MS PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (17:46:47) — I rise to make a contribution on this largely omnibus bill. As previous speakers have gone through all of the various wideranging areas of this bill, I will not, although I will just give a shout-out to the Real Estate Institute of Victoria, which was very pleased to see that some of the issues around ensuring that vendors pay commissions owed to real estate agents are remedied in this bill.
Sadly, though, they were disappointed that it was in a bill about mandatory sentencing, which is what I will focus my contribution on.
I have to say that I am embarrassed that we are debating this bill. I am embarrassed, and I can understand why the community is saying to both the major parties, ‘A pox on both your houses. You do not represent us. You are not delivering for our community’. This bill will not deliver for the community. We will see this politics of fear, and the Libs and the Nats will come forward on this, and instead of someone breaking through with some common sense, we actually see Labor trying to close that gap and work in lock step on laws that will not work but will enable them to keep this fever of fear in our community. This bill is not about the safety and welfare of Victorians; it is about winning an election. That is what it is about, and you both should be ashamed, because this is not tough on crime. This is stupid on crime. I could not be more deeply concerned about this.
If I thought that this bill was going to protect frontline workers any more, I would be the first to sign up to this legislation. Our frontline workers do noble and challenging work, and they deserve to feel safe on the job, but the problem is that these laws do not and cannot make them safer. They will not achieve that outcome, I assure you. It is absolutely clear from the evidence not just in Australia but around the world that mandatory sentences do not have a deterrent effect on crime. In fact evidence suggests that imprisonment actually increases an individual’s prospect of reoffending, so we are going to have a criminal who then goes out and commits more crimes. This will not reach its intended goal.
If I felt that this was going to protect the fire services and ambulance workers — my friends who work in those jobs — if I thought it was going to do that, I would be here defending this legislation, but I am not, because I look at the evidence. I look at the evidence and I look at the results. I look at the results in New South Wales, I look at the results in Victoria and then I look at places like the Netherlands, that now imprisons half the people per head of population that we do in Victoria. They imprison half the number of people, yet they have got lower crime rates than us. They imprison less people, and they have less crime. That is not because they are soft on crime. Their reoffending rates are lower because of the results of their comprehensive rehabilitation programs. They have less repeat offending, which means that they have less offending overall and they have a safer society. And that is not just limited to Europe. We are seeing the same occurring in places like Texas, where an ultraconservative government is moving away from mandatory sentencing because the evidence shows them it does not work. It does not make their community safer, but I can tell you it makes lovely press releases from both sides of this house about fear.
I cannot believe it, but I am actually going to talk to the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). I have met with them about this bill. I suspect it is not often that I quote the IPA in this house, but the reports that they have presented to me cut entirely across the grain of this reform. Their reports comparing the cost of justice systems around the world found that Australia’s system is expensive by world standards and has not delivered significantly better results in terms of recidivism or even the public perceptions of safety. But I am not surprised when you have got Mr Finn telling us that we should live in fear and when we have got federal members of Parliament saying they are afraid to go to restaurants in Flemington or Kensington. I am going to quote the IPA here:
… Australia’s criminal justice system is not performing well.
In Australia right now, there are more victims and more criminals than there were 10 years ago, despite a massive increase in incarceration and criminal justice expenditure. The rate of adult offending has increased by 15 per cent since 2008–9, and the incarceration rate has increased by 40 per cent in the last 10 years. Australian governments now spend $4 billion annually on prisons. Fifty-nine per cent of prisoners have been incarcerated before —
fifty-nine percent of criminals reoffend —
Taken together, these statistics form a prima facie case for reform …
So what we find is that the more we spend on criminal justice, the worse the results, and mandatory sentencing is clearly not the solution. In contrasting Australia with the USA, again the IPA notes:
Criminal justice reform in the United States has slowed the rate of growth of incarceration, reduced recidivism, and saving money.
The reform agenda has had bipartisan input and support, with reforms being implemented in many cases with Republican —
This is one of our conservative neighbouring countries that has always been thinking that jail is the answer — ‘Lock ’em up!’. That is exactly what I am hearing from Labor and Liberal here today. But do you know what the USA is saying? The principles of successful criminal justice reform, based on lessons from the USA, should note, firstly:
Community safety is paramount, and can be increased by reducing recidivism and unnecessary incarceration …
because we know that incarceration is linked to our recidivism numbers. Secondly:
The criminal justice system should be subject to fiscal oversight, and the system can be rationalised towards community safety by redirecting money from incarceration to increased community supervision and policing.
There are better ways to keep our frontline heroes safe. Thirdly:
Reform is consistent with traditional moral principles like personal responsibility, redemption, and just punishment.
You would think I was reading a Liberal Party manifesto. No, I am not, but I am quoting the IPA.
Unfortunately neither side of the house is listening to the evidence. Neither side of the house is paying attention to what would work — what would keep our ambulance drivers safe, what would keep our firefighters safe. They are dog whistling, they are using the politics of fear and they are hoping that it will get them re-elected. Frankly I think this is what is driving the community away from the major parties. You are not listening to academic advice. We know that even our Ombudsman advised in 2015 that our prison population has soared by 20 per cent, yet 44 per cent of our prisoners are reoffending in the first two years and 60 per cent of them will reoffend.
The solution is not locking offenders up; it is prevention. It is interesting. When I was starting the campaign for the supervised injecting centre, I spoke to the ambulance union. They did a survey, because they were increasingly worried about needlestick injuries when going out and helping people with overdoses, particularly in North Richmond. They were given a choice. They were asked, ‘If you had the choice, would you like a vest that would help you prevent a needlestick injury, or do you want a supervised injecting centre or another form of treating people with addiction?’. Hands down, treatment was what they wanted. Treatment and prevention were what they wanted. Early intervention programs prevent reoffending. The danger of mandatory sentencing is that it fetters judicial discretion and has led to demonstrable injustices in other jurisdictions around the world.
Currently in Victoria when an offender is sentenced in court the judge must balance punishment, deterrence, denunciation, rehabilitation and community protection.
I am also very concerned about the effect that mandatory sentencing has on our judicial staff, on our judges, who we know have been suffering from mental health issues at an alarming and increasing rate. We send out this message that we in this house do not trust judges — that they cannot be trusted, that they are weak — so we have to tell them what to do, because apparently we in this house feel that we know better. We do not. When a court gets a decision wrong we have open and good appeal processes. We have a system that self-corrects.
A reasoned solution is to be smart on crime. Let us use evidence-based, smart-on-crime approaches to reduce offending and reoffending. I think Ms Pennicuik picked this up and certainly the Federation of Community Legal Centres and the Fitzroy Legal Service in my area picked up on absolute concerns about the unintended gendered impact of the government’s proposed mandatory sentencing reforms. This really should have given us all great pause for thought, and I am somewhat surprised that the government has ignored their submissions and ignored the fact that there are a lot of people out there who are concerned, concerns that I share, this will actually increase family violence and will reduce the number of people reporting family violence.
As I mentioned, the Fitzroy Legal Service, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare and other peak bodies have all written to me, and I know they have written to everyone here. They stress that the risk of a mandatory jail term for injuring a police officer may in fact have the unintended consequence of deterring victims of family violence from calling police for help in the first place, heightening the risk of harm and forcing family violence further underground. They provided two examples: families caring for loved ones with mental health issues or drug problems who choose to manage that dangerous emergency alone for fear that their son, who is drug affected and has a mental illness, may lash out against an emergency services worker and may have mandatory detainment in jail; and victims of family violence choosing not to call police for fear of retribution from their partner should that call lead to that partner being locked up.
An injury under this proposed legislation is set at such a low bar — and I look forward to the committee process and exploring the definition of injury further — that these sorts of injuries could occur incidentally in the course of any arrest, particularly where the family member is affected by mental illness, alcohol or drugs. The consequence is that someone who desperately needs police assistance may simply not call them because they are conflicted in their desire to protect their loved one.
Comments have been made to me that it might take just one arrest, injury and imprisonment in a marginalised community — and I look at some of the commission housing in my area — before the whole community is reluctant to call the police. It means that all the work that we are doing on family violence will be undone. I commend the government on the work that they are doing on family violence and I commend the opposition on supporting much of that work. I do not understand how you can reconcile your reforms around protecting women and families from family violence with your support for mandatory sentencing, given that mandatory sentencing regimes may strip away protections for family violence victims and potentially silence many women who may fear the consequences of calling the police.
I want to do everything to protect our emergency service workers, but this bill does not achieve that. Worse, it has many deleterious effects. I have got to say that I have had a number of calls from firefighters, ambulance workers, paramedics and police since the opening of the supervised injecting centre, and they have all said that that made their job better and made it safer. There is an excellent example where frontline staff have been protected by treatment and prevention and not by locking someone up and turning them into a recidivist offender. I think this bill will do more harm than good and I simply cannot support it, but I will be asking questions in the committee stage.