MS PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:07:56): I move: That the bill be now read a second time.
Ryan is an Indigenous man in his 40s from rural Victoria. He became a member of the Country Fire Authority (CFA) when he was a teenager, helping to keep his community safe from fire, just as his family has done for generations. For Ryan, it was an important part of his connection to country. In his teens and early 20s, Ryan was convicted of assault and being drunk and disorderly. He received a criminal record, but was never imprisoned. At age 27, Ryan applied for a job with the CFA, who were advertising for Indigenous applicants. It had been more than five years since Ryan’s last conviction. In the interim Ryan had been to university and had won two international sports titles. He saw himself as a totally different person. ‘[When the convictions happened] I was a drinker, a smoker, a partier, I was single. When I was going for the job, I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t do any of that sort of stuff … and I had a partner and children; my whole life was different’. Given his skills and experience, Ryan thought he was a good chance. ‘I met all the selection criteria’, he says. ‘I’ve spent my whole life working in the fields, whether it’s been fencing, contracting or livestock work. And I’ve been putting out fires since I signed up as a CFA member when I was 15. There was also a fitness test. I’d also just come back from winning my second international sports title, so I daresay there would be nobody else in that league of fitness applying’. Ryan’s application was rejected. It was CFA policy that an applicant who had been found guilty of an offence would not usually be accepted. Despite leading a very different life to the one he had led as a youngster, that rejection was one of several for Ryan at that time as a result of his criminal history. ‘I couldn’t get a job anywhere. I couldn’t get work in my own town, my own cooperative’, he says. ‘It’s very depressing, especially when you tried and tried to do everything right and try to better yourself; to get shut down like that is a big blow’. Ryan is a pseudonym, and I thank the Woor-Dungin criminal record discrimination project for this example, which I have abbreviated in my retelling. Sadly, Ryan’s experience is far from unique. Juvenile mistakes continue to hamper the employment prospects of now mature and responsible Victorians—which is why every single other state and territory in Australia has introduced a spent convictions scheme. Convictions are ‘spent’ when they are removed from official records or prevented from disclosure after a fixed waiting period. A conviction is only spent if a person does not reoffend during the mandated period. A spent convictions scheme will limit the ongoing stigma that prevails long after an individual has been punished. It will encourage offenders to rehabilitate themselves and act as a deterrent from reoffending. It is inherently linked to employment, which improves health, reduces criminality and reduces the burden on the state—something that we should be encouraging, not inhibiting. The current framework in Victoria is failing people like Ryan. We are 33 years behind Queensland, 31 years behind Western Australia, 30 years behind the commonwealth and 29 years behind New South Wales in legislating for this reform. The Spent Convictions Bill that I present today draws on the experiences of other Australian jurisdictions and the recommendations of Liberty Victoria’s rights advocacy project and Woor-Dungin. The Law Institute of Victoria and Liberty Victoria have contributed to this bill. Turning to its structure: Part 1 of the bill sets out its purposes. Part 2 provides for offences that are automatically spent and those that can be spent only by court order. Principally, a conviction attracting less than six months imprisonment will be spent automatically after the relevant waiting period. A sentence of six months or more can only be spent by court order. This aligns Victoria with the most conservative schemes operating elsewhere in Australia. Part 3 provides for the effects of a conviction becoming spent. It creates offences for the unlawful disclosure of spent convictions and prohibits prospective employers from requiring their disclosure. Part 4 provides an exclusion for court purposes, with the intention that a full criminal history, including any spent convictions, be received by a sentencing court. Part 5 sets out powers to make regulations, including an ability to prescribe offences to which the spent convictions scheme will not apply—for example, serious sexual offences. Schedule 1 of the Spent Convictions Bill 2019 fixes the waiting periods after which an offence can be spent, being five years for a summary offence, 10 years for an indictable offence, three years for an offence committed by a child, unless that is a minor childhood offence, which will be spent immediately. This sensible and pragmatic reform is long overdue in Victoria. I commend the bill to the house.
Read the bill here.