MS TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) (13:27:50) — I am pleased to rise to sum up what has been an interesting discussion on this important bill before the house. This government is committed to supporting victims of family violence, and we are proud to introduce a bill which will assist people suffering from family violence who come into contact with Victoria’s infringement system.
The bill acquits two recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The new standalone scheme has been developed in close consultation with family violence prevention and advocacy organisations, the community legal sector, road safety and enforcement agencies, and relevant government departments.
It essentially aims to have a consistent and customised approach for victims of family violence. It recognises that while victims sometimes become liable for infringement offences because of their own offending, they can also become liable for infringement offences they did not commit because they are unable to, or are too scared to, nominate or indeed reject nomination from a perpetrator. Victims who can demonstrate that they have experienced family violence and that the experience substantially contributed to their liability for any infringement offence will be entitled to have the relevant infringement offences withdrawn. The new scheme will be administered by trained specialist staff within Fines Victoria.
In a previous bill the government acquitted recommendation 113 by introducing family violence as a ‘special circumstance’ under existing review and revocation mechanisms. However, this special circumstance still requires the applicant to admit or accept fault for the offending behaviour regardless of whether they committed it. We will retain this option as it might suit some applicants, but this new scheme is required to fully address the royal commission’s recommendations and assist family violence victims who come into contact with the infringement system.
In respect to comments that have been made by those opposite, I note that the coalition is not opposing this bill and I welcome that. I am very glad that we have a bipartisan approach to assisting family violence victims who interact with the fines system. However, the coalition has raised some questions around the rigour with which the new family violence scheme will be administered and enforced. What I can say is that I can assure the coalition that in designing the new family violence scheme the government has ensured that the integrity of the fines system will be maintained while providing for family violence victims to be treated in a supported and fair way. I will take the house through a couple of the key aspects of the scheme in order to put the coalition members’ minds at ease.
In respect to eligibility, the scheme will be available to victim survivors who unfairly incur fines as a result of a perpetrator using their vehicle. It will also be available to victims who incur fines as a result of their own offending that was substantially contributed to by the experience of family violence, such as fleeing unsafe environments or circumstances.
Currently in order to apply to have their fines revoked victim survivors are required to wrongly admit to committing the offence or to nominate the driver, which can place them at risk. The new scheme will allow eligible applicants to have their relevant fines withdrawn without naming the perpetrator, ensuring that the debts do not contribute to the cycle of violence.
A person will be eligible to participate in the family violence scheme if the person was served with an infringement notice in relation to an offence that is included in the family violence scheme; the person is a victim of family violence; and either the family violence substantially contributed to the person being unable to control the conduct that constitutes the relevant offence, or, in the case of an infringement offence that is an operator-onus offence within the meaning of part 6AA of the Road Safety Act 1986, if the person was the registered operator of the vehicle at the time of the offence but was not the driver and the family violence substantially contributed to the applicant being unable to make a known user statement in relation to the offence.
There are also offences that are excluded. Some offences in the infringement system will not be eligible for the family violence scheme because of the very high level of risk that they pose to public safety. These offences include drink-driving, drug driving and speeding at 25 kilometres per hour over the speed limit, as well as similar offences under marine safety and transport safety legislation. This is consistent with the current excluded offences under the existing revocation and review processes.
In respect to the administration of the scheme, there is obviously a need to handle family violence victims sensitively, particularly given it is expected that Fines Victoria will be dealing with victims who may not have previously engaged with support services. Fines Victoria will have dedicated staff to administer the family violence scheme, and I think this is particularly important. These staff will have a broad remit to assist victims of family violence that will go beyond merely considering an application and making a recommendation to the director.
The staff will, among other things, do things such as speaking to the applicant rather than just dealing with the matter largely on the paperwork. They will support the victim to identify and obtain the required information and complete an application to the proposed family violence scheme. They will act as a contact point for other providers of support to family violence victims, such as community legal centres and financial counselling in relation to the scheme. They will also act as a contact point for enforcement agencies with respect to those whose offences an application was made — for example, they will also be able to liaise with local government. They will work with victims to support them in deciding whether to pursue options enabling the perpetrator to be held to account — that is, the option to put the relevant infringement offences on hold for up to six months in order that the victim can consider whether they are able to make a known user statement and be responsible for family violence information sharing. I think that is particularly important to note.
It is expected that family violence scheme applicants would not have felt able to report family violence to police or obtain a family violence intervention order. This means that applicants may not have had a formal — what is called — paper trail, demonstrating the circumstances of the family violence that they have experienced. So accordingly the scheme will have the ability in respect of the documents applicants will be required to provide about their circumstances. The director of Fines Victoria will be given a broad, flexible power to obtain information from applicants about their circumstances, and this will enable the director to balance accessibility with the need to protect and maintain the integrity of the infringement system. It is expected that the information required will include a statutory declaration as well as either a family violence safety notice or a family violence intervention order. If a person does not have either of those, the director will be able to accept another type of evidence. The department will publish a non-legislative guidance note setting out examples of evidence that may be acceptable. The bill includes a power to obtain statutory declarations to verify aspects of an application.
Another point that was raised by Mr Rich-Phillips and Ms Crozier was in relation to the commencement date. To roll out the new family violence scheme and appropriately integrate it into the new Fines Victoria Victorian Infringements, Enforcement and Warrants (VIEW) IT system, it may be necessary to extend the legislation’s default commencement date. The commencement of the VIEW system is scheduled to align with the default commencement of the Fines Reform Act 2014. VIEW requires customisation to reflect the proposed family violence scheme. While it is intended that the Fines Reform Act will commence on 31 December this year, the bill extends the default commencement date to 31 May 2018 to allow time to consider necessary changes to VIEW to support these reforms and maintain the integrity of Victoria’s infringement system.
Just quickly in terms of other amendments to the bill that are not family violence related, with respect to the referral of enforcement hearing order fines and harmonising court orders, these amendments will empower the courts to refer fines that are subject to certain enforcement hearing orders to the director, Fines Victoria, for payment only or for both payment and enforcement. This will further centralise the administration and the enforcement of court fines and infringement fines, enhancing the director’s capacity to serve as a single contact point for debtors.
In addition the bill will harmonise the powers available to the courts to make orders with respect to court fine defaults and infringement fine defaulters consistent with the 2014 Sentencing Advisory Council report recommendations on the imposition of enforcement of court fines and infringement penalties in Victoria. For the amendments to address the anomaly in the sheriff’s office powers, this bill ensures that sheriff officers can use their powers to restrain and direct if a person is actively resisting or hindering the detainment or the immobilisation of a motor vehicle or the removal of a vehicle’s numberplates. This reflects that sheriff officers’ powers to detain or immobilise a vehicle are often used prior to the formal execution of a warrant and will assist officers when faced with aggressive vehicle owners or bystanders.
The bill also makes a range of amendments to support the implementation of the new VIEW IT system and the operation and administration of the new fines management model. The bill also makes a range of minor and technical and consequential amendments necessary to enable the efficient and proper operation of the act. This includes permitting attached debt directions to be served on banks by electronic means, removing redundant references in the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 and transitional issues concerning the referral of court applications for revocation.
There was also the issue that Mr Rich-Phillips raised in relation to time served schemes. Options for Victorian prisoners to apply to have their outstanding infringement debts converted into prison time have been available for decades. The time served scheme amends the previous program and aims to reduce repeat offending and support rehabilitation. We simply do not want people leaving prison with massive fine debt hanging over their heads only to commit further crime in order to pay it off and winding up back behind bars. The sheriff prison program and the new time served scheme are only available to people who are already serving a term of imprisonment. They are not available to people on bail. I could go into that more but I am running out of time very quickly. All I can say, though, is confirm that this is not a tick-and-flick process. Prisoners must apply to be considered for the scheme and magistrates can reject the application, discharge the remaining fine amounts after time served in part or in full, make a time to pay or an instalment order, make a community order or extend their imprisonment.
The other matter that I am sure will be dealt with in committee is the amendments sought by the Greens party. The government will oppose those amendments that essentially knock out the word ‘substantially’, and I will go into that in the committee process.
Needless to say, as I said at the beginning, we are very proud of this bill. We think it is a significant step forward. It is about hearing what the community is saying and what things we can do as a government to make life a little easier for those that are having a really horrific time with respect to family violence. As I said, this bill has had enormous consultation with the community legal sector, advocates that are there for victims of family violence, and I am very pleased to be part of a government that has seen fit to make sure that we have this bill before us today. Hopefully it will be passed and we can all celebrate.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.