MS TIERNEY (Minister for Corrections) — I would like to thank all of the speakers that have contributed to the debate so far today. I am sure that we will have the opportunity to go through a number of issues in the committee stage, but I do think it is important to cover off on a number of comments that people have made during the course of this debate.
The first speaker was Mr Rich-Phillips, and he said that the government had watered down bail laws by removing the offence of breach of bail for children. Nothing in these changes mean that children who breach bail cannot be brought before a court, have their bail revoked and be remanded in custody. In addition this bill will make it much harder for both adults and children to get bail by making community safety a higher priority, Mr Rich-Phillips, and by adding a number of new offences to the reverse onus categories.
It was also said that the opposition’s policy is better, with opposition members saying that they would rather take advice from a former Director of Public Prosecutions and Supreme Court judge than government members. They also said that the bill does not go far enough and that they want to get this right. We are working on the remaining Coghlan recommendations and consulting with the relevant stakeholders. Of course that includes Victoria Police, the courts and Corrections Victoria. We do not want something that will fall at the first hurdle like the opposition’s failed baseline sentencing scheme.
Ms Pennicuik of the Greens also spoke, saying that changing the wording of ‘show good reason’, which was recommended by Coghlan, to ‘show compelling reason’ is a much higher threshold. Those comments were echoed by Ms Patten. The government is of the view that ‘show compelling reason’ is in keeping with Mr Coghlan’s recommendations and clarifies that the onus is on the accused to provide reasons why he or she should be bailed. This falls well short of ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Ms Pennicuik was also concerned about varying levels of seriousness of alleged offences. This would be taken into account by the bail decision-maker when determining whether the accused has established a compelling reason. She also raised a concern that the bill does not amend section 4 as to the relevant criteria to satisfy the relevant test. The government has stated its intention to implement recommendations 2, 3 and 5 of the Coghlan review. However, the government is giving further consideration to how those recommendations should be implemented in legislation, and that work is ongoing.
It is not correct to say that there is no guidance on how the reverse onus test should be applied at the moment. The Bail Act 1977 currently has a list of non-exhaustive factors which can be taken into account. The government does not support the Greens proposed amendments.
Mr Finn said that the government’s bail changes in 2016 had failed and that this bill acknowledges that. We believe our changes in 2016 strengthened bail by doubling the maximum penalty for failure to appear to two years, adding people charged with serious offences who have been convicted of failing to appear in the last five years to the show-cause bail category and requiring that people charged with terrorism-related offences be refused bail unless there are exceptional circumstances.
It has been said that we have dragged our feet with this bill, but Mr Coghlan delivered his report to the government on 3 April this year and the bill was introduced into Parliament on 24 May. We will have the next tranche of legislation before the end of this year.
It has been said that we have dropped the ball on police numbers. We have actually made a record $2 billion investment in Victoria Police, with 3135 additional police over the next five years.
It has also been said that we face a crime tsunami. The fact is that the crime rate dropped every year for 11 years under the previous Labor government. The trend up actually started under the Liberal Party and the crime rate rose every year under the coalition.
Mr Bourman said he believed that previous breaches of bail should create an absolute presumption. We believe our reforms will mean that people who commit serious indictable offences while on bail, summons, parole or under sentence will not be granted bail again unless they can prove that there are either exceptional circumstances or compelling reasons depending on the severity of the offending.
Ms Patten outlined her concerns about compelling reasons. The government simply does not accept that ‘show compelling reasons’ is a much higher threshold. She also asked what the government is doing about the causes of crime. This government has committed $8.7 million to increase access to residential rehabilitation immediately and $9.7 million to acquire land in the Gippsland, Barwon and Hume regions for three new residential rehabilitation facilities. In last year’s budget we invested $32 million in a Drug Court in Melbourne. This will increase the capacity of the Drug Court to 240 people. We know the significant benefits that a Drug Court can bring, including a reduction in recidivism. We have also invested $25 million in the court integrated services program and the remand outreach program to better provide support for people on bail.
We have also heard from Mr Ramsay, Mr Morris, Ms Fitzherbert and Mr O’Donohue, but by and large their comments were captured by those I have already mentioned. However, I take this opportunity to thank Mr Rich-Phillips, Ms Pennicuik, Mr Finn, Mr Bourman, Ms Patten, Mr Ramsay, Mr Morris, Ms Fitzherbert and Mr O’Donohue for the contributions they have made so far in this debate, and I look forward to the next stage, which is the committee stage.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.