Bizarre attempt at sentencing policy

A LAZY attempt at policy by the Liberals this week would almost be laughable if it was not for the subject matter.

In what would barely pass as a mailout to voters, the opposition released its "policy" on mandatory minimum sentences for serious child sexual offences.

One half of the glossy two-page brochure was taken up with a photo of Opposition Leader Will Hodgman with the alternative attorney- general Vanessa Goodwin.

The remaining page of "policy" bizarrely quoted two Labor premiers - as if that was evidence enough for the Liberals to propose mandatory jail terms for child sex offenders.

Forget recidivism data, criminology, or legal arguments and, you know, policy.

The lack of any robust discussion is made stranger by the fact that Ms Goodwin was a career criminologist with the Department of Police and Emergency Management before becoming Pembroke MLC.

Perhaps convincing policy was hard to come by given mandatory minimum punishments seem to be a dud.

Clumsily, the Liberals said if elected they would work with the Tasmanian Sentencing Advisory Council and the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute to develop said punishments.

It appears they forgot to ask the institute what it thought.

Conveniently its opinion was laid out in a 2008 sentencing report available on the institute's website.

It believes mandatory minimum penalties are the wrong response to meeting community concerns about sentencing, which is what the Liberals said had prompted the policy.

"They displace discretion, distort the judicial role, lead to injustice in individual cases and there is no evidence they are an effective deterrent," the report said.

"Politicians frequently promise mandatory penalties if elected to government."

The Liberals also failed to outline what the minimum would actually be for the only two offences used as examples in their policy - "sexual intercourse with a young person or involving persons under 18 in production of child exploitation material".

As a "guide", the minimum would be somewhere between "four years to 15 years".

Earlier this week, the head of a sexual assault victims' group told a reporter for The Examiner, Calla Wahlquist, that mandatory minimum sentences were "remarkably unsophisticated".

Sexual Assault Support Services chief executive Liz Little, a member of the Sentencing Advisory Council, said she did not believe the measure deterred offenders.

Now it's one thing for the Australian Lawyers Alliance to mount an argument against mandatory minimums, but another thing entirely when a victims' support group discredits them.

At first glance, automatic prison terms for offenders who prey on society's most vulnerable might seem reasonable if not effective.

But if the experts and the evidence suggest they don't benefit victims, then what's the point?

I don't doubt Mr Hodgman's sincerity in wanting the best outcome for victims, but they deserve better than what the state's alternative premier offered up this week.

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