Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I think I would like to take a novel approach in my contribution and actually speak to the bill.
Honourable members interjecting.
Ms PATTEN — I know, yes. Not often is that heard in this house at the moment. But in fact I am going to keep it brief, because I only want to speak to one particular section of the bill. I support most of the changes proposed in this bill, but I do have a number of significant concerns about the new powers given to our new SWAT (special weapons and tactics) parole team that is the security and emergency services group, particularly around their searching people on parole and searching their homes, and the use of certain weapons and restraints amongst other changes.
I appreciate that some of the people on parole are still a risk, and they are a perceived risk to our community and certainly to the officers that are overseeing that parole, so they can sound like quite sensible measures, but I am concerned that they may actually work against the intended purpose of parole. When we think that parole is intended to supervise and support the reintegration of offenders into the community, this is important because it actually does reduce the risk of reoffending.
We know that recidivism rates are up high, and Mr Finn provided us with some numbers in his contribution. The Australian Institute of Criminology found in 2014 that offenders who received parole supervision upon release from custody at least took longer to commit a new offence, were less likely to commit a new indictable offence and committed fewer offences than offenders who were released unconditionally into the community. My concern is that this bill may work against that important purpose of reintegrating people and ensuring that offenders do not reoffend and that they use that time of parole to integrate properly into the community.
On these police-like powers that we are now giving to corrections staff, I am concerned that this is actually sending the wrong message and is going to create a difficult position for corrections staff to now be acting like police rather than corrections officers. Certainly when you look at the power of weapons like capsicum spray and batons, instruments of restraints such as handcuffs, pat-down searches of parolees, searches of their homes and the power to seize items, these are under the guise of safety powers, but some of these are actually just investigatory. People have the power to search a parolee or their home purely as an investigation. It does not need to be exercised with a safety concern; it can be in the absence of a safety concern under this bill.
The bill states that misuse of these safety powers is said to be safeguarded against by a reasonable grounds test, where supervision of the parolee would pose a high risk of violence or other threat to safety. This does not apply to the exercise of the search powers provided under the bill, so you could still search someone without concern that they would pose a high risk of violence or a threat to society. I think this is possibly taking some of these powers a little bit too far. Again, I am concerned that when we are giving parole officers the role of police this is changing the nature of parole in the circumstances. It is changing the purpose of parole and how we use it, and I think in many ways it is against that purpose of parole.
Items may also be seized if the specified officer reasonably suspects the item relates to behaviour or conduct associated with an increased risk of the parolee reoffending by breaching the conditions of parole orders. This is actually a lower bar than police officers, so this is giving them in many cases more powers than police. As the Minister for Police stated in her second-reading speech, safety risks to community corrections staff are only posed from time to time in the supervision of prisoners, so this is just an occasional risk. I am not sure that it justifies these quite severe changes. Should a parolee pose a safety risk, then it is a matter for the police. If we need more police, then so be it, but giving police powers to non-police is something that concerns me.
If a parolee is suspected of committing a crime, of which a breach of parole is one, then this is again a matter for the police. Conducting searches is the role of police; reintegration is the role of community corrections. I think this is where I have a concern with this section of the bill in that there is a crossover, giving police powers to corrections officers. When we are looking at parole as having a reintegration role, then conducting searches and using capsicum spray, I think, blurs the line between police and corrections officers. I am not sure that there is sufficient cause or justification for this. I question whether this is proportional. I am not sure that it is actually going to help us in assisting the purposes of parole or in improving our parole, and I do wonder if it will undermine the proper role of Victoria Police. I think we could have amended this to make it more compatible with our hopes for the role of parole, for the role of police and for the role of our parole officers, but I do not know if I would have the numbers in the house for that.