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Long jail terms are no deterrent – chief judge

Chief Justice Tom Bathurst ... believes the notion longer prison terms deter crime is "fiction".THE Chief Justice has made a thinly veiled call for the state government to change sentencing laws, saying the notion that longer prison terms deter crime is ''fiction''.
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The impact of an individual's sentence on the likelihood that someone else will commit a similar crime in the future - known as ''general deterrence'' - is one of the factors judges have to consider when sentencing a criminal.

But Chief Justice Tom Bathurst said there was no ''persuasive evidence that it works''.

Therefore, it was important to reconsider whether deterrence should continue to have a role in sentencing, he told the NSW Legal Aid criminal law conference yesterday.

Assuming that most criminals conducted ''a rational assessment of their planned illegal behaviour'', weighing up potential gain with potential penalties, bore ''little resemblance to reality'', he said.

However, white collar criminals - such as tax evaders, drug traffickers and insider traders - were the exception and ''far more likely to weigh up the risks and benefits of being caught [and jailed]'', he said.

''But it cannot be, I suggest, [a real deterrent] across the board in the crimes which are impulsive, crimes which come out of the cycle of poverty and abuse and generally … the less serious crimes.''

Chief Justice Bathurst said his comments did not mean he had a relaxed attitude towards crime, but warned ''political fear of being soft on crime should not immobilise our society from correcting or removing ineffective policies''. A review, under way, should consider if general deterrence worked, and if it found it didn't, it should consider ''whether it is appropriate to have a system founded on what is proving to be a false assumption''.

''I think it may be time to trust in the well-informed public to prefer a criminal justice system that honestly and transparently seeks to reduce crime and protect communities,'' he said.

Sentencing was one of the hardest things judges did, and involved conflicting sets of considerations such as the history of the offender and the impact on the victim, he said.

Research had shown that the fear of being caught was a powerful deterrent, but the fear of longer jail terms had little or no deterrent effect, he said.

The effect had been shown to be ''at most marginal if not entirely negligible'' compared to the cost of keeping people in prison for longer.

Evidence suggested public money was better spent on policing or alternative sentences and community-based crime prevention schemes, rather than keeping people in prison for longer.

The issue is one of a series of questions in a current investigation into the state's complex sentencing laws by the NSW Law Reform Commission, which is asking if deterrence is ''a valid purpose of sentencing'' and should be considered in all cases.

In its submission, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions suggests that deterrence should not be relevant to the sentencing of young offenders, but argues that abolishing the consideration across the board could be ''counterproductive''.

The Bar Association and Law Society suggest deterrence should remain available to judges on a case-by-case basis.

Even the Police Association's submission calls for ''further review of the purposes of sentencing'' in light of the evidence that ''higher sentences do not deter offenders''.

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US eyes Perth naval base

Projecting power: The US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Indian ocean.THE United States could base a US aircraft carrier and supporting fleet in Perth, under plans to be presented to Congress today.
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The proposal is one of four options set out in a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies commissioned by the US Defence Department.

The centre was directed to consider how the US military could undertake the so-called “pivot”  in the Asia-Pacific region announced by President Barack Obama last year in response to China’s increasing influence.

Chinese analysts immediately identified the plan as likely to antagonise China, saying it would confirm suspicions of an effort to contain it. Such a move would raise the temptation for China to use its huge economic leverage to retaliate, they said.

“It would be interpreted within China as another move to encircle China,” said Sun Zhe, the director of  Tsinghua University’s Centre for China-US Relations.

Song Xiaojun, editor of Naval and Merchant Ships magazine, said Australia would be unlikely to proceed with the proposal after it weighed security gains against export losses.

“Do they think China one day will invade Australia and rob its iron ore? said Song, formerly an analyst with a People’s Liberation Army academy.

The strike group would include a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a carrier air wing of up to nine squadrons, one or two guided-missile cruisers, two or three guided-missile destroyers, one or two nuclear-powered submarines and a supply ship.

The report also suggests that the US could consider building facilities to support “bombers and other aircraft”.

“Australia‘s geography, political stability and existing defence capabilities and infrastructure offer  ... significant military advantages to the United States in light of the growing range of Chinese weapons systems,’’  it says. “HMAS Stirling offers advantages including direct blue water access to the Indian Ocean ... submarine facilities including a heavyweight torpedo maintenance centre and the only submarine escape training facility in the southern hemisphere.’’

The report also notes the naval base offers ‘‘expanded surface ship facilities, including potentially a dock capable of supporting aircraft carriers”.

The document —  which includes advice from Andrew Shearer, foreign policy adviser to former prime minister John Howard —  provides the greatest detail yet about exactly how the United States sees its new role in the Asia-Pacific and Australia.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said in a speech in Canberra last night that Australia would look at an increased US presence at HMAS Stirling.

‘‘For Australia, this presence will support our long-held strategic interests in maintaining and expanding US engagement in our region.’’

He reasserted the need for a strong alliance with the US, as it had underwritten stability in the region for the past half-century ‘‘and will continue to be the single most important strategic actor in our region for the foreseeable future’’.

Responding to a question, the minister said: ‘‘The US does not have a base in Australia and this will not change’’.

Mr Smith insists that the Northern Territory military base through which up to 2500 US marines rotate for training each year is not a US base. The report is believed to moot the possibility of increasing that number.

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett dismissed the notion of such extensive US forces at Stirling.

‘‘I don’t think there’s any possibility of that happening,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t think you could squeeze a nuclear aircraft carrier into Cockburn Sound.’’

The Greens reacted negatively. ‘‘The risks of routinely floating nuclear reactors in and out of Cockburn Sound shouldn’t be underestimated,’’ West Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam said.

‘‘Western Australian police and emergency services personnel are completely under-resourced to cope with even a minor reactor leak.’’

The head of a Canberra think tank also rejected the idea, though for different and multiple reasons.

Peter Jennings, a former deputy defence secretary and now the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the idea was unrealistic, citing the cost —  anywhere between  between $US1 billion and $US6.7 billion — as prohibitive in the context of deep US defence budget cuts.

What was likely, however, was more US naval ship visits to Stirling, he said.

Authors of  the Centre for Strategic and International Studies report were scheduled to give testimony before the US Congress Armed Services Committee overnight, Melbourne time.

The report notes: “Australia is unique among America‘s allies in having fought alongside the United States in every major conflict since the start of the 20th century.”

While Perth was a long way away from some strategically important areas, the report says the West Australian capital’s location could also be a benefit because it was beyond the increasing range of China’s defences.

A spokesman for the centre said the think-tank was unable to comment on the report until after some of its authors had testified before the Senate committee.

The Armed Services Committee’s chairman, Senator Carl Levin, said he agreed with comments made by Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta that ‘‘efforts to strengthen alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific to advance a common security vision for the future are essential to the US strategy to rebalance toward the region’’.

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Mid-East uranium sale gets go-ahead

AUSTRALIA has agreed to sell uranium to the United Arab Emirates as one of the Middle East's richest oil nations switches to nuclear power.
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Foreign Minister Bob Carr signed a safeguards agreement in Abu Dhabi yesterday, intended to guarantee Australian uranium is used only for peaceful purposes.

The deal, potentially worth up to $200 million in yellowcake exports, follows the controversial shift by Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year to overturn Labor's ban on uranium sales to India.

Senator Carr said the UAE would become the first Middle East market for Australian uranium, in what has been interpreted as a sign of faith in the nuclear industry.

But anti-nuclear campaigners have slammed the deal as out of step with European moves to wind back the reliance on atomic power after the disaster last year at the Fukushima power plant in Japan.

''Germany has committed to get out of nuclear power within a decade and nations such as Switzerland, Belgium and Italy are moving away from nuclear power,'' said Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Mr Sweeney also raised concerns over the long-term stability of the UAE while the country remained an absolute monarchy and was yet to go through a democratic revolution along the lines of those that have swept the Middle East.

Tim Wright of the International Campaign Against Nuclear weapons said safeguards agreements only offered ''the illusion of protection'' against atomic bomb proliferation and the deal undermined Australia's support for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.

''Opening up sales to the most volatile region in the world is a deeply troubling development, and should be strongly resisted,'' he said.

The UAE, with an official population of 5.3 million but home to many more migrant labourers, needs a huge amount of energy for desalination plants and for air-conditioning in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

It plans to save its oil reserves for export and not use them for electricity.

Senator Carr said the ''strict'' guidelines would include safe handling of radioactive material and re-export restrictions.

Australia sells uranium to nations such as Russia, China and France under similar arrangements and has 22 nuclear safeguard pacts covering possible sales to other nations.

The Russian deal was held up in Parliament in 2009 over concerns Australian uranium could not be properly monitored and in what appeared a protest over Russia's war against Georgia.

The UAE deal will also need to be approved by Parliament's treaties committee.

Michael Angwin of the Australian Uranium Association said the deal was unlikely to make a large difference to Australia's uranium exports.

''But what it does do is signal the world's nuclear industry is growing,'' he said, adding that Australia's uranium sector had been through a difficult time.

He said Canberra provided a warranty to protect the exports with the safeguards arrangements, which carried a lot of weight.

The UAE is expected to build four nuclear reactors, with power generation to begin in 2020.

Senator Carr will also travel to Jordan to discuss the conflict in Syria, and then make his first official visit to Israel.

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Canberra needs to come clean on what’s going on

ENOUGH of the cute codes and doublespeak. Making Perth home to a mammoth nuclear aircraft carrier fleet would amount to an American base in Australia, plain and simple.
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The government needs to come clean with its military plans, given Australia has already agreed to host US marines near Darwin - and US bombers, spy drones and the existing ''joint facilities'' often overlooked.

Time to stop pretending this is just business as usual. Are we preparing to help Washington use the threat of force to contain China in the region?

That is certainly the impression. It is also the prevailing wisdom in Beijing. And at least some Americans seem to be banking on Australia to play a role in containing China, too.

There is a big debate to be had here, one that should not be shut down with rhetorical parlour tricks to dismiss questions as ''anti-Americanism''. Everyone deserves a say. Maybe the new Defence white paper, due next year, will give that chance. But not if the decisions have already been made.

And while ever ministers insist a deployment of soldiers is not a ''base'' or that a negotiation about access to facilities is merely a ''conversation'', the public gets a confused picture about what Australia is signing up to.

Surely it is not in Australia's interest to fuel an unnecessary rivalry between two major powers in the neighbourhood - one that happens to be our biggest trading partner, the other our chief military ally.

Let's step back for a moment. This idea of stationing a carrier fleet in Western Australia is only one option to give teeth in a supposed US ''pivot'' towards Asia. The proposal has been floated by think tank, a favourite haunt for ex-officials in Washington hiding out before the next change of administration.

That gives the Obama administration - and Canberra - a plausible excuse to say this is not an official plan. It is not.

But don't assume that means the plan won't be seriously considered, having been commissioned by the Pentagon and submitted with a secret annex. Contracting out strategic thinking is common practice.

This is part of the game in defence circles, to telegraph ideas without scaring other countries with an out-of-the-blue announcement.

The prospect of more US warships putting in at HMAS Stirling in Perth has been tossed around by officials for months. Expanding the wharfs and dredging a new shipping channel at the base was discussed in the March publication of Australia's own review of forces.

What is worrying is what it is all for. The basic question, why do it, has not been answered.

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NBN seeks verdict on ‘wall warts’

The battery (left) and network box.High life in the NBN fast lane
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IT'S the most annoying thing about getting connected to the national broadband network - a bulky power box on your lounge room wall.

But 10 months after NBN Co warned that the unsightly wall warts were causing customer complaints, the government is yet to decide whether they should remain compulsory.

NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley warned last October that the large battery back-up and power unit was the single biggest source of complaints from users in test sites.

The power unit keeps a telephone line active for about five hours during a blackout. But it is a large bulky box that is not necessary for connecting to the internet and many households may never use it. About 64 per cent of calls to triple-0 were made from mobile phones in 2010-11, according to the communications regulator.

A spokesman for the Department of Broadband said the government had consulted with a broad range of interested stakeholders to gauge attitudes to battery back-up.

''The government is carefully considering all stakeholder views to determine the best long-term deployment model and will make a decision shortly,'' he said.

NBN Co's updated corporate plan, due out tomorrow, may reveal a change in policy.

NBN Co said batteries were still mandatory in every house. If they were optional, households could plug the smaller network box straight into a power socket. The telco industry would prefer an opt-in approach as long as consumers are fully informed about what happens during a blackout.

The government ordered power units to be installed so the NBN would mirror what happens on the copper network during a blackout.

Copper wires carry electricity and remain active when household power goes down, which keeps telephones working.

But the copper wires will be removed once households are transferred to NBN Co's fibre-optic cables.

Fibre-optic cables carry light, not electricity, and are useless during a blackout.

Copper telephone line will be kept for at least 10 years in rural and regional areas where households will get wireless or satellite broadband instead of fibre-optic cables.

Mr Quigley argued last year that there would be a lot of batteries deployed for ''little return'' because many people no longer use fixed telephones.

''The big issue is the box … which is the battery back-up. That is the thing that most people object to, which is something we obviously need to be talking to the government about how we address that,'' he said last October.

There is also a huge cost associated with the batteries and an environmental impact, with at least 10 million 12-volt lead acid batteries needed. These batteries must be replaced every five years.

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