August 17, 2015  |  second reading speech

Corrections Legislation Amendment Bill 2015

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Corrections Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 and to come out of the sort of sleep I have just been in. I thank the member for Box Hill. While he was speaking, though, I had a quick look at his website, and I know he has been doing a bit of night‑time reading lately. Members will not believe what he has been reading: Joel Deane’s book Catch and Kill — The Politics of Power. The member for Box Hill himself has a review going on the Bracks and Brumby years, and I congratulate him.

We have seen what opposition members have done this week. They have come back from the winter break and been hit around the head by the Treasurer. The shadow Treasurer has had one of the worst weeks you could imagine. So the member for Box Hill is doing a review on effective, sustainable, great government, and I urge him to continue and to teach his colleagues how to run not only an opposition but a government as well. I want to tell him first and foremost, though — and this may surprise him — that if there was something the previous government did right, it was parole reform. That government did do parole reform.

Members need to remember, however, what we had during the last four years. It was a Baillieu‑Napthine‑Shaw minority government. The parole reforms would not have got through without the support of the Daniel Andrews Labor opposition. We supported all of those reviews, including the Callinan review, which was done in the wake of a tragedy, and we supported all the reforms all the way through.

I have read the Callinan review. It is a good document. The member for Box Hill will probably like this: on page 13 there is a quote from Sir Winston Churchill, who as the Home Secretary in a speech in the House of Commons on 20 July 1910 said:

The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of civilisation of a country. A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the state, and even of convicted criminals against the state, a constant heart‑searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless effort towards the discovery of curative and regenerative processes, and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man — these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored‑up strength of a nation, and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it.

These are the sorts of values the Andrews Labor government, led by the Minister for Corrections, who is also the Minister for Police, and the Attorney‑General are trying to bring back to our law and order system. We inherited a complete mess. I will get onto the legacy we have inherited. Let us just go through it. There has been an unprecedented growth in Victoria’s prison system. Our prison population skyrocketed by over 1500 prisoners, with the previous government failing to manage this rapid change. It is unbelievable. I was doing a bit of research. Can members believe that the waste treatment plant for Barwon Prison and Marngoneet Correctional Centre was unable to cope — a working sewerage system, a basic requirement, and it could not even cope with the demand.

I represented the Minister for Corrections at the corrective services ministers’ conference in Darwin recently. Everyone there wanted to know about the previous government and the skyrocketing prison population and what we were doing to address it — and we have been addressing it. Finally there has been a stable prison population level, and the new Minister for Corrections ought to be congratulated.

I also want to refer to the shameless effort of the Leader of the Opposition during the prison riots when he went on 3AW radio and called that minister a 9‑to‑5 minister, even though the minister is one of the hardest working ministers we have ever seen and could teach the lot opposite much. It was terrible, it was shameless and it was uncalled for. A serious situation required a serious response from both sides of politics, and the minister should have been supported.

In his contribution the member for Box Hill also spoke about ice and said we had\ve not done enough. The Premier led the response to ice. He has taken a leaf out of the book of the New Zealand government and set up a whole‑of‑government approach and an Ice Action Plan, and he should be congratulated as well.

As I said, however, the Callinan review was something we supported. We were very keen to see the two panels for the granting of parole introduced. The previous government’s commitment to boosting the staff of the adult parole board was welcome. A systematic, streamlined vigilant approach to parole is very important.

The nature of the legislation before us today, though, is very much to do with procedure. It is not dealing specifically with the laws of parole. It goes through a whole raft of changes that are very important. It deals with automatic cancellation of parole due to reimprisonment, increased time limits for the prosecution of breaches of parole, and amendments on other matters, including powers and procedures of the board in relation to taking evidence, particularly those in relation to evidentiary tools, which will enable the board to require production of documents and other things and which relate also to attendance of witnesses and to obtaining evidence. The board may also require evidence to be provided on oath or affirmation and may also use a video link.

One thing that came out of the Callinan review was the attempt — this was something former Justice Callinan attempted — to ensure that the Victorian community knew that parole was not automatically granted; it was something that had to be earnt. I have recently been to Barwon Prison, and I have also been to the Marngoneet Correctional Centre, and I have seen the programs that have been put in place. I have been to the Beechworth Correctional Centre and I have seen Dhurringile Prison, and I have to say our corrections services and the work they are doing are first class.

If we are to be fair dinkum about what our justice system is encountering, however, we need to look at the overcrowding of our jails. The Age editorial of 9 May was headed ‘Why our crowded jails have revolving doors’, and it said:

When politicians are banished from the government benches to opposition, they tend to spend some time sulking and bemoaning their fate. Letting go of the reins can be hard. The most effective opposition teams, though, take the time to pause and reconsider their suite of policies. They recast their strategies, they learn to embrace the important role that oppositions should play in probing and challenging government policies, while taking time to develop coherent policies that one day might win them the support of the electorate.

… At the state level, it appears there is still a long way to go before the deep thinking begins inside the coalition. That much is apparent from the half‑witted comment uttered this week by the coalition’s spokesman on corrections matters, Edward O’Donohue, in relation to prisoner recidivism rates.

That was referring not to a comment of the member for Box Hill but a comment of a member in the upper house. The editorial went on to say:

What did Mr O’Donohue have to say about the recidivism rates? He suggested the real issue was ‘whether [Premier] Daniel Andrews wants to go soft on crime and wants to back the welfare of criminals instead of safety in our community’.

I mean, really? The editorial continues:

Welfare? So that’s what Mr O’Donohue thinks of rehabilitation strategies: that they amount to welfare for criminals.

What an extraordinarily doltish response by someone whose primary task until November was oversight of the state’s prisons and crime prevention strategies.

Let us be very clear about this. As the editorial continues:

Victoria is not in the grip of a crime spree —

as the previous government would want us to think.

It is not riddled with gangsters, thieves, thugs and fraudsters. It has been, until last year, in the grip of a clutch of conservative politicians who, like Mr O’Donohue, prefer to play populist politics rather than understand and implement the most effective strategies to improve our community and make it safer.

Interestingly Jesuit Social Services recently released a report called Dropping Off the Edge. One thing that came out of that report is that for 40 years in disadvantaged areas there has been no change. If we are to make change, we need to look at working with communities, working with rehabilitation providers, looking at economic development and focusing on young people. I visit a lot of courts, and the officers often tell me, ‘Ben, the issue that needs to be addressed is with our school system. If you can, work with schools as soon as there is a truancy matter. Have that child, that student, dealt with. Give them all the wraparound services they need’. One thing that also always comes up is support for rehabilitation. Once upon a time, back in the 18th century, it was just about locking up prisoners and throwing away the key. The 21st century is about giving people a second chance by rehabilitating them, providing that they need it and deserve it and that they want to become contributing members of our community.

Under the previous government we did not see the Drug Court extended; we did not see any investment in restorative justice. I give the previous government credit in that it did not shut the court down. It had a good look at the human rights charter, and it kept it, but it was on the edge there. It looked 50‑50 there for a while but the previous government kept it. Let us work together to make sure our justice system is not just a revolving door. I commend the bill to the house.