April 4, 2016  |  second reading speech

Sex Offenders Registration Amendment Bill 2016

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Sex Offenders Registration Amendment Bill 2016. I welcome the support of the shadow Minister for Industrial Relations and member for Box Hill on this important legislation. I will endeavour to come back to him with regard to some of the issues he has raised in relation to electronic monitoring. I understand, though, that new section 66Q, which is inserted by clause 8, provides that the supervision orders that may be imposed have a wide capacity in relation to conditions that can be put on them. I will endeavour to get some more advice for the member for Box Hill on that specific issue.

The member for Box Hill ended his speech on some matters I want to address, because members can rest assured that the Andrews government takes our justice system and the resourcing of our police force very seriously. We are very proud that in our first budget we put a record $2.5 billion into the police budget. That is something that the opposition back then could have only dreamt about — $2.5 billion in the very first Andrews Labor government budget dedicated to police resources. We will take every measure required to keep the community safe. We will work with police, giving them the powers and resources they need.

The Sex Offenders Registration Amendment Bill will improve community safety by providing appropriate powers to the courts and police to better manage the risks posed by sex offenders living in the community. The background to this bill is essentially twofold. There will be the introduction of a prohibition order scheme, which was recommended by the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) in its 2011 report Sex offenders registration, which I know the member for Box Hill is familiar with. The important part of this legislation is that we are following through with many of the recommendations of that report. The police have also separately requested amendments to better assist them in managing registered sex offenders, including the ability to prevent persons from working in jobs or volunteering in settings that afford them opportunities to offend against children. I will touch on that a bit later in terms of some of the safeguards provided through the reforms we are introducing to give the police more power.

Among other things the bill will also give police the power to apply to courts to make a prohibition order in relation to a person on the sex offender register. Members often receive calls from constituents asking that we make public the details of sex offenders. It is always challenging not only to get the balance right in terms of dealing with serious sex offenders but also to ensure that we best manage those offenders. The purpose of the sex offender register is to ensure that Victoria Police can monitor sex offenders, both to reduce the likelihood that they will reoffend and also to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of any future offences that they may commit.

The purpose of the sex offender register, in many respects, is to ensure community safety. Our first budget delivered $2.5 billion to Victoria Police. We will continue to work with Victoria Police, as was demonstrated most recently in the enterprise bargaining agreement. Minister Noonan needs to be congratulated on that. Only recently, with the Acting Minister for Police, Minister Scott, and the opposition, I met with Police Association Victoria at its annual general meeting. The member for Box Hill did highlight some of the concerns of the police association, but if I could read from the press release dated 10 December from secretary Ron Iddles, it says:

I congratulate Premier Andrews, Police Minister Noonan and Chief Commissioner Ashton on the good faith and goodwill they’ve all shown throughout these negotiations.

It also states:

The police association is pleased to have reached an in‑principle agreement with the state government and Victoria Police on police and PSO pay and conditions for the next four years.

That is a great outcome. I am sure even the member for Box Hill would agree that the enterprise bargaining agreement process that the minister and the police association have worked through has been very successful.

This legislation though has a lot of background to it. There have been some very serious crimes committed in the community. Only last week I got to meet for the first time the new head of the Adult Parole Board of Victoria, Judge Peter Couzens. It is a wonderful appointment. He is a man of great experience, most recently as President of the Children’s Court. We are committed to working shoulder to shoulder with the adult parole board and with our justice system to ensure our police are resourced and we have the right mechanisms in place when dealing with some of the most serious offenders in the community.

Out of the Victorian Law Reform Commission report of 2011 titled Sex offenders registration, a range of protection orders were sought by Victoria Police, which we are acting upon. First and foremost were the prohibition orders. How the prohibition order scheme works is very important, and I think all members of the house should become familiar with it. It was a recommendation out of the Victorian Law Reform Commission while the member for Box Hill was the Attorney‑General. The Sex offenders registration report was released in 2011. It was a good report, as is most of the VLRC work. The report contained excellent and very important law reform.

Essentially the prohibition order scheme to be implemented in Victoria addresses circumstances where a registered sex offender might behave in a way that is lawful but is of concern to the police or child protection authorities. Such behaviour could include contacting the child against whom the person has previously committed an offence or frequenting a place where grooming or other offending previously has occurred, such as at a municipal swimming pool.

Prohibition orders will provide a mechanism for preventing such behaviour by enabling courts to order that a registered offender not engage in certain types of behaviour or employment, or go to certain places or contact certain people. In turn the orders then enable Victoria Police to take appropriate action to protect the community from offenders who through their actions have demonstrated that they are at risk of offending. I think it is very important that we understand that prohibition orders are really about prevention. It is about making sure that safeguards are in place to ensure that people of concern in the community are monitored and that people who may be in a place of danger are put into a place of safety.

It is important to highlight that children — individuals under the age of 18 — who really have their whole lives in front of them can get caught up in the law for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately in Victoria there have been cases involving serious sexual offending by persons under the age of 18. As a result this scheme will also apply to children offenders where it is considered necessary to protect the community. These cases will be heard in the Children’s Court and a range of additional safeguards will be applied. For example, the Children’s Court will be required to seek expert advice from a suitably qualified health professional before making a prohibition order against the child. The court will also be required to consider additional factors, including the child’s educational, training or employment needs, and the need to strengthen and preserve the relationship between the child and the family.

Also I touched earlier on the additional powers for police. It is something that the police themselves have been very mindful of in terms of their resources. They need to have the most up‑to‑date powers. I know the Victorian Law Reform Commission looked at states right across Australia to make sure that when it comes to sexual offending our police have the appropriate powers and are at the cutting edge to ensure the protection of the community and in particular the protection of children. Police will be given appropriate powers to enforce prohibition orders.

In relation to some of the court powers that may also be given to police around these prohibition orders, we will be ensuring that police have powers to search offenders’ residences, vehicles and belongings. We will ensure that those powers are put in place and that they are monitored to ensure that the community knows there is an appropriate number of safeguards. We are also going to ensure that the police report annually on facts, such as the number of offenders on the sex offenders register and the number of prohibition orders made. These reports will be tabled in Parliament.

The Independent Broad‑based Anti‑corruption Commission also has existing powers in relation to the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004. We are going to ensure that IBAC’s powers are reinforced and extended to make sure that this legislation is appropriately handled. In the few seconds I have left I congratulate the police minister, the acting police minister and the previous Attorney‑General, the member for Box Hill, who through the Victorian Law Reform Commission gave a lot of this legislation its backbone. I commend the bill. It is very much needed and timely.