TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (16:49:32): I will make some brief remarks in picking up some of the points that have been raised by some of the members, and obviously we will have the opportunity in committee to explore other matters. I thank members for their contributions and for their high-level engagement with the government on this important piece of legislation. I understand that almost everyone who has put forward amendments has spent time talking to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services in the other place and her advisers in the lead-up to today. This is not just a cold case of legislation; it is a piece of legislation that has had a lot of work and a lot of discussion leading up to today, but it has also been to the Victorian Parliament in the form of the Legislative Assembly. Last year it made its way through that place, but it did not progress further as time essentially cut in because of the Parliament dissolving for the 2018 state election. We committed during the election campaign to reintroducing these reforms as soon as Parliament returned, and we are delivering on that commitment to the Victorian community. Members have raised several matters during their contributions, some of which I will be able to briefly respond to in the short time that is available to me. If we go to the issue of intimidation, members have raised the proposed section 31D of the Crimes Act 1958 that establishes a new offence of intimidation. Concerns were raised that it might result in the overcharging of alleged young offenders, particularly for behaviour that might reasonably be considered minor. The offence continues our commitment to support those frontline workers that put themselves in harm’s way every day to keep us safe. The proposed new intimidation offence has been developed in response to specific and troubling examples of offending against police, PSOs, custodial officers and their families. The offence has been deliberately drafted to narrow the scope of conduct to which it applies. The offence will not target low-level acts of antisocial language or behaviour, including by individuals in custody, that could not be reasonably expected to arouse apprehension or fear. The prosecution will also need to prove that the conduct was for reasons relating to the victim’s status as a law enforcement officer or a family member. The Office of Public Prosecutions advised that this sets a high threshold commensurate with the type of conduct the offence is intended to capture. It also ensures that the offence is specifically linked to the deterrence of engaging in such conduct. Members should therefore feel more comfortable that there are adequate protections to ensure this offence is used as intended. Nevertheless, the government appreciates the issues raised and will task the Department of Justice and Community Safety with monitoring the operation of the offence to ensure that it is being applied as intended. Members also raised the proposed DNA reforms, particularly in relation to how they are applied to young people and concerns that removing the requirement for a court order reduces the threshold too far. This is a commitment made and funded in the Community Safety Statement 2017 and reaffirmed in the Community Safety Statement 2018–19. We know from Victoria Police that the requirement to seek a court order to obtain a DNA sample significantly hampers their ability to bring early charges and solve crimes. We know from Victoria Police that these laws will significantly increase their capability to solve serious and high-volume crime. The unfortunate reality is that serious and high-volume offending is not confined to adult offenders. It is therefore essential that these powers apply not only to adults but also to children aged 15 to 17 if they are to achieve their intended purpose. We do appreciate the concerns raised by members, and we also recognise that children are vulnerable in these situations. This is exactly why we have included a range of additional safeguards for child suspects under the proposed reforms. It is the government’s view, also reflected in the statement of compatibility, that these provisions are compatible with the child’s right to protection in his or her best interests. Members also raised the proposed DNA reforms in relation to how they are applied to young people and the relatively small number of orders police currently apply for in court. While creating a streamlined approach, it is also a key consideration in the reform. It is just one of a number of reasons. Importantly, these new powers will enhance Victoria Police’s ability to identify criminals, particularly serious recidivist offenders. It will increase Victoria Police’s ability to bring charges against recidivist young offenders much earlier. DNA is particularly useful in linking offenders to offences like carjackings and home invasions. Being able to make charges earlier in this type of offending would have a major impact on some offenders’ repeat offending and escalating offending. While the number of DNA applications in the Children’s Court is relatively small compared to the court’s overall workload, we are still talking about more than one application per working day over the course of the last three years, an average of 342 per year for the last three years. This is time that could be used by police and the court on other matters. The seeming reduction in applications in recent times should also not be indicative of a trend to a reduction in orders. Encouragingly, the rate of youth offenders has trended down over recent years, in no small part due to the government’s significant investment in police, bail and sentencing reforms and a focus on this type of offending. The recent small reduction is likely more indicative of a positive reduction of young offending. It is reforms like this one, however, that will enable us to continue to drive youth offending down. The other matter that was raised was in relation to DNA reforms and the comparison to fingerprints. Members have raised concerns that the new DNA reforms essentially apply the same standards to capture to that of fingerprints and have noted the obvious difference in these types of data in terms of the information they can provide about an alleged offender. The proposed new powers for the taking of DNA profile samples from suspects should not be equated with the existing powers for police to take fingerprints of suspects. Section 464K of the Crimes Act 1958 allows any police officer to take the fingerprints of persons of or above the age of 15 who are believed on reasonable grounds to have committed, been charged with or been summonsed to answer to a charge for an indictable offence or specified summary offences. Members also raised concerns regarding the DNA reforms as they relate to adults, with concerns that the grounds of ‘reasonably suspected’ is too low, and suggested that it should not be until they are charged that alleged offenders should fall under the new approach for DNA collection. The government has considered limiting the availability of proposed new suspect DNA powers in circumstances where the suspect does not consent only to those persons charged with an indictable offence or a DNA-sample offence, as the case may be. However, we ultimately determined that it was preferable to instead frame the threshold by reference to whether there are reasonable grounds for police to believe that a person committed an indictable offence or a DNA-sample offence. Such a threshold is consistent with the arrest powers in section 459 of the Crimes Act 1958. As the statement of compatibility for the bill makes clear, the government was concerned that only applying the powers to charged suspects could lead to the charging of suspects before an investigation is complete in order to take their DNA at a much earlier stage in the investigation, and this could lead to unfair outcomes. Victoria Police supports the threshold of reasonable suspicion. These are just some items that have been raised by members. There have been issues relating to guns and other matters that have been spoken of by a variety of members in the chamber this afternoon. For the sake of efficiency I think it is probably a better use of time if we move on to the committee stage and deal with questions and amendments. Motion agreed to. Read second time. Committed.
Tags: Second Reading