Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (18:01): I am pleased to rise to speak to the Justice Legislation Amendment (Drug Court and Other Matters) Bill 2020. Yet again this is another omnibus bill. It amends numerous pieces of legislation, and I think the one that we have heard most of today is the amendment to the County Court Act 1958 and the Sentencing Act 1991 to establish a Drug Court division in the County Court. But the bill also makes amendments to the Charities Act 1978, the Limitation of Actions Act 1958, the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 and the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017. But principally this bill is about the expansion of the Drug Court as an available sentencing option for our County Court.
Now, we know, and many of the other speakers have spoken about the fact, that we have had the Drug Court operating in the Magistrates Court, and it has been operating in Dandenong and also in Melbourne. It really did demonstrate, in evaluations in 2005 and 2014, that doing something different to locking someone up did reduce reoffending. When they did reoffend, it reduced the seriousness of that reoffending.
I just think of one quick story that I heard. When I was first elected, I had never been to a prison. I had never understood what it was like. So when I was first elected, I did go and visit the prisons to get an understanding about making laws that were going to send people to jail. What did that actually mean? I was at Dame Phyllis Frost, and I was allowed to go in and watch a very intense drug treatment session. These were relatively young women all with a significant history of trauma, but also in jail effectively because of their drug use. That was why they were there; that was why they offended. I spoke to one woman there, and actually, Minister, she was from your region, and she was a hairdresser. She had become addicted to methamphetamine. It was a self-medication, her addiction, and this led her into a series of offending and reoffending, and she ended up in Dame Phyllis Frost. And she said, ‘I will never use drugs again. This has been quite life changing’—the sessions and this intense drug treatment program that she was undertaking at Dame Phyllis Frost. But she said, ‘When I get out of jail, I won’t be able to get a job, because I just got out of jail. And when I come back to my community, I won’t really feel like I can go back to my community, because I’m an ex-con—and that’s how I’m seen. If I had gone to drug treatment, I would’ve been seen as a hero—someone who broke the back of that addiction, someone who picked themselves up and did the hard work to not be addicted, did the hard work to go into recovery’. That is what Drug Courts enable. They enable people to go into treatment. They enable people to get that without the stigma of being imprisoned.
We know that the result of that is that it reduces recidivism. It reduces the probability of rearrest. It means better treatment retention. People stay in those treatments longer—you know, it is a good point; they will go to jail if they do not—and it also increases the opportunities and increases the likelihood of employment.
And we know that employment is one of the biggest protectors against reoffending. If you have a job, you are far less likely to reoffend, you are far more likely to have a house, you are far more likely to be back connected with your family—and we know that these are the protectors. Certainly as someone waiting anxiously and somewhat disappointed that the spent convictions legislation will not make it to this house probably before the end of this year, I know that the stigma of offending and the stigma of having gone to prison has such a negative impact on people getting employment and getting jobs. That creates that vicious circle—no job, you might end up reoffending and you end up in prison, and the cycle and the spiral down continue.
Again, the Drug Court model, as we know, addresses the underlying causes of offending by providing intensive drug treatment services to those offenders. It is intensive and it is integrated. You speak to the justices, the judges who are involved in this, and they are passionate about this. They become personally interested and involved with those offenders, with the people who are coming before them. They understand their lives. They very often understand exactly what brought them to that court, and they see that person in a much more three-dimensional way and a much deeper level than they would if they were going before another court and not having the opportunity of this integrated drug treatment program that is judicially supervised. It teaches people about accountability. It teaches people that they can take responsibility, that they can accept a level of trust, that they can accept a level of help, that it is okay to accept assistance and that it is okay to accept help. We know that it has been successful, so it makes good sense to extend this scheme to the County Court and capture a wider range of offenders who can benefit from this therapeutic model. So that has my full support.
I suppose I would question why we are not expanding it further. It was good to see in the budget some expansion of drug treatment, and I wonder if it is a chicken-and-egg problem—that we cannot expand Drug Court proceedings into more Magistrates Courts around the state because we do not have the treatment facilities for them? If we had more treatment, then could we expand the Magistrates Court? It is something that over the next year or two I will certainly be advocating for. We know that the Magistrates Court is by far the busiest court in Victoria, handling about 90 per cent of the cases that come before Victoria’s courts, so in fact expanding the Drug Court further around the Magistrates Courts may have had greater benefit. As I say and as I repeat, you will hear more from me in the coming months and years about that. Victoria has 3500 towns and suburbs, of which our existing Drug Courts only really service about 10 per cent. Obviously I will accept that it is probably more than that because they are densely populated areas, but again I would argue that I would like to see greater expansion of this.
Before I turn to other parts of the bill I would just like to briefly turn to Mr O’Donohue’s amendments. I think to exclude people who have engaged in low-level trafficking from this program is really cutting off nose to spite face in many ways. We know conduct like sourcing drugs for peers or trying to offset the expense of your own habit is a symptom, not a cause, and we should be treating it as such. I heard Mr Ondarchie’s contribution talking about North Richmond. I have personally spoken to a number of the people in the streets in North Richmond. I know why they are supplying substances and drugs. They are supplying substances and drugs so they can maintain their supply of substances and drugs, because they have an addiction and this is a way to feed their addiction.
So to be saying that those who are addicted, those who would benefit from drug treatment, cannot because they are being prosecuted or they have been charged with low-level trafficking I do not think is useful, and I do not think it really reflects the nature of the people that would benefit from drug courts.
Now, the bill also makes an important amendment to VCAT, and this is around, remarkably, protecting the privacy of parties to the Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017. I suppose we did spend quite a lot of hours debating this bill, so it is maybe not surprising that we missed this point—protecting the confidentiality of people using VCAT as part of the voluntary assisted dying process. We want to ensure that their information is confidential. Of course it is highly personal and it is highly sensitive, and I am pleased to see that we have picked this up.
Going to the amendments to the children’s legislation, this means a lot. It means a lot to probably a relatively small number of people, but they are people I know personally. These were people who entered into unfair historical compensation agreements before 2015. It was a mistake that we excluded them when we amended the legislation last year, and I am very pleased to see that this mistake is being amended today. I know I raised it last year when we debated that bill. I think Mr O’Donohue also raised that fact as well, that people were being excluded when they should not have been. So I am glad that we have acted on this issue and there has been change, because survivors of institutional child abuse should not be left worse off as a result of their involvement in that internal and hugely flawed redress scheme that was established by the Catholic Church and other institutions. It is important to me and the Reason Party, as evidenced by bills that I have introduced in this house, that we need to ensure that those survivors of that abuse are respected, understood, believed and given the compensation that they absolutely deserve.
And in speaking of the redress scheme, I would certainly say that it is beyond time for the Attorney-General to strip those organisations who have refused to participate in that scheme. They should be stripped of their charitable status, and I really would refer specifically to the cesspit that is the Jehovah’s Witnesses—1800 victims and they refuse to sign up to the redress scheme. They refused to take responsibility for the hurt, the pain, the anguish that they have caused not only the victims and the victim-survivors but the families of those people. It is possible for the Victorian government to do this; they do not have to wait for Canberra.
I simply think that we cannot allow this intolerable conduct to go unchecked, so I will continue fighting for redress, for the compensation for the survivors of this vile institutional conduct. I will continue to advocate for the expansion of drug courts in Victoria, because as I talked about that woman, if she had had treatment, not jail, she would be in a very different place at the end of that. Her opportunities for work and her opportunities to reconnect with family would be far more promising. I commend the bill to the house.