You’ve got to hand it to the Labor Party. It is, as we all know, perhaps the worst excuse for a progressive liberal party in the democratic world. And yesterday, Victoria’s Labor Attorney-General Rob Hulls confirmed that the ALP remains addicted to the conservative politics of law and order.

The Herald-Sun’s Geoff Wilkinson, in a carefully leaked front page report yesterday, said that the Bracks government will introduce a new law – known as Jessica’s Law — which will allow for the continued detention of s-x offenders after they have completed their term of imprisonment. Jessica was a young rape victim whose “ordeal prompted” the controversial law.

According to the Herald-Sun’s report, Attorney-General Rob Hulls had ignored the advice of his own Sentencing Advisory Council in introducing the new law.

Yet the Sentencing Advisory Council is Mr Hulls’ own initiative. When he announced its membership on 28 July in 2004, Hulls told the world that the role of the Council is because “a strong and modern justice system needs to consider informed public opinion to remain relevant to the community it represents.” The SAC, said Hulls would give “the general community a say on sentencing … It will encourage informed public discussion on sentencing issues and bolster community confidence in the justice system by making it more accountable,” he noted.

Hear, hear to all that, but it’s obvious that Hulls didn’t really mean what he said at all. If he did, then he would resist the urge to pander to the law and order lobby by introducing this indefinite detention law and instead listen to the ‘informed’ views of the SAC.

And what are those views? Well according to the SAC’s Chair, Arie Freiberg, one of the most brilliant experts on sentencing matters in Australia today, this new law is not only a breach of human rights but it is unnecessary. Freiberg says that under the existing law which allows for s-x offenders to be subject to extended supervision orders in the community, after their release from prison, they are worse off than prisoners because they don’t have access to the professional services available in jail.

The SAC, unlike Mr Hulls, wasn’t motivated by ill informed emotional populism and cheap political point scoring when it examined the need for Jessica’s Law. It researched the matter very carefully and concluded that properly resourced supervision in the community is “equally able to achieve the goal of community, and does so in a less intrusive way than continuing detention.”

The other matter which emerges from Mr Hulls’ populist stunt is that his beloved Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, which many of us thought to be a paper tiger when it was introduced last year, has proven to be worthless in this case. The Charter is meant to stop governments introducing laws like Jessica’s Law because it offends the right not to be arbitrarily detained. But because this Charter, unlike the Canadian version, is pretty well unenforceable, Mr Hulls has been able to ride roughshod over it.

Rob Hulls has shown what he thinks of the SAC and his Charter of Human Rights – they are mere window dressing.

Peter Fray

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