Mr MORRIS (Mornington) — The bill before us bears a remarkable similarity to two pieces of legislation which were proposed by the coalition parties. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is the coalition that has effectively been providing the leadership on these issues. Now we have the government scrambling to catch up.
The bill amends the Corrections Act 1986 and the Sentencing Act 1991, and there are essentially, as the house is aware, two main parts of the bill. Firstly, the Corrections Act will be amended to provide for a presumption against parole for prisoners serving terms arising from particular fatal offences or when the body or the remains of a victim have not been located. A court will be able to take into account those factors at the time of sentencing.
The bill also amends the Corrections Act to tighten the conditions to be met before a prisoner serving a sentence with a non-parole period for the murder of a police officer can be considered for parole.
As I have said, these are both matters where the coalition has led the debate and both matters where there were bills before Parliament, and now we have the government, with the corrections system totally out of control, panicking and seeking to seize control of the agenda. And of course they have shown absolutely no leadership on the issue of crime. Indeed they seem to be entirely bereft of policy ideas.
It is fortunate that we do have an opposition of the calibre we have so that leadership can come from somewhere. It has to come from somewhere, and it is all coming from this side of the house.
In debating these amendments to the Corrections Act we could well be taking legislative remedies much further than those proposed by this bill, because we have a prison system today that is marked by dysfunction, that is marked by chaos.
We know we have prisoners being caught cultivating and growing drugs in prison gardens. We have had a significant increase in the number of deaths in custody. We have had prisoners refusing to work, indeed even going on strike
at Barwon Prison. If the government cannot even control prisoners in a maximum security facility like Barwon, how can it possibly control the rest of the prison population across the state?
We have had vicious attacks on prison officers and prison staff — people guilty of doing nothing more than simply going about their daily tasks and trying to keep order in prisons. For that they have suffered severely.
Last June we had the worst prison riot in the history of Victoria. The Metropolitan Remand Centre was trashed, with some $95 million worth of damage done and literally hundreds of maximum security beds put out of action. The list goes on. There is plenty of material there. It is a system that is spinning out of control.
One of the most troubling aspects of the corrections system at the moment — perhaps driving more disruption, more bad behaviour and more disorder — is the flood of contraband we are seeing coming into the system. Drugs and other items, some perhaps even more dangerous than drugs, are being tossed over the wall at Port Phillip Prison and made easily accessible to those inside.
We have a corrections system that is in tatters, yet today we are debating only two aspects and those are matters where the leadership has come entirely from the coalition. The government is bereft of any policy idea or any concept of how to resolve A chaotic and ineffective prison system.
Despite the crime epidemic and despite the government’s glossy publications — their preference for stunts, for media releases and for statements instead of doing the hard grind of policy work — we have simply spin.
Good policy work is something that has been entirely absent from the tenure of this government; indeed any policy work has been relatively scarce. It is about spin. It is about quick fixes.
To go back to the bill before the house, in its simplest form this is a bill that implements previously announced policies of the coalition. The first, of course, was encapsulated in the Corrections Amendment (No body, no parole) Bill 2016, which was passed by the Legislative Council on 17 August. When it was transmitted to the Assembly later that day, as members will be aware, the bill was defeated on the question of the first reading.
It is worth noting that in the Council the bill was opposed by the government and it was opposed by the Greens, and in the Assembly it was similarly opposed by both those groupings and of course also by the member for Shepparton, who I understand may be making a contribution later this afternoon. Yet a few short months later here we are, debating a bill that is essentially the same.
Yes, there has been some tweaking. Under the coalition bill the offences for which the legislation applied were intended to be murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and this bill adds accessory to murder and manslaughter, so there are four offences rather than simply two. The coalition bill required the Adult Parole Board of Victoria to consider any report from the Chief Commissioner of Police about the cooperation of the prisoner concerned, as does this bill, but it adds the requirement that regard must be had to any report from the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation as to whether the prisoner is suitable for release.
The bill also specifies other factors that must be considered by the adult parole board in considering whether parole should be granted, but it is indeed a very similar piece of legislation to that opposed by the government, the Greens and the member for Shepparton just a few short months ago.
I understand from the debate that the Greens are likely to maintain their position of opposition to this legislation. I guess we will just have to wait and observe the government members executing what will certainly be an inelegant backflip, but they have come to their senses, perhaps not too late but certainly very close to it.
The second part of the legislation refers to another matter which members on this side, and particularly Mr O’Donohue in the other place, have again been leading the debate on. That is in the announced intention, which was flagged in the other place, to retain in custody an individual who has been sentenced to life but with a non-parole period and who was of course convicted of the Russell Street bombings, and I do not intend to name that person.
Of course there is a distinction between the coalition proposal in this instance and the proposal that has been put forward by the government in the form of this bill. It was the intention of the coalition that any legislation would be applicable to one person — and I recognise you need to be very careful when you consider that sort of thing — whereas this bill will in fact create a class of persons to which restrictions will apply.
I understand from the briefing — and I thank the department and the minister’s office for providing the briefing — that the proposed changes will apply to three people only, but we should be aware that if we support this bill, as the coalition has already committed to do, then we are creating a class of persons that while currently only numbering three could be significantly larger in the longer term.
Some people have expressed concern to me about creating a new class of offenders, particularly the possibility that if a person has murdered a police officer, then effectively they have nothing left to lose except perhaps their life, and if they are not caught and commit subsequent crimes, those crimes may in fact be significantly worse.
But I come to this place with the view that those who protect the community on the front line — the men and women of Victoria Police — deserve the greatest protection that the Parliament legislatively can afford them, and I believe the bill before the house will achieve that outcome. That is why I believe it is worthy of support and that is why I will be voting for the bill.
There is of course the unanswered question about why the only class proposed in this bill is police officers. I think there is a legitimate question about why protective services officers were not included and why the law was not proposed to extend to all frontline emergency services workers, but it is a good start, and if we need to extend it to other frontline responders, then we can further amend the act.
I conclude by indicating that I think it is unfortunate that we are asked to deal with this legislation in such a very short period. Both these issues have been on the agenda for some time. There was the opportunity for the government to act much earlier than it has, and it is unfortunate that it did not do so.
Legislative Assembly 7 December 2016