Serious Offenders Bill 2018

May 23, 2018

Second reading

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Serious Offenders Bill 2018.

It is a bill that seeks to establish a protective scheme under which offenders who have served custodial sentences for certain serious sex offences which are set out in a schedule to the bill, or for certain serious violence offences similarly set out in the bill, and continue to present an unacceptable risk of harm to the community can be made subject to ongoing detention or supervision.

In line with the recommendations of the Harper review, the bill expands the current post-sentence scheme to include serious violent offenders, thereby extending it from the previous circumstance where it was only available in relation to serious sex offenders. In doing so it repeals the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Act 2009 and makes a number of other consequential amendments.

In a climate where law and order is a major concern to the community it is important to look at the purposes of this bill and to find out what it hopes to achieve. Clause 1 makes it clear that the bill is primarily to provide enhanced protection for the community in the circumstances that I have mentioned. Clause 5 of the bill states that in making any decision under the legislation the person or body must give paramount consideration to the safety and protection of the community. The bill also has the purpose of facilitating the treatment and rehabilitation of these serious offenders and provides a legal framework for the supervision of offenders in a new residential facility. That facility is to be regarded as non-punitive, therapeutic in its intent and is to deliver intensive treatment and intervention for offenders. A purpose-built facility is currently being constructed in Ararat, and I notice an article in the Wimmera-Mail Times which has stated that it is a new 20-bed facility that will be more secure than the current Corella Place that houses serious sex offenders. This new facility is in line with the recommendations of the Harper review that recommended these violent offenders should be kept separate from other offenders.

It is an incredible shame that we have found ourselves in a position where we are building more prisons. There is no doubt that we need many more prisons, because from now on, with the changes that have come into the laws in this current Parliament, we are going to be locking up a lot more people. It is an interesting thing when you live in a regional community. When you live in a country town, you actually live with everybody. In the city you can choose the suburb you like. You may not notice what is going on in parts of your community and parts of your city, but in a country town we know most people. We know who the next group of people are who will be in the youth detention centre. We know who will probably end up in jail, and we know that they are heading in that direction because they are not getting what they need as young people. From the very earliest stages in their life they are not getting access to the sorts of services that they and their parents need to prevent them from going on this trajectory.

My husband is a consultant paediatrician in the Shepparton region and has been for over 35 years. He works in clinics for the disadvantaged in our region, and he will tell you — and there is a letter sitting on the Premier's desk now, if it has reached him — who the people in Mooroopna and Shepparton are likely to be who will end up in these places because they are all suffering from environmental trauma. They are not getting the treatment and services they need, and they are on the trajectory to be locked up in these places that we are building hand over fist because we are not addressing enough issues at the other end. We need these facilities because all of those people are out there. We have to deal with what we have got at the moment, but we have a responsibility to try to change that trajectory and try to do something about the young people, the children who are out there who we know are not getting what they need to put them on a life path that will give them some chance of avoiding being locked up, not just for a period of time but, under laws such as this, possibly forever, and that is in circumstances where they have already done their jail time and they have already served their time.

But the level of damage to these people is such that the prospect of them being rehabilitated is very low. As I say it is an incredibly disappointing time in history that I think we find ourselves in when, on the one hand, we are not doing enough to address what is clearly the emergence of the next group of people who will need this. We know we need to build these facilities, yes, but again I just say it is an incredibly disappointing situation to find ourselves in.

The bill creates new emergency detention orders to supplement the existing detention orders that we have, and it is really a temporary and short-term proposition so that people can be reined in at a very early stage if it is apparent that something is going wrong. It is the caseworkers who would normally be the person who would identify what is happening to someone. It may be that they are not complying with the terms of their supervision orders. They may be making threats or they may have mental health deterioration. In those circumstances a worker for an offender can raise the issue with the secretary of the department and an emergency detention order can be made. Again I absolutely call on the government, in putting into place something like this, to ensure the resources that will be needed to make sure that this works. We know that so many caseworkers out there are carrying huge loads when it comes to supervision of those people who are no longer in prison. Sometimes the best they can do is make a phone call to one of these people during the course of a day to ask them how they are getting on. I think we know that is probably not enough and that a much higher standard of supervision will be required from caseworkers, so there will be a greater need for caseworkers.

The Harper review was commissioned in 2015 following the shocking murder of Masa Vukotic while she was just out for a walk. It was one of those terrible things that occurred when a prisoner had been let out on parole in circumstances where he was clearly still dangerous. It is fair to say that the community is sick and tired of circumstances where serious offences such as murder are carried out by offenders who have recently been released from jail and are on parole or some kind of supervision order. In studying this bill I looked at the statement of compatibility, because it really raises some interesting human rights questions when you consider that you are looking at detaining again a person who has already served their sentence. In this regard it was considered that the scheme is a civil rather than a criminal scheme, and that it is directed towards prevention, protection and rehabilitation of offenders, so it is not to be considered a punitive scheme. Sections 26 and 27 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 refer to the right of a person not to be punished more than once and the right to be protected against a retrospective penalty. While the commissioner seems to draw a fine line in balancing these competing rights the report also notes that the High Court has categorised post-sentence management schemes of high-risk offenders based on criteria relating to public safety as protective rather than punitive.

The other case that I would briefly mention is the murder of Jill Meagher. Judge Ian Gray, who is now the chair of the Post Sentence Authority, was the coroner who inquired into her death. He found that her death was entirely preventable because her killer, Adrian Bayley, should never have been allowed out on the streets of Melbourne. In Judge Gray's own words, Bayley was a man with a 'long and disturbing history of violent and sexual offences'. He had previously been convicted of rape and was out of jail, so the death of Jill Meagher will live on in the minds of many of us. For me, my daughter was at Melbourne University at the time and living in Brunswick. She was working late nights at the Arts Centre and coming home by tram. She was often walking the street late at night to get home, and the greatest relief every night it happened was when I got the text message to say that she had made it home safely.

The world we live in now demands that the interests of community protection have to override the interests of serious violent criminals, but we have to learn to deal with what is now just a really tragic set of circumstances that we find ourselves in. Judge Harper was at pains to point out in his report that the eradication of risk is impossible. The 35 recommendations that were made by the Harper review are largely now in place, and I understand that this bill just about finishes them off. The circumstances that we find ourselves in are most unfortunate, but this is a piece of legislation that is required. It is needed to deal with offenders who are so far from being able to be rehabilitated that they need to be detained after their sentence, so that our society is protected.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr WYNNE (Minister for Planning).

Debate adjourned until later this day.

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  • Suzanna Sheed
    published this page in Parliament 2018-08-30 14:19:55 +1000