Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:07): Pursuant to standing order 23.29, I lay on the table a report from the Legal and Social Issues Committee on the inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system, including appendices, extracts of proceedings and a minority report. I further present transcripts of evidence and a summary booklet, and I move:
That the transcripts of evidence lie on the table and the report and summary booklet be published.
Motion agreed to.
Ms PATTEN: I move:
That the Council take note of the report.
As members of Parliament we get some really special opportunities to investigate matters of great importance, and I would have to say that this inquiry into the criminal justice system has been one of those privileges but also one of those challenges. As members can see, it is an enormous report. It is an enormous body of work, and it certainly consolidated my view, and I suspect the view of many of the members of the committee, that we need to improve the way we deliver justice in Victoria. In doing that we need to ensure community safety, but we need to find modern solutions to reduce offending and reoffending. As members can see, this report stretches over two volumes. There are over 100 recommendations for change. The committee held over 50 public hearings on this, and we involved over 90 representatives from different organisations as well as individuals.
We made it a priority to involve many individuals with lived experience of the justice system, and during this inquiry we heard some really heart-wrenching, tragic evidence from victims of crime who have survived just unimaginable loss and grief. I am really grateful to a number of them who are here today. I would really like for the chamber to note Ms Cathy Oddie, Thomas Wain, Dianne McDonald, Tracie Oldham and Lee Little, who are joining us today and who have been part of this crucial inquiry. Their contributions can be seen in this report. They were influential in this, and I hope that the government listens to what they have to say today.
I want Victorians to be safe always, and we must make inroads into achieving that goal. But I do not believe—and certainly the evidence showed us this—that building more prisons will do that. In fact it may do absolutely the opposite.
The government’s priority should be on supporting victims of crime, rehabilitating offenders, circumventing recidivism, ending over-representation of Aboriginal people in our jails and ensuring early intervention for those who are disadvantaged. That was one of the saddest facts that we found in this—that socio-economic disadvantage is so closely linked to increased risk of engagement with the criminal justice system. While the vast majority of people do not come across the criminal justice system, different forms of social disadvantage compound to increase that risk of criminalisation and victimisation.
The committee has made a number of recommendations for a strong focus on early intervention. We must identify individuals at risk and provide those social supports to divert them away from the system. I believe this includes changing the minimum age of criminal responsibility. It also needs to look at the way cautions and court-based diversions are used. They are a key mechanism to divert people away from the system, but currently their application is inconsistent and often at the discretion of the attending officer.
The Victorian government is currently developing a new victims of crime financial assistance scheme, and I encourage it to review the 31 thoughtful and considered recommendations regarding victims of crime that are captured in this report. These include the urgent need to embed trauma-informed practices into the design of the criminal justice system. It needs to be more accessible and a less adversarial process for victims of crime.
We need to take a stronger look at the bail system. We have seen unsentenced prisoners now accounting for 87 per cent of prison receptions. The purpose of bail is to keep the community safe from high offenders, but denying bail has had negative effects on so many people who have been charged with an offence, and it has disproportionately impacted women, Aboriginal Victorians, children, young people and people living with disabilities. The same goes for parole. We are now releasing people without parole, and that does not necessarily make the community safer.
So I am very pleased to present this report on the criminal justice system in Victoria. I hope that it influences the government to work towards a more modern rehabilitation-focused justice system. This is what all stakeholders want, and it would have a significant positive influence on the lives of individuals and the safety of our community.
I would like to thank the secretariat staff for this extraordinary body of work: inquiry officer Alice Petrie; the research assistants, Caitlin Connally, Samantha Leahy, Jessica Wescott and Meagan Murphy; and administrative officers Cat Smith and Sylvette Bassy, under the management of Matt Newington and Lilian Topic. I would also like to thank my committee colleagues for all of their great and substantial work on this report.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member of Northern Metropolitan Region
Legal and Social Issues Committee Report tabled 24/3/22