The Greens will next month table a bill in parliament to remove mandatory sentencing provisions from the Migration Act and restore judicial discretion to the courts in deciding sentences for convicted people smugglers.
"Nearly two years ago, the Greens and the legal community warned mandatory sentences would not punish the people smuggling kingpins, only the pawns," Greens' immigration spokesperson, Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young, said today.
"Those fears have been proven valid and impoverished Indonesian fishermen and boys have had their lives destroyed via excessive sentences, while the heads of the smuggling syndicates who tricked them got away, and continue to escape justice.
"While the Australian government weakens the rule of law with mandatory jail terms, it is also straining relations with Indonesia by locking up their impoverished fishermen and not pursuing the smuggling ring chiefs.
"Judges across Australia have expressed their concerns with mandatory sentences and the fact the Migration Act restricts their ability to take personal circumstances into account before they impose a prison sentence. Some have said they've given smugglers longer terms than people who have committed more serious offences, such as assault.
"The Greens' Migration Amendment (Justice in Sentencing Boat Crew) Bill 2012 would remove five-year minimum mandatory sentences for convicted people smugglers, leaving the courts to determine how harshly they should be punished.
"Our bill would give back a court's power to make an effective judgement based on all the available evidence, for example where a person was exploited by a people smuggler when they thought they were joining a fishing boat crew. It would allow for appropriate sentences and distinguish between a people smuggling ring leader and their pawns.
"I urge the government to seriously consider the Greens' bill. I have hope that the new Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, with her past experience working in the Australian court system and her understanding the rule of law, will be looking for a solution to this problem."