Second Reading-Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2019
Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (15:21:47): I rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Serious Offenders and Other Matters) Bill 2019. I thank the previous members for their contributions, and I note the members for Broadmeadows and Bendigo West for their important comments, which I will refer to later. I would also like to thank the Minister for Corrections as well as the Attorney-General for their work on this bill. It is important that we are continually working on ways to keep our community safer. This has always been and will always be a clear objective of the Andrews Labor government. One crime is too many, but our society unfortunately has the existence of crime, and no matter how hard we try we are unlikely to get rid of it all forever, so our justice system is incredibly important to keep our community safe. The main purpose of this bill is to update the operation of the prison systems, parole and the post-sentence scheme. This bill takes into account the work of former High Court Justice Ian Callinan, AC, on his 2013 review into the Adult Parole Board of Victoria’s operations. This bill amends three existing acts: the Corrections Act 1986, the Serious Offenders Act 2018 and the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005. The main points of this bill are to improve the administration of the prison system, in particular by excluding for all prisoners in all prisons the application of emergency management days in regard to the riot at the Metropolitan Remand Centre in 2015 and all future cases of emergencies, riots and other significant security incidents. It also improves protections for victims of crime from prisoner correspondence that may be distressing or traumatic or place them at risk of exploitation or manipulation, and enables victims of crime to access money from the Prisoner Compensation Quarantine Fund where the prisoner was on remand at the time instead of at the moment when they had been sentenced. It also allows prisoners to request delayed release, which although it would happen rarely is important, I believe, for community safety going forward. We are also improving administration of our parole system by modernising the membership of the adult parole board, and I will come back to that a bit later. We are improving the operation to the post-sentence detention and supervision scheme and enabling the publication of research because the sharing of research will allow us to improve the system based on evidence and evaluation. So in regard to the emergency management days, we are ensuring that prisoners involved in any future emergencies, riots and other significant security incidents are excluded from the application of emergency management days. This amendment will specifically apply to the prisoners who were involved in the events which took place at the Metropolitan Remand Centre on 30 June and 1 July 2015 and the security response to that event. This will include, for example, a fire caused or contributed to by prisoner, an attack by any prisoner on another prisoner et cetera. This reflects the basic principle which we have in this house—and I think we would all agree—that a prisoner should not receive a reduced sentence when they cause or contribute to a significant breach of custodial security. Now, it is not often that we make retrospective laws, and that is for a good reason, but I think it is appropriate in this case because this reform reflects the paramount principle that a prisoner should not receive a reduced sentence when they have caused the problem. The bill is not criminalising behaviour that was previously lawful, so it is not retrospective in that regard, but it clarifies the scope of the secretary’s discretion to reduce the length of a sentence of imprisonment. It is also worthy to note that there are no court cases relating to these emergency management days currently. There was a court challenge by a prisoner to a denied application for emergency management days that was rejected by the Supreme Court in May 2018. If we look to the Adult Parole Board of Victoria changes, members of the adult parole board are limited to judges or retired judges, and this is proving to limit the scope or choice, and the appointments to the board are more problematic than they could be. This bill will amend the act to allow lawyers of a least 10 years experience to be appointed as chairperson or deputy chairperson to the adult parole board. Ten years has been found to be an appropriate length of time and is seen by other jurisdictions to be indicative of a fair and reasonable minimum standard. But it is fair to say that this minimum standard does not necessarily affect the selection criteria that would be applied, as it would then be applied to the pool that adhered to that minimum standard. Currently to be appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court, for instance, you must be a lawyer of five years standing, so I think it is fair to think that we could have a chairperson of the adult parole board who is twice as experienced in the field as a potential Supreme Court judge. This reform is also consistent with who can be appointed as the chairperson or deputy chairperson of the Post Sentence Authority under the Serious Offenders Act 2018. It is important to note, however, that the number of years experience, as I said, is a minimum requirement. The selection criteria will also include consideration of the applicant’s areas of specialisation and whether the applicant has significant experience in practising criminal law and an in-depth knowledge of the criminal justice system more broadly. If we compare that to other states, we will be suitably in line. South Australia and Tasmania allow for the chairperson to not be a judge or lawyer. In Queensland the president must be either a retired judge or a lawyer who has engaged in legal practice for five years. In the ACT they must have five years experience. I note that the member for Broadmeadows pointed out that our parole system is now the toughest parole system in the country and that this is a testament to improving community safety. I also note that victim considerations are certainly already reflected in our parole system. In regard to the Prisoner Compensation Quarantine Fund changes, currently this fund only applies to compensation paid for injury suffered by sentenced prisoners. I think it is fair and reasonable to extend that to prisoners who are on remand at the time and who are then later sentenced. The bill extends the operation of the fund to include unconvicted prisoners who are then subsequently convicted, as I said. Our victims register utilises an opt-in model, like all other states and territories in Australia. The model ensures that victims are given autonomy over the situation and to choose whether they are updated on the offender or not. Being contacted about an offender may be distressing or traumatic, and that is why other aspects of this bill certainly take that into account. In cases where a prisoner is awarded $10 000 the money is then quarantined for 12 months, and this allows victims to make claims on that money. My own district of Mount Waverley has the honour of being home to the Victorian police academy, and our academy is very full as we recruit and deploy an extra 3135 officers and frontline police. I would like to take the time I have left to give a shout-out to our whole police force. To the men and women who serve us on a daily basis, the dedicated officers and the administration, we thank you all for your service. As my good friend and colleague the member for Bayswater will stand up, no doubt soon, to say, we all know that our police have a very wide range of experience and show us on a daily basis the esteem and respect that they deserve. No matter how much we support our police, we also rely on our strong justice and corrections system, which also includes our dedicated corrections officers. This bill is once again strengthening our justice system to better protect Victorians, and it shows the commitment of the Andrews Labor government to protect our community. I commend the bill to the house.