Nicholas Cowdery QC dismissed calls for longer jail terms for serious offences related to gang-related shootings in NSW, saying maximum penalties for shooting offences were already “severe” and that had not stopped the offending.
“It is the cause of the shootings that really needs to be addressed - turf wars over drug profits.
"In my view the legislation is appropriate – it covers all the circumstances in which firearms might feature illegally and gives adequate scope to police to deal with these events,” said Cowdery, adding that even if longer jail terms were imposed for more serious offences, the problem could reappear after release from slightly longer sentences.
The maximum penalty for “firing at a dwelling” increased from 14 to 16 years when the Crimes Amendment (Consorting and Organised Crime) Bill 2012 recieved assent on March 14.
NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell said he wanted to ensure police had the resources and powers they needed to deal “severely'' with gun crime and that he hadn’t ruled out mandatory minimum sentencing.
Cowdery argued that neither higher nor mandatory minimum penalties will stop shooting offences.
“The perpetrators don’t expect to be caught, much less punished, when they deliberately go out to shoot firearms. They do not stop to think about prescribed penalties and make some sort of cost/benefit analysis of their behaviour on that basis,” he said.
“Mandatory sentences create injustice, in any event, and do not deter offenders either.”
A new approach to drugs
Despite the calls of eminent Australians, including Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr, for an end to the 40-year “war on drugs”, the Government is not yet heeding calls for drug use and addiction to be dealt with in the health and social systems, according to Cowdery.
“When we have that conversation and a significant body of public opinion supporting change builds up, then politicians must heed the calls,” said Cowdery, who has suggested a number of alternative measures, including the re-authorisation of heroin for pain relief, which was banned in 1953, to address addiction.
“We could allow the medicinal use of cannabis and then its general supply, bearing in mind that naturally-grown weed is less harmful than tobacco. We could then move on to other drugs: cocaine is not very harmful and could bring in some revenue; amphetamines really do need to be state-supplied,” he said, adding that, at present, amphetamines are mostly distributed by bikie gangs who make enormous profits from the trade and go to war to protect their turfs.
Figures from the latest NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) report also show the offence of “use/possess amphetamines” is up 25.8 per cent, from 2,866 incidents in 2010 to 3,606 in 2011.
BOCSAR Director, Dr Don Weatherburn, commented that the upward trend closely mirrors the overdose rate.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve seen substantial increases in both emergency department admissions for amphetamine overdose and increases in use/possess amphetamines arrests. The arrests tend to lag behind the overdoses,” said Weatherburn.
Cowdery said the fact that the drug market is unregulated means consumers don’t really know what they are getting and the risk of overdose is high.
“Dealing with drugs not through the criminal law, but as a health and social issue, is the only effective way of minimising the harms now done,” he claimed.
While age restrictions and measures of control would need to be put in place for any legislated regulation of drugs, Cowdery said that would not be difficult.
“The criminal law can then be left to deal with the bootleggers and those, fewer and less organised, people who will continue to try to profit outside the regulated and controlled markets,” he said.
“A combination of strategies can be made to work.”