Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:13:53):
I am pleased to rise to speak to Ms Maxwell’s motion. I think all of us absolutely do acknowledge the selfless dedication and commitment of our state’s emergency workers.
We would all be unanimous in that and unanimous in reaffirming that emergency workers have the right to be protected, just as the community expects them to protect us.
I have no doubt that many of us have been at the receiving end of that protection, have been at the receiving end of that assistance and many of the constituents that we represent are probably here today because of the remarkable work of our emergency services workers in Victoria. I think I would certainly support and reinforce that very clear message: it is not okay to be violent against our emergency workers, not in any way, ever.
However, mandatory sentencing does not make us safer. It does not help make our emergency workers safer, and this is something that people seem to fail to recognise. All of the evidence will show us that mandatory sentencing does not do this. In fact there is no nexus between mandatory sentencing and protecting our emergency workers—none. There is no connection.
Now, I believe absolutely and categorically that we must do everything to protect our ambos, our fireys and our police, but mandatory sentencing will not do that. Yet we talk about it over and over again. It is one of those things: we talk about doing the same thing and every time we expect a different result—yet it will not be a different result.
Our emergency workers put themselves in harm’s way to save our lives and to save our constituents’ lives, and it is an extraordinarily noble and challenging job. But the evidence shows that mandatory sentencing will not make them safer. Mr O’Donohue mentioned the notion of a deterrent effect. Mandatory sentencing has been proved to have no deterrent effect. What we do know is that if you imprison someone, the chance of them reoffending is far higher.
So we know that by imprisoning someone we will actually make the problem worse, not better, and that has been measured. We know that once you put someone in prison you increase the chances that they will come out and commit another offence—exorbitantly, by probably around 50 per cent. The other danger of mandatory sentencing is that it fetters that judicial discretion, and I believe in judicial independence.
Ms Maxwell in her comments talked about the judiciary being at odds with the Premier. I do not have a problem with the judiciary being at odds with the Parliament. They should remain independent of the Parliament. If they do not like what we do, well, so be it. But it is not for us to be telling the judiciary how to do their job. It fetters that judicial discretion, and we know that it leads to demonstrable injustices.
I do not think anyone in this chamber will not have read about the failure of something like the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ legislation in the US. That does not work. That does not reduce crime. What we do see with mandatory sentencing is that it most often affects the young, the intellectually disabled, the mentally ill or people who are also adversely affected.
Our courts, when they are looking at a case and looking at an offender, have to balance punishment, deterrence, denunciation, rehabilitation and community protection. When you read a media statement about a case you do not get the full story. You do not hear the backstory. You do not hear whether that person lashed out because they were escaping violence and ended up hurting somebody else in that circumstance. You do not hear the reasons why that person was in that place at that time.
I am not apologising and I am not protecting those that harm our first responders, but I am protecting the right of the judiciary to do that sentencing—to look at the case and balance the punishment, the deterrence and the community protection.
We have talked about the Haberfield case, and that was something that did get a lot of media. This is how our judiciary works: if we do not think that the judgement was correct or if we think that there was an error made, then we go through an appeal process. That is the safety net that is in place, and the prosecution has every right to appeal to that higher jurisdiction.
I think it is really important to note that the community is best protected when a person is rehabilitated and the factors that underpin their offending behaviour are addressed.
Places like the Netherlands now imprison half the people per head of population that we do in Victoria, yet their country has less crime—not because they are soft on crime but because their reoffending rates are lower as a result of comprehensive rehabilitation programs.
We know that if you jail someone the likelihood of them reoffending increases. So if we want less repeat offending, that means that we probably want less mandatory sentencing or less jail time. Less repeat offending means less offending overall and a much safer society—safer for our emergency workers and safer for all. I support the great intent of this motion.
We had this debate in the last term about this, but I cannot vote in favour of a proposal that involves mandatory sentencing because it does not achieve the end it sets out to. So let us find an evidence-based solution that will actually make our emergency service workers safer. Let us not embrace an idea that is anything but a solution and has been proven to make problems worse.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Motion for Emergency Services Workers