Sex offenders

Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Amendment (Governance) Bill 2017

20 September 2017

Ms RYAN (Euroa) — I welcome the opportunity to contribute today on the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Amendment (Governance) Bill 2017. This bill makes a number of changes, but the key one is the establishment of the Post Sentence Authority, which, as the member for Box Hill outlined earlier, is one but a relatively minor recommendation from the Harper review. As a consequence of establishing the Post Sentence Authority, the bill also transfers functions which are currently undertaken by the detention and supervision order division of the Adult Parole Board of Victoria. It is largely a cosmetic change, because those powers and functions that are currently undertaken by the adult parole board remain primarily the same.

We know that the Harper review arose from the most tragic of circumstances relating to the murder of 17-year-old schoolgirl Masa Vukotic by Sean Price, who is an absolutely depraved man with a history of violent offences. I note the comments of Justice Lex Lasry who, in sentencing Sean Price, stated:

There were many red flags to indicate that the risks of leaving you to your own devices were very significant and likely to involve violence, but nowhere near enough was done.

This is a tragic case.

Following those tragic events, the former Supreme Court judge, David Harper, was commissioned to review the legislative framework — most specifically, this particular act — and the governance that guides the state's management of complex adult sex offenders and people like Sean Price.

I should make it clear that from the beginning of this review and from the outset we have always stated that we are prepared to work with the government to strengthen the post-sentence regime for serious violent and sex offenders. The panel was also asked to consider how the oversight of offenders like Sean Price could be improved. In November 2015 David Harper delivered that report to the Andrews government, yet here we are today and only seven of the 35 recommendations from that report have been fully implemented. That is of great concern to those on this side of the house. We believe the government should have acted much faster to implement the recommendations from that review. This bill provides for a further 14 of those recommendations to be implemented, but it still means that there are 14 recommendations which have not been implemented. As the member for Box Hill pointed out, one of those recommendations and one of the primary planks of the Harper review was in fact the extension of the post-sentencing scheme to serious violent offenders. We are still waiting to see that. We have asked questions repeatedly of the government in this place about when they intend to bring forward those recommendations, but we, and more importantly Victorians, still do not have an answer to that question.

It is not just action on the Harper review which has been delayed. We have seen the Callinan review, which was commissioned by the previous government to review the parole system in Victoria following the murder of Jill Meagher, sit on the desk of the minister gathering dust. We have seen that the reform of the parole system as recommended by Justice Callinan will now not be finalised until the end of next year, and that is also of significant concern to those on this side of the house. We have also had Paul Coghlan's review of bail laws following the Bourke Street tragedy, and those reforms have not been delivered. Of course the government is yet to release the report into the terrorist siege in Brighton, despite the fact that it was handed to the Minister for Corrections, Gail Tierney, more than two months ago.

Considering those delays and considering the failure to introduce the very key recommendation of the Harper review related to the post-sentence offenders scheme — that it be extended not just to sex offenders but also to violent offenders — it is no wonder that Victorians do not feel safe with the sentencing regime as it currently stands.

Over the weekend I read the media reports, as no doubt a number of people in this place did, about Sean Price threatening to kill prison guards, the fact that Corrections Victoria staff have demanded a glass shield for his next court appearance and also the fact that corrections staff are currently keeping a dossier of the destruction and violence that he has perpetrated whilst he has been in custody. That article prompted me to go back and read some of the I suppose initial reporting around the time of his arrest and imprisonment. It is quite apparent from reading those reports that there was an absolutely catastrophic failure of the justice system that led to Masa Vukotic's murder. Price had previously assaulted seven women, he had raped two of them, and he was on bail when he murdered Masa and raped another woman. Justice Lasry — I referred to him earlier — said in his comments that authorities had failed to protect the community from the danger that Sean Price posed. When you have such clear warning signs from Justice Lasry in the sentencing in that case, it should absolutely be a red flag to this government that it needs to get on and implement the recommendations of the Harper review without delay.

We have circulated a number of amendments, and I want to quickly touch on those. The first is that the authority be made exempt from the charter of human rights. I believe that that is a very sensible amendment. As the system currently stands the Adult Parole Board of Victoria is of course exempt from the charter, so I do not think it makes sense that you would establish this new Post Sentence Authority with virtually identical responsibilities and then subject it to the charter of human rights. I believe that Victorians want to see a justice system that puts their rights ahead of those of criminals.

The second amendment of course relates to the make-up of the new authority and who can in fact sit on the board. As the member for Box Hill outlined, at present any lawyer of five years standing is able to be appointed to the chair or the deputy chair position of the new authority. Our amendments ensure that the chair and deputy chair in fact need to be on par with the current requirements of the adult parole board. Again, that is an important amendment because this is about the status of this new authority and how it is viewed not just by Victorians at large but by those who are in the justice system.

Finally, we have circulated an amendment that two members of the authority should be victims of crime. To me that is perhaps the most important amendment that we have circulated today. I want to fully endorse that. As the bill is currently drafted the definition only requires a maximum of 10 members, made up of judges, lawyers or community representatives who have expertise or experience relevant to the functions of the authority. That certainly does not guarantee that victims of crime will be on the board of the Post Sentence Authority. We as a coalition, the Liberals and The Nationals, have made a very strong commitment to put victims at the heart of our justice system, and that is why we have circulated this amendment. I would strongly urge the government to support it.

In conclusion, while we agree with a number of the steps taken in this bill, I think what it does is far too little and at this point it is also coming too late. We have had four different corrections ministers in Victoria, and it appears that perhaps the recommendations of this review have been dropped in the process of repeated changes within the corrections portfolio. I would also like to stress that while addressing the post-sentencing supervision of offenders it is important that the government also address the inadequacies in the sentencing system, and it needs to support the justice system with adequate resourcing of police. That is why we have promised mandatory sentencing for repeat violent offenders, an initiative that I think the government should back.

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