City News

One-punch laws hit political resistance

Protesters gather outside Governor Macquarie Tower to condemn the lockout. Photo: Gary Friedland

The political fate of Barry O’Farrell’s legislation to curb alcohol-fuelled violence is still unknown, with opposition to certain aspects of the package surfacing.

There is tension within both the major parties about mandatory minimum sentencing, a key part of the reforms announced by Mr O’Farrell last week.

Under the proposed legislation, mandatory jail terms would be introduced for a range of violent offences where drugs and alcohol are a factor. The minimum term for one-punch assaults occasioning death would be eight years, assault occasioning actual bodily harm would be two years, and those convicted of sexual assault would be incarcerated for at least five years.

Mark Speakman, a senior counsel and now Liberal MP for Cronulla, spoke against mandatory sentencing in parliament as recently as November.

“There is no evidence that mandatory sentencing reduces the incidence of crimes,” he said in a speech honouring Burmese opposition leader Dr Aung San Suu Kyi.

“In fact, it reduces the incentive to plead guilty and leads to arbitrary and capricious results.”

There is frustration in all parties that the legislation, announced last Tuesday and due to be introduced today, is not yet finished and is being rushed through parliament.

Dissidents within the government are expected to fall in line behind the premier. But there is also disagreement within the Labor caucus. At the time of writing, shadow cabinet was unable to see the draft legislation in order to reach a decision. Several members who privately disagree with mandatory sentencing may be forced to support it in parliament.

If Labor opposes parts of the bill it would represent a shift of position from that articulated by Deputy Leader Linda Burney on January 14.

“Labor’s view about minimum sentences will be a response to the government,” she said.

“If the government wants to introduce minimum sentences, then Labor will support what the government proposes.”

The Greens will back 10pm closure of bottle shops and risk-based licensing, whereby venues will pay more for their licence depending on the level of risk they pose.

But they will oppose 1.30am lockouts and 3am “last drinks” measures, which are to take effect within an expanded CBD precinct including Kings Cross and Oxford Street. That policy is expected to pass both chambers with the support of Labor and the Coalition.

The Greens have long opposed mandatory sentencing. Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge said it had failed in the Northern Territory, where crime rates rose and the most disadvantaged members of society were most affected.

“In every jurisdiction where it has been tried mandatory sentencing has failed to deter crime,” he said.

“These laws will not reduce the number of people being assaulted by drunks, but they will inevitably see thousands more disadvantaged people going to jail.”

Mr Shoebridge blasted the government for failing to allow close scrutiny of a major reform package. He said his party had been informed they would only see the legislation at 9am Thursday, which he described as “extraordinary contempt” for due process.

Christian Democrat MLC Fred Nile and Shooters and Fishers MLC Robert Borsak were both unavailable for comment, but both parties are widely expected to support the package.

Mr Nile earlier released a media statement in which he commended the one-punch laws and urged mandatory sentences to apply to all “coward punches” occasioning death, not just those involving drugs and alcohol.

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