House of Representatives

Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill 2001

Second Reading Speech

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration)

I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

One of the more exciting and ambitious projects-modern law reform projects-has been the development of the Model Criminal Code. Since 1996 model offences concerning a wide range of topics, including conspiracy to defraud, assault, stalking, abduction, sexual offences, homicide, perjury, threatening witnesses, drug trafficking, slavery and sexual servitude, the contamination of goods and computer offences have been developed following extensive nation-wide consultation.

The Model Criminal Code discussion papers and reports contain a comprehensive review of the law on each topic in Australia and overseas. The work has come to the notice of the High Court of Australia and is now recognised throughout Australia and overseas as one of the more worthwhile contemporary law reform projects.

All of these areas of criminal law deserve, and will benefit from, greater clarity and consistency across Australia, and the Model Criminal Code project is a vital step towards this goal. We have seen the benefits flowing from this project through the adoption by the states and territories of various components from the Model Criminal Code, thus giving Australians greater certainty, protection and confidence under the criminal law. We can anticipate that still greater benefits will flow as this project continues.

At the Commonwealth level this project has seen the continuing development of the Criminal Code. When finalised, the Criminal Code will codify the most serious offences against Commonwealth law and establish a cohesive set of general principles of criminal responsibility. This represents a significant improvement on existing Commonwealth criminal law, where existing serious criminal offence provisions are scattered throughout the broad range of legislation and of which it cannot be said that they are created, or interpreted, in a consistent manner.

An important step in the process of finalising the Criminal Code is to ensure that all offence-creating and related provisions throughout Commonwealth legislation are drafted in a manner that makes them work under the general principles established by the Criminal Code. While a majority of offences will operate as they always have without amendment, there are some which will require adjustment. It is important that all such amendments are made prior to the application of the principles of the Criminal Code to all offences against Commonwealth legislation on 15 December 2001 in order to ensure that there is a seamless transition.

The purpose of this bill is to apply the Criminal Code to all offence-creating and related provisions in acts falling within the portfolio of the Attorney-General, and to make all necessary amendments to these provisions to ensure compliance and consistency with the general principles of the Criminal Code. The amendments will ensure that existing criminal offences and related provisions continue to operate in the same manner as at present after the application of the Criminal Code.

The bill before the chamber will be one of a series designed to apply the Criminal Code on a portfolio-by-portfolio basis. A number of amendments to offence-creating and related provisions within the Attorney-General's portfolio have been identified as necessary. These amendments are made in the schedules to the bill.

Significantly, this bill will remove duplications of the provisions of the Criminal Code. For example, there are a large number of offences of attempt scattered throughout Commonwealth legislation. The bill will repeal these superfluous provisions and instead place reliance on the provisions of the Criminal Code.

An important component of the bill is to provide clarity about the application of strict liability or absolute liability to some offence-creating provisions. Under the Criminal Code an offence must specifically identify strict liability or absolute liability as the case may be, or the prosecution will be required to prove fault in relation to each element of the offence. This is necessary to ensure that the strict or absolute liability nature of some provisions is not lost in the transition to application of the general principles of the Criminal Code. If relevant offences are not adjusted in this manner many will become more difficult for the prosecution to prove, and therefore does not reduce the protection which was originally intended by the parliament to be provided to the community.

This bill will similarly improve the efficient and fair prosecution of offences by clarifying the physical elements of offences and amending inappropriate fault elements. I anticipate that this measure alone will save many hundreds of hours of court time otherwise spent in complicated, and sometimes inconsistent, interpretation of offence-creating provisions. It follows that courts will enjoy significant savings in time, costs and resources as a result of the amendments.

The Criminal Code is a significant step in the reform of our system of justice, and it is important that it be implemented in a way that is considered and pays careful regard to the way Commonwealth offence provisions are to work in practice. This bill is an important step in that process. I commend the bill to the Main Committee and present the explanatory memorandum.