April 21, 2016  |  second reading speech

Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Amendment (Community Safety) Bill 2016

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise and speak on the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Amendment (Community Safety) Bill 2016. I welcome the opposition support of this legislation. The member for Box Hill in his contribution outlined a range of issues, and in due course I will try to address some of the matters he has raised, including the release of the Harper review.

This legislation is very important. When you think of all levels of government — whether it be the federal government, the state government and even local government now — community safety is a priority. We are seeing CEOs of local councils — the Minister for Local Government is at the table right now — and their mayors regarding community safety as very, very important. Just this week we saw some tragedy in West Heidelberg and the role of closed‑circuit television. We saw the role of closed‑circuit television in the tragedy of Jill Meagher. Community safety is an issue. It has always had bipartisan support. It is an issue that all levels of government take very seriously.

This legislation before us very much follows a series of reforms that have been made essentially targeting our most violent and sexually violent offenders in the community — reforms that began back when Jill Meagher was tragically raped and murdered by Adrian Bayley, a known sex offender then on parole. This legislation specifically followed the tragic circumstances around the murder of Masa Vukotic, committed by Sean Price, who has been sentenced to 38 years, I believe.

Here we are today following a very important review, which the member for Box Hill and the shadow minister touched on, the review by former Supreme Court judge, David Harper, along with some very important people that he worked on that review with — the forensic psychologist Professor Paul Mullen and the criminal, mental health and law expert Professor Bernadette McSherry. That review really helped set the course on how we need to make sure that our serious sex offenders out in the community are given every supervision. Essentially the net is around them to make sure that community safety is paramount.

This legislation was really commenced via the Minister for Corrections, and I want to congratulate him on the work he has done. The reforms that have been made to the Adult Parole Board of Victoria, the reforms that go to sentencing in this legislation, the reforms and the additional police powers that are also embedded in this legislation are critical elements to making sure that serious sex offenders do not pose a risk to the community.

I had the pleasure only last month to meet His Honour Judge Peter Couzens. As the member for Box Hill would probably know, he passed on his praise to the member for Box Hill as he did to the Minister for Corrections. We had a really good long discussion about reforms made to the adult parole board and the continuing vigilance that we need to make sure that the adult parole board is adequately resourced and has every measure at its disposal to ensure that the community is safe.

The legislation that we are discussing today follows on from some legislation passed last year by the Parliament addressing the new presumption against bail and also from some of the new police powers that we introduced as part of the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015. This legislation though will also help our court system, the Supreme Court and the County Court, to determine orders and set the conditions of supervision orders that relate to an offender’s risk of sexual offending, such as where the offender must reside in the community and whether or not they should be subject to electronic monitoring. The member for Box Hill and I have had a previous discussion on that. Most importantly though, in the wake of the Masa Vukotic murder, I can remember the Premier met with Masa’s mother and said that he was going to do everything he could to make sure this tragedy could never occur again. He gave that commitment in many respects to all Victorians, a commitment that we would do what we can.

This bill puts community safety at the heart of serious sex offenders post their release. It amends the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Act 2009 (SSODSA) scheme to enshrine in law a principle that all decisions made by persons and bodies under SSODSA, such as the courts and the adult parole board, must give paramount consideration to the safety and protection of the community. The risk of violence, where it is inherently present in sexual offending, makes the defender eligible for the scheme. The bill will address the risk of violence posed by serious sex offenders.

The SSODSA will be amended to insert three new core conditions of every supervision order to provide that the offender must not (a) commit a violent offence in Victoria or elsewhere; (b) if the court requires an offender to reside at a residential facility, engage in conduct that poses a risk to the good order of the residential facility or the safety and welfare of offenders or staff at the facility or visitors to the residential facility; and (c) engage in conduct that threatens the safety of any person, including the offender. The new core condition not to commit a violent offence targets serious violent offending against persons and property while on a supervision order.

I will not go through the intricacies and the ins and outs of the case of Mr Price but, as the Premier described, that was a catastrophic failure of our system, and that is why we are here today. It is why we are making these important reforms, and it is why essentially both sides of the chamber are very much committed to them. The member for Lowan is here and is, I am sure, going to make a contribution. I did see in my notes a reference to a headline ‘Kealy supports new proposed legislation’ in the Hamilton Spectator of 24 March. All major parties are essentially committed to doing the right thing by the community and making sure our community is as safe as possible.

The role of the courts though is very important. They are independent. They are really the safeguard of the community as well. It will be the courts that provide the conditions relating to the offender’s role whether they are out in the community or they are at a residential facility. It essentially will be the courts that impose all the conditions on the supervision orders.

As the member for Box Hill touched on, there are supervision orders and there will be what are termed restrictive conditions. This will give the courts the tools they need to address individual risks posed by serious sex offenders, including those who may be or may become violent. There will be two new categories of restrictive conditions of supervision orders to target the most serious level of risk to the community posed by serious sex offenders. The bill will empower the courts to put offenders on notice that deliberate and reckless breaches of these conditions will carry a minimum 12‑month jail term unless a special reason exists, such as impartial mental functioning.

The member for Box Hill touched on mandatory and statutory conditions and some of the definitions in that respect. Essentially, though, it will be possible that other restrictive conditions, such as a curfew, that can apply on a case‑by‑case basis as provided for by the bill could be made restrictive in all cases where such conditions have been imposed.

Very importantly we want to make sure that there are safeguards in place to ensure that our court system is not just clogged up with people who might not necessarily need to be at court. We want to be very clear that breaches of supervision orders are serious and that we are dealing with serious sex offenders. However, some breaches may be more serious than others — for example, repeat sexual or violent offending, where the use of drugs or alcohol is likely to cause that behaviour. Making all conditions restrictive in every case is a one‑size‑fits‑all approach. We are very mindful that minimum sentencing can be used as a blunt instrument. We want to make sure that we are targeting the most serious breaches, and that is really what this legislation seeks to do. Courts are in the best position to set conditions that are tailored to address the individual risks of harm posed by serious sex offenders in the community.

The member for Box Hill asked when the Harper report will be released in full. I thank him for his comments and the cooperation we have had from the opposition in releasing certain sections of that report. We hope to announce some further reforms shortly, and we hope also that we will be in a position to release the report in more detail to the member for Box Hill and all the opposition. We are wanting to make sure that we have everything in place to ensure that community safety is paramount.

Before I conclude, I just want to say that the member for Box Hill touched on police resources. We do have another budget coming up, but this is a government that in its first budget put in $2.5 billion for police resources, with 700 additional police personnel. The Premier set up the ice action task force. It is a government that from the Premier and the Attorney‑General to the police and corrections minister takes community safety seriously. We will do whatever we can to ensure that community safety is paramount — that every Victorian can go about their business free of any worry or concern — but most importantly that people who are a threat to society are given appropriate treatment by the courts.