MS TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) — I rise on behalf of the government to provide a right of reply on this very important bill. I start by paying tribute to and acknowledging those who have been murdered, particularly those in the police force. I also wish to send my condolences to their families and friends, and also those families and friends of people who have been murdered and it is not known where that person has been left.
The basis of the bill before us today is to support the victims, to actually put the victims at the centre of the legislation before us. We believe this bill deals with very serious matters and that community safety is the no. 1 priority of any government. In relation to the police murderers parole reform, we believe the murder of a police officer is in the worst category of offending and causes significant harm to the community. Murdering a police officer for simply doing their job is a crime that really does shock our community.
The bill does not change or undermine the sentence made by the court or judicial independence. The bill reinforces that parole is a privilege and conditions on release may change from time to time. A safe and functioning society depends upon its police workforce. An attack upon a serving police officer, we believe, is actually an attack on society itself. The new laws send a clear message that the murder of a police officer will not be tolerated and that in regard to persons who commit this crime there should be very strict restrictions on whether they are to be released on parole, if ever.
In respect of the no body cases, the amendments about no body cases are much more comprehensive in addressing the complex and difficult issues raised by no body cases. In fact we as a government have not had a change of heart; we just considered the previous bill brought in by the opposition as deficient and flawed.
The Adult Parole Board of Victoria will now apply a presumption against parole after considering a broad suite of information about whether the prisoner satisfactorily cooperated in locating the body or remains of the victim and the place where the victim may be found. The inclusion of sentencing amendments along with the parole reforms will provide the greatest opportunity to incentivise offender cooperation and to bring closure to victims’ families, which they so rightly deserve.
We make no apologies for restricting parole for these most serious crimes. Strong laws to protect our community are what our community rightly expects and deserves. In terms of the comments that have been made about the timing of this bill, with respect to no body reforms, this government has been considering this matter for some time. A considered approach was necessary to ensure that the reforms were comprehensive and captured all the relevant no body cases that are known. It was also important to the government that reforms in this area provide the utmost respect for victims of crime and do not give false hope to victims’ families. The families of deceased victims are rightly entitled to the basic human dignity of a funeral for their loved ones. This bill provides the strongest possible incentives for offenders to cooperate with police to provide the closure that a proper burial can offer.
The government is also introducing parole reforms to ensure that anyone who murders a police officer will not be released from prison until they present no threat to the community. Our police officers risk their lives every day to protect the Victorian community and are entitled to the highest level of protection under Victorian law. This law is a priority for this government, which is why this legislation is being introduced into this Parliament this year and before Christmas.
I refer to a matter that Mr O’Donohue raised: why is it just restricted to police? Why does it not also applying to emergency service personnel and protective services officers (PSOs)? The fact is that there are no prisoners in the system that have committed a violent act against or murdered an emergency service worker or PSO. Having said that, we do understand the very difficult situations faced by emergency service workers in this state. I know emergency service workers — such as ambulance officers and those who work in hospitals — face many difficulties in a range of areas. We as a government are open to having further discussions with those personnel who are at the front line and who are having very difficult times, particularly when members of the community behave violently and leave emergency service personnel mentally and physically affected by inappropriate behaviour.
As the Premier stated on Tuesday morning at the St Kilda Road police memorial, the government is open to having further discussions with emergency service personnel, PSOs and others with respect to what happens in their workplaces and what happens to them in their line of duty, and we look forward to having those discussions across the portfolios. It would obviously impact on and have an effect in the portfolio areas of the Minister for Emergency Services and the Minister for Health, just to mention two — and also of course me. We are looking forward to having those discussions and being able to work through the issues that have been raised with us.
Having said that, I thank people for their contributions today. I would encourage people to support this very important piece of legislation. I commend the bill to the house and hope it has a speedy passage.