MS TIERNEY (Minister for Corrections) (17:36:23) — I move:
That the bill be now read a second time.
The main purpose of the bill is to enhance community safety by clarifying the application of the strict parole laws for prisoners convicted of murdering a police officer, including the prisoner Dr Craig Minogue. This is to reaffirm the government’s commitment to ensure that police murderers serve their full sentence in prison, and to provide closure to victims’ families. The murder of a police officer, someone who serves and protects our community and risks their life to do so, is the most serious example of the most serious crime. Our laws need to reflect those values.
The bill will substitute section 74AAA of the Corrections Act 1986, which was introduced by this government in 2016 under the Justice Legislation Amendment (Parole Reform and Other Matters) Act 2016. It further strengthens Victoria’s parole system, which is the toughest in Australia. Section 74AAA currently provides that a prisoner convicted and sentenced to imprisonment with a non-parole period for murdering a police officer cannot be paroled, unless the prisoner is close to death and no longer has the physical capacity to do any harm to any person. The board must also be satisfied that the prisoner has demonstrated that he or she does not pose a risk to the community, and, because of those circumstances, the making of a parole order is justified.
The section was intended to apply to Dr Minogue, as well as any other future or current prisoners who have committed this shocking crime. However, a recent High Court challenge brought by Dr Minogue found that 74AAA does not apply to Dr Minogue, because he was not sentenced on the basis that he knew that, or was reckless as to whether, the deceased victim was a police officer at the time of murder. The High Court found that only the sentencing remarks made by the sentencing judge can be relied on to make this assessment. This restriction is a technicality that does not reflect the intent of section 74AAA.
The government will ensure that Dr Minogue and other prisoners who murder police officers are not released on parole. The bill will make a number of important clarifications to section 74AAA. I turn now to the specific elements of these provisions.
The bill clarifies the board’s decision-making role in determining a prisoner’s state of mind at the time of the murder. The board will decide whether the prisoner knew, or was reckless as to whether, the deceased victim was a police officer.
To avoid any further future uncertainty, the bill also clarifies what ‘reckless’ means. Under the bill, when assessing if the prisoner was reckless as to whether the victim was a police officer, the board needs to be satisfied that the prisoner knew that it was probable that a police officer would be killed or really seriously injured as a result of his or her conduct. This is a standard of recklessness that is commonly applied to the offence of murder.
The bill enables the board to consider a broader range of materials when determining the prisoner’s state of mind. The bill requires the board to consider various court records when determining the state of mind of the prisoner. This includes evidence led in the trial, the judgement of the court, sentencing remarks, any reasons in connection with the court fixing a non-parole period and any judgement on appeal.
The materials that can be considered for this purpose are restricted to the record of the court as an important safeguard. For example, information included in a prisoner’s treatment report, conversations between prison staff and the prisoner or other information received outside of the criminal process cannot be considered. This is because information received outside of the criminal process may be less reliable as it is not tested in the same rigorous manner that a court tests evidence.
To provide complete certainty and to ensure that Dr Minogue is denied parole, the bill expressly sets out the conditions for granting parole to Dr Minogue in new section 74AB. This confirms that Dr Minogue must be at death’s door before parole will be granted. This aspect of the bill is modelled on section 74AA of the Corrections Act, which specifies the prisoner Julian Knight as the named individual by reference to his offences and sentencing. As section 74AA was upheld by the High Court, it provides legal certainty to the provision.
Other aspects of the current strict parole laws are not changed by the bill. The laws will still apply to the murder of a police officer regardless of whether the police officer is on duty at the time or whether the murder is connected to the police officer’s status or role as such. In addition, the board’s absolute priority remains the safety and protection of the community in these, as in all other, parole decisions.
In the bill, new sections 74AAA and 74AB also include subsections which provide that the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 does not apply to either provision and that those override declarations do not need to be re-enacted every five years as, is ordinarily required under section 31(7) of the charter. The government accepts that these provisions are incompatible with the charter. Therefore, in this exceptional case, the charter is being overridden and its application is entirely excluded from the operation of these new provisions to ensure that the sentences imposed on persons who murder police officers, and Dr Minogue specifically, are fully served. To provide legal certainty and to avoid a court giving the bill an interpretation based on charter rights which do not achieve the government’s intention, new sections 74AAA and 74AB provide that the charter does not apply to each new section respectively. These provisions are intended to serve as the override declaration envisaged by section 31(1) of the charter, but go further to make clear that the charter does not apply to these new sections at all and that the override and non-application of the charter do not expire after five years under section 31(7) of the charter.
With this bill, Victorians can be reassured and have complete certainty that Dr Minogue, and any other person who committed the same abhorrent crime, is locked behind bars and will fully serve their prison sentence.
I commend the bill to the house.
Debate adjourned on motion of Mr O’DONOHUE (Eastern Victoria).
Debate adjourned until next day.