Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:20): I am pleased to rise to speak on the Judicial Proceedings Reports Amendment Bill 2021, just as I was pleased to speak on it last year as well. This, as Mr O’Donohue mentioned, is the second or third time around for this legislation. The background, as we know, is that the unintended consequence of the last well-meaning piece of legislation that was designed to protect victims inadvertently silenced victims who wanted to speak out and tell their stories. We fixed that, but now we are talking about those families of victims who, incredibly sadly, have lost loved ones to sex offending crimes. Certainly what is very sharp in my mind right now is that John Herron, the father of Courtney Herron, appeared before the justice inquiry yesterday and spoke about the death of his daughter. I think certainly wanting to speak out was really important for him. But that is not always the case. Last year we clarified the unintended consequences for living victims of sexual assault and really gave them the choice, and it gave them the ability to control their own narratives, to tell their own stories without barriers, or not, if that was what they wanted. It became harder when it comes to deceased victims because, sadly, they are not here to make that choice. They are no longer able to control their own story, and that is the complex issue that we are dealing with today. I think, certainly as far as I have heard from stakeholders, they have been quite pleased with the consultation that the government has conducted over the last six months.
This bill will allow the publication of details that identify a deceased person as a victim of sexual offending. It also introduces a victim privacy order scheme, which will allow persons close to the deceased sexual offence victim to apply for a court order to restrict or prohibit the publication of details that would identify their loved one. In effect this reverses the presumption that was built into the legislation that we passed last year, and it supersedes it.
I think, unlike Mr O’Donohue, I would actually commend the government for recognising that they had made an error and for listening to those campaigners—listening to the Let Us Speak campaign and listening to those advocates like Nicole Lee and like Nina Funnell. In fact sometimes I wish this happened more, that we acknowledge that we did not necessarily get it perfectly correct and we go back and talk about it and we come back and keep talking to the community, we keep consulting, and in that way we create better legislation.
But in saying that, I think there is one aspect of this reform that troubles me, and I note Mr O’Donohue has got a similar amendment. I mean, there are many things about the criminal justice system that trouble me, but this section in this bill is something that I will seek to amend. Actually, can I get my amendments circulated please, Acting President.
Independent amendments circulated by Ms PATTEN pursuant to standing orders.
Ms PATTEN: As it stands, when this bill passes, the victim privacy orders are good. They are a good thing. They protect that small cohort of deceased victims’ families who want to maintain their privacy in relation to sexual assault cases. But the ability to expand the scheme via regulation without parliamentary oversight means the scheme could theoretically be applied to an infinite number of criminal offences, proven or even alleged, and there is a pretty low threshold, that being ‘undue distress’. All of this could be done—this expansion of these, effectively, victim privacy orders—just by regulation. It would not have to come back to the Parliament. Effectively, suppression orders could be expanded to many other crimes, to many other circumstances, without any debate in this chamber
While I am grateful and I thank the Attorney-General for corresponding with me on this issue and I have no reason to doubt that she has no intention of using this power unduly or unfairly, what happens in the future? We do not know what will happen in the future, and I think the checks and balances of the Parliament for something as important as this are important and are crucial. Who knows who could be the next Attorney-General—maybe Mr O’Donohue. Who knows who it could be? And so I think the idea of leaving the door ajar for the suppression of independent free press—you know, these types of privacy orders could be manipulated in many different ways. Our proposition here today via our amendment is to simply remove the regulation-making powers. I note, as I said, that Mr O’Donohue has moved amendments to the same effect. So I think it is a sensible change that I would hope the majority of the house can support. Apart from that, I fully support this bill, and I hope that it does bring small comfort to the families that it affects.
I would just like to make a final note on those victims of other crimes that this bill does not extend to. I would hope that we can talk about that in future and that we can talk about how we might amend legislation going forward. But I believe that it should be amended by the Parliament, not via regulation.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading 7/9/21