I rise to speak on the Bail Amendment Bill 2015. This bill serves several purposes. Firstly, it serves to strengthen measures to promote community safety by adding safeguards to the Bail Act 1977 to shift the onus onto serious offenders, especially those with a history of breaching bail, to prove why they should be given bail. It also ensures that terrorism suspects will not be bailed unless exceptional circumstances exist. The other issue addressed by this bill is changes to bail provisions in relation to children. These changes seek to protect the interests of children as well as those of the community whilst acknowledging the different set of circumstances surrounding juvenile offenders.
Previously bail legislation has been one of few areas where the distinction between adults and children has not been made. Indeed the monitoring and other conditions placed upon juveniles are often more stringent. We have seen as a result of changes made under the previous government an increase of around 200 per cent in the number of children being held on remand, including a 300 per cent increase in the number of children aged 10 to 14 years on remand. Approximately a quarter of children on remand are Koori. We also saw a 150 per cent increase in young people being remanded after hours and for one or two days. This demonstrates a significant issue with the legislation introduced under the last government, which was largely responsible for this increase. These changes will free up resources and ensure that children who do not pose a threat to the community while on bail are not spending time in youth justice centres.
The aspect of the bill pertaining to serious offenders shifts the presumption so those accused of serious offences, as defined by the Sentencing Act 1991, are held responsible for proving why they should be awarded bail. This shift will also apply to those who have in the past five years been convicted of breaching bail. Doubling the maximum penalty for failing to answer bail sends a strong message about accountability to offenders.
In cases where it is alleged the accused has either committed an act of or sought to encourage or support those seeking to commit acts of terrorism bail is only to be granted in exceptional circumstances. It is anticipated that the additional number of individuals who will end up on remand as a result of this measure should not exceed 100. Pressure on the remand system has already been reduced by the introduction of police custody officers to supervise those being held in police custody, which also has the additional benefit of putting more police back on the streets. This is a reflection of the Andrews government’s wider commitment to improving community safety.
If I can speak specifically on the topic of the provisions in this bill for terrorism suspects, I understand that at face value some members may have reservations or concerns about these, so it should be emphasised that the bill does not completely preclude terror suspects from being granted bail. It does, however, acknowledge that such individuals are of specific and particular concern. The national security threat level currently indicates that a terrorist attack is probable. Sadly there are individuals in the community who seek to do innocent people harm for perverted political purposes, and this bill seeks to give the authorities further means to ensure those who have demonstrably sought to commit, to promote or to aid and abet acts of terror are kept off the streets.
As the Attorney-General’s statement of compatibility makes clear, there is no conflict with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities given that those seeking to commit or otherwise promote terrorist acts present a danger to public safety. These changes will bring the Victorian legislation into line with the legislation pertaining to suspects charged with commonwealth terrorism offences. They will also ensure that public utterances of support for terrorism will be taken into account in considering if bail should be granted, given that these serve as a further indicator of potential dangerousness.
In relation to children, this bill will create specific provisions for children in the act and implement child-specific recommendations contained in the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s 2007 Review of the Bail Act. A new section in the act, section 3B, will exempt children from the offence of breaching a condition of bail. The bill will create a presumption in favour of initiating criminal proceedings against children via summons rather than arrest by Victoria Police by virtue of an alteration to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.
The bill seeks to account for the fact that for a variety of reasons, including lack of parental control and greater impulsivity, children are more likely to breach their bail conditions. In doing so, the bill will ensure that, except for reasons of community safety or otherwise, children are only held on remand when there are no other options. It is our belief that this will render the act better compatible with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, specifically section 17(2) which affords special protections to children and section 25(3) which notes that children should be afforded access to procedures that take account of their age and prioritise rehabilitation. Obviously where a juvenile offender is considered to be dangerous the option will still be available for them to be remanded, as will be the case for those children who breach their bail and are again brought before a magistrate by the police.
The Bail Act seeks, and has always sought, to balance protecting the right to the presumption of innocence and the right to liberty of suspects with the protection of community safety. These proposed changes reflect the fact that whilst on the whole these imperatives have been met by the existing act, there are aspects of both of these protections which can be improved.
In respect to the provisions for serious offenders, it has been demonstrated in the past that some provisions of the act do not adequately protect the community, and these changes aim to mitigate that risk by requiring serious offenders and individuals with a history of breaching their bail to prove they will not present a risk to the community and/or violate their bail conditions if bailed. In the case of terror suspects it quite rightly requires an even higher standard in order for bail to be granted.
On the issue of children being placed on remand, these changes make the system fairer and acknowledge the different set of issues and challenges surrounding juvenile offenders. In the past, especially stemming from changes under the previous government, we saw an increasing number of children being held on remand, to the extent that there were at times more young people on remand at the youth justice centre in Parkville than people serving sentences. The disproportionate number of young Kooris on remand was also of particular concern. These changes will modernise the act to reflect the majority of other areas of law which distinguish between adults and juveniles.
This bill will make sure that our community is kept safe from dangerous repeat offenders and violent extremists whilst also protecting vulnerable young Victorians from being unnecessarily held on remand. It reflects this government’s firm commitment to both protecting the people of Victoria and upholding the human rights of all Victorians. I commend this bill to the house.