September 25, 2014  |  Second reading speech

Justice Legislation Amendment (Confiscation and Other Matters) Bill 2014

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — I rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Confiscation and Other Matters) Bill 2014. As previous speakers have said, Labor will not be opposing this bill. The main purpose of the bill is to amend the Confiscation Act 1997 to
establish an unexplained wealth confiscation scheme in Victoria similar to those that currently exist in other Australian jurisdictions.

Additionally the bill amends a range of other acts with various aims. It clarifies the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court in relation to community correction orders under the
Sentencing Act 1991. It increases protections for victims of stalking and other offences under the Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010. It allows for disclosure of certain information to the Sentencing Advisory Council and the Judicial College of Victoria under the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958. It makes changes to the allocation of juries under the Juries Act 2000. It allows for the police commissioner to respond to requests for information under the Road Safety Camera Commissioner Act 2011. It prohibits persons convicted of certain offences from holding licences under the Professional Boxing and Combat Sports Act 1985. It makes consequential amendments to other acts following the
abolition of the offence of defensive homicide.

In my contribution I will focus on unexplained wealth laws, but like the member for Thomastown I also want to talk about the provisions relating to assaults on registered health practitioners. In relation to unexplained wealth laws, currently in all Australian jurisdictions other than Victoria and the ACT there is legislation that requires persons reasonably suspected of criminal activity or owning unlawfully acquired property to explain how they came about that wealth. The bill will bring Victoria into line with other jurisdictions and prevent criminals from taking advantage of the existing gap in Victorian law.

In effect the bill reverses the existing burden of proof in relation to wealth that is suspected of being the proceeds of crime. At present law enforcement officials must trace wealth to its source in order to establish unlawful origin. Under this legislation, once reasonable suspicion has been established, the holder of the wealth will be required to prove its lawful origin on the balance of probabilities. Once the court is satisfied of a reasonable suspicion it can put in place an unexplained wealth restraining order, effectively preventing the accused from disposing of the assets under suspicion. Allowance will be made for reasonable living and business expenses. If the lawful origin of the assets cannot be established, the property will be forfeited to the state once the restraining order has been in place for at least six months. Where Victoria assists the commonwealth in
the investigation of criminal assets, Victoria, along with other states, will be able to able to share in the proceeds recovered.

I was pleased to be able to participate in the recent Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee inquiry into the supply and use of methamphetamine in Victoria. In evidence presented in camera but also more broadly the issue of proceeds of crime or
unexplained wealth would come up regularly throughout the 10‑month inquiry. I have a copy of volume 1 of the report of the inquiry in front of me. I am pleased that at recommendation 23 the committee recommended that the Victorian government continue its active participation in the Standing Council on Law and Justice concerning the development of model unexplained wealth laws that would be suitable for implementation in Victoria and most effective for addressing crime in Australia. This was an extensive inquiry.

To go to the heart of how that recommendation came about, the committee received some important evidence from Mike Sabin, director of Methcon Group Ltd. We were pleased to be able to meet with Mr Sabin. He is probably at the forefront of tackling methamphetamine in New Zealand. The New Zealand State Services Commission recently handed down a report to Prime Minister John Key that shows that New Zealand has been able to halve the rate of crystal methamphetamine use, a remarkable achievement. The work in New Zealand strongly informed this report. I also want to put on the record what Mr Sabin told the committee in relation to the proceeds of crime legislation, which aimed to deter crime by reducing the financial motivation for offending, thus making acquisitive property offending less profitable. He said:

My strongly held view in terms of where you need to spend your resources in the criminal justice system is getting to the real kingpins and the traffickers and ensuring that you have proceeds of crime legislation and the ability to absolutely strip them of their assets and their finances. Those are the ones who should be doing some serious time because ultimately they are the ones who are profiting the most. Usually they are many steps removed from the average trafficker, who is simply a mule trying to sustain his own habit and doing the dirty work for the big guys.

The big guys definitely need to be taken down at every level. Going to prison is one thing, but I am telling you that taking all their assets — everything they own; everything they
have earnt — hurts them equally as much, probably more in many respects. This is in  addition to having effective proceeds of crime legislation that actually says to organised crime, ‘We will do everything we can to target you financially as well as criminally and, if you are in that net, it’s gone. Everything that you have worked for, everything that you actually care about — the proceeds of crime and money — goes back into your prevention, your education, your treatment and so forth’. There is a great ironic synergy in doing that. That is certainly something that New Zealand has picked up on, and I think it is a very effective tool because essentially what you get is a situation that is almost parasitical, where the drug user uses the proceeds of their own crime and diminishes their own ability to make more money.

Labor supports the legislation as a step in the right direction.

The Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee report on the nature of violence in healthcare settings shows that 77 per cent of violent offences are committed by patients. A section headed ‘Patients as perpetrators’ states:

With regard to nursing staff, physical assaults were most commonly perpetrated by aged care (often dementia affected) or mental health clients, whereas verbal threats to nurses were inflicted by a wide spectrum of perpetrators including patients, visitors and relatives. Medical and security staff most commonly received assaults and threats in the emergency room or intensive care context particularly from patients with drug and alcohol or mental health conditions.

The Labor Party supports the government’s moves to tackle the drug ice. It also supports moves to decrease violence in hospitals. In fact, in July Labor announced that an incoming Labor government will require hospitals to publicly report on violent incidents in Victorian health services ensuring public reporting on violent incidents establishes a simplified reporting mechanism for violence in hospitals. This is a step in the right direction. The public wants and expects transparency in our hospital system. In many respects nurses and hospital staff are regarded as the unsung heroes of our community.

An Auditor‑General’s report entitled Occupational Health and Safety Risk in Public Hospitals and dated November 2013 indicates, as the member for Thomastown said, that it would be good to introduce an offence to protect our hospital staff. But it is also about culture and changing workplace practices. When I read the Auditor‑General’s report I was staggered to learn that:

At 30 June 2013, there were 84 public hospitals in Victoria with 98 446 employees. From 2007–08 to 2011–12, public hospital workers made 10 621 WorkCover claims. Only manufacturing and construction industry workers made more claims over this period. The WorkCover premiums paid by Victorian public hospitals is substantial, with over $80 million paid in 2012–13 alone.

The great work that goes on in our hospitals is clear from the report, as are the risks and the behaviour and the cost to the taxpayers from incidents of violence. The report of the
Auditor‑General says:

The hospital working environment is complex and demanding and can pose significant risks to staff safety. The impact of poor occupational health and safety (OHS) is felt not only by affected staff but also by the patients they are treating. Therefore it was important for my office to examine whether public hospitals in Victoria are effectively managing OHS risk.

Public hospital staff are being put at unnecessary risk. I found significant shortcomings in the daily management of OHS in public hospitals visited during this audit. Key issues include inadequate incident reporting systems, inconsistent follow‑up and investigation of OHS incidents, and superficial analysis of root causes. A more systematic approach which integrates all aspects of safety management is needed.

I wish the legislation a speedy passage. I congratulate the government on bringing it forward. It is a step in the right direction.