Justice Legislation Amendment (Serious Offenders and Other Matters) Bill 2019

October 29, 2019

I rise to make a contribution on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Serious Offenders and Other Matters) Bill 2019. This is a bill that makes a number of amendments to the Corrections Act 1986, the Serious Offenders Act 2018 and the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005. Among the changes are that it will exclude the application of emergency management days in relation to the riot at the Metropolitan Remand Centre in 2015 and any future cases in places of custody. It will improve the operation of the post-sentence detention and supervision scheme for serious sex offenders and serious violent offenders and will clarify the operation of certain powers and procedures to best manage risks to the community. I think that is something that the wider community will be very pleased to know, because, as we know, there are many out there on parole who have not in the past been adequately supervised, and we have heard stories of that. So anything that goes to improve that system will certainly be widely welcomed.

The bill will increase the protection of victims of crime from prisoner correspondence that may be distressing, traumatic or place them at risk of exploitation or manipulation, enable the publication of research on offending-related issues, and improve the operation of the parole system, including modernising the membership of the Adult Parole Board of Victoria. There will be reformed information sharing regimes between the national disability insurance scheme, the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Commission for Children and Young People. In speaking to this bill today I wish to speak to the strengthening of the information sharing regimes, in particular between youth justice and the Commission for Children and Young People. The bill will amend the Corrections Act to permit the sharing of information with the Commission for Children and Young People for child offenders who are serving sentences in prison. Such disclosure will only be made if the information will assist the commission in performing its duties. Currently youth justice is limited in its ability to share information about a child’s or young person’s transfer to prison with the Commission for Children and Young People as the Children, Youth and Families Act makes it an offence for officers of the Department of Justice and Community Safety to disclose such information. Only under ministerial authorisation is information currently allowed to be shared by youth justice with the commission.

The amendments to this act will remove the need for that ministerial approval. It is an important amendment in the bill as it will enable information to be shared more efficiently with the commission on a prisoner’s wellbeing and transfer details. The bill will allow the sharing of information to occur on a case-by-case basis with the Commission for Children and Young People for prisoners under the age of 18 years. As a result the changes will assist the commission to appropriately respond in particular cases to concerns about the prisoner and to manage offenders for a range of purposes, including the administration of the post-sentence scheme and the administration of prisons where prisoners under 18 are transferred into the prison system. The Commission for Children and Young People does play an important role in promoting improvement in policies and practices that affect the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in Victoria, and these amendments just go to enhance that. Certainly in Shepparton and Mooroopna in my electorate we do have a considerable amount of youth crime, regrettably, and young people from our community have been incarcerated in youth detention centres. Indeed I understand some of them were even there during the riots several years ago. Our community is very intent on doing something about that issue, and the work of the commission is welcomed in that space, but even on a local community level we see our community trying to get focus onto intervention at an early childhood stage so as to prevent young people actually entering the justice system. 

In Parliament just two weeks ago I asked the Minister for Youth Justice—and many other things—to visit Shepparton to meet with some of the organisations who are working so hard to try and keep young people out of prison. I just mention for instance the work of our Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre, our legal aid office. We also have the Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project, which is providing a youth haven in Shepparton that is working with young people who may have had an interaction with the youth justice system to try and find better outcomes for them and better ways for them to go forward rather than back into the system. The Neighbourhood Schools project is working with very young children in primary school who may have been affected by environmental trauma to try and help them develop the resilience and the skills they need that might ultimately mean they will not end up in the youth justice system. Regrettably, in disadvantaged communities it is often the workers in our community who can already identify the next group of children who will become the next group in youth justice, and if we do not take those interventions at an early stage and work with them to prevent them moving into that system, then we are not doing the job that we should do as leaders in our community. So I certainly congratulate those organisations and people who are so intent on working to better the outcomes for young people in our community.

I could not pass up talking about the Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative in our community, who are funded to do a lot of work with the youth in our Aboriginal community. We do have the largest Aboriginal population outside of Melbourne in the Shepparton district, and we cannot shy away from the fact that we have youth justice issues within that community. Kalun Atkinson is a local youth justice worker who works closely with Koori youth at Rumbalara. He says that with the Shepparton region having that large population it is essential that the services are provided to help them deal with young people coming through. For the last 20 years Rumbalara has provided a night patrol service which goes out on Saturday nights and picks up young people who may have been out in the town for social purposes to make sure that they get home, or if they are affected by a substance—drugs or alcohol—to make sure they get the treatment or intervention that might be appropriate for them. Rumbalara has recently started a youth culture group on Wednesdays for young people, and it is organisations such as Rumbalara that are working with and alongside the community to ensure that their community of young people are trying to stay out of the youth justice system. It is important that all our groups in the community working with these young people also have an association with the commission, and that is why I welcome these amendments, as they will allow the flow of information to the commission and assist in the overall improvement and safety and wellbeing of young people in our community. The commission was just recently in Shepparton with the task force, working with Rumbalara and other community members to always look for and improve and find better ways of going forward. I would like to talk about another aspect of the bill—that is, the modernising of the membership of the adult parole board.

Amendments within the bill will work towards addressing the shortages of qualified persons who are eligible to be appointed as senior members. Back in 2013 the Callinan review took place on the back of some terrible murders by men who were on parole at the time, and I refer to Jill Meagher in particular as being one that just shocked our community beyond all belief. It has had an effect out in our community. Now, when subsequent murders of young women have taken place, community members have been standing up and demanding that action be taken and that young women simply not be seen as victims in these situations. The parole board does have an important role to play and is comprised of humans; sometimes they get it wrong, and perhaps there have been situations in the past where the community certainly feels that they did. So it is important to have correctly qualified people on our parole board, and the amendments in this bill broaden the scope of those who can actually go on the parole board. It will now extend to allowing lawyers of 10 years or more experience to be included on it. The Victorian adult parole board has one of the highest levels of legal experience required within Australia, and these amendments maintain that high level over and above what many other states have. The amendments will attract a pool of senior experienced people, and hopefully that broadening of the pool will mean that positions can be filled. I notice that the other speakers on this side of the house have introduced some amendments, which I had not been made aware of but will be looking into. So I commend the bill generally but will be looking at those amendments.

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