punishment will mean the erosion of liberties for all Western Australian citizens. Serious punishment for disorder offences will not always mean the imposition of custodial sentences, although often it must. As a Parliament, we must be continually aware of the need to devise and apply punishments that are precisely that—punishments. We can no longer linger with ineffective fines enforcement systems or non-custodial orders that are malfunctioning in their punitive purpose.
I'm sure he meant it.
Let's help him keep that passion.