A group of academics, former politicians and lawyers have urged the Territory government to retain its focus on “evidence-based” criminal justice policies as it begins to weigh up dangerous driving offences and penalties.
The plea comes as the government has been under increasing pressure from parents who lost children on Canberra’s roads to commit to an independent review of sentencing and bail outcomes in the ACT.
That’s something Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury has refused, saying work is underway across several directorates and areas and, therefore, a wholesale review would serve little purpose.
A committee inquiry into dangerous driving and responses was announced in the months following the death of 20-year-old Matthew McLuckie, who was killed by a speeding driver travelling the wrong way along Hindmarsh Drive.
His father, Tom McLuckie, has described his son’s death as an accident waiting to happen and argued there was a systemic problem relating to repeat offenders in the Territory.
Amid emotions running high, the Justice Reform Initiative is pleading with the government to consider the evidence as it weighs up stricter sentences for dangerous driving offences.
In its submission to the inquiry, it’s called for a greater focus on programs intended to encourage safer driving – particularly among young men – instead of prison terms which it says would likely fail to reduce offending behaviour.
Executive Director of the Justice Reform Initiative Dr Mindy Sotiri said the government must be thoughtful about what it wants to achieve and look at evidence about the impact of prison on the community and the likelihood of a person who leaves prison to re-offend.
“While the sudden loss of a loved one causes immense pain for family and friends, it can also spur a sense of collective outrage,” she said.
“This outrage drives a need to find answers to reasonable questions like how did this happen, and how can we ‘fix’ the system to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Dr Sotiri and the initiative are instead calling for “a range of measures” to support and educate drivers and minimise dangerous driving by addressing underlying causes such as substance abuse.
She described harsh imprisonment terms as a “failed approach” that carries an enormous cost to taxpayers.
“Alarm bells should be ringing for any policymakers who rush to ‘toughen’ laws as this often has unintended consequences,” she said.
“For example, when the Victorian Government restricted access to bail following the Bourke St rampage that killed six people, lawmakers presumably didn’t intend to lock away more women, many of them vulnerable and with no prior prison history, for offences for which they had not yet been convicted.
“Yet this is what has happened.”
The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 120 “eminent Australians”, including two former Governors-General, former Members of Parliament from all sides of politics, academics, respected Aboriginal leaders, former senior judges, including High Court judges, and others who have added their voices to end Australia’s high reliance on jails.
The first public hearings for the dangerous driving inquiry will be held on Wednesday, 26 October and Thursday, 27 October.