Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) — I move:
That the bill be now read a second time.
Incorporated speech as follows:
The main purpose of the Justice Legislation Amendment (Parole Reform and Other Matters) Bill 2016 is to strengthen our sentencing and parole laws to further enhance community safety and protection. As outlined in the provisions contained in part 1, the bill will amend the Corrections Act 1986 and the Sentencing Act 1991 to introduce:
a. parole reforms for offenders who murder police officers; and
b. parole and sentencing reforms for offenders in ‘no body’ cases.
I now turn to the first purpose of the bill.
Murder of a police officer — parole reform
Any murder is abhorrent and the murder of a police officer for simply doing their job is a crime that shocks the Victorian community. It is an affront to our society.
Our parole system has been substantially overhauled to strengthen oversight and decision-making. Community safety is the absolute priority for the adult parole board. It is the toughest parole system in the country. Parole is a privilege, not a right.
The bill will, however, further strengthen these parole laws. It will do so in relation to those prisoners who were sentenced for the murder of police officers in the line of duty. This crime is in the worst category because police officers are targeted for simply doing their job.
Part 2 of the bill will amend the Corrections Act to insert new section 74AAA to ensure that prisoners who have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment with a non-parole period for murdering a police officer are not granted parole. The prisoner may only be released on parole if the adult parole board:
a. is satisfied (on the basis of a report prepared by the Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation) that the prisoner:
i. is in imminent danger of dying, or is seriously incapacitated, and as a result, no longer has the physical ability to do harm to any person; and
ii. has demonstrated that he or she does not pose a risk to the community;
b. is further satisfied that, because of those circumstances, the making of the order is justified.
These restrictions on the grant of parole for police murderers have been modelled on the Julian Knight legislation, but apply to a category of prisoner for a class of offending and are designed to ensure the validity of the bill from legal challenge.
The new provisions apply to the murder of a police officer, which will mean:
a. at the time the murder occurred the officer was performing any duty or exercising any power of a police officer; or
b. the murder of whom arose from or was connected with the police officer’s role as a police officer, whether or not the police officer was performing any duty or exercising any power of a police officer at the time of the murder.
The bill draws on section 10AA of the Sentencing Act which deals with sentencing for serious assaults of emergency workers ‘on duty’ including police officers. Also, the bill deals with situations where the offender could have aimed to harm all police officers or a particular police officer based on past dealings with police. The officer need not be uniformed at the time of the murder. For example, a police officer who is murdered while at their home. If there is any known connection between the murder and the victim’s role as a police officer, it will be captured by the bill.
Under the bill, at the time of the murder the offender must have known or been reckless as to whether the victim was a police officer, which is an important safeguard. The bill will also not apply to a murder case where the victim happened to be a police officer but their police officer role was irrelevant to the offending or merely coincidental or incidental. This is a balanced and responsible approach.
The fact that the victim was a police officer will be known at trial and sentencing. In accordance with existing practice, the court record, including the sentencing judgement, will be contained in the Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation’s advice to the adult parole board as part of the report assessing whether or not the prisoner is suitable for release into the community on parole.
The most serious offenders in prison, such as murderers and rapists, are already subject to a strict two-tier parole assessment process under the Corrections Act. Prisoners who are serious violent offenders and serious sex offenders can only be released into the community on parole by a special division of the adult parole board overseen by the chairperson, known as the serious violent offender or sexual offender division or SVOSO division. This means those prisoners who murdered a police officer will have to pass two separate hearings of the adult parole board as part of their parole application. If the prisoner’s application fails one hearing, no parole will granted.
As I said earlier, the adult parole board’s absolute priority remains community safety. The bill explicitly reiterates that paramount consideration be given to the safety and protection of the community in these and all parole decisions.
These important parole reforms will apply to at least three sentenced prisoners, all of whom murdered police officers who were exercising their duties as officers at the time. This legislation has been brought forward to ensure these reforms apply to this category of prisoner for this category of crime as soon as possible.
I now turn to the final purpose of the bill.
‘No body’ cases
Part 3 of the bill contains the final purpose of the bill, which is to ensure persons who have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment with a non-parole period for certain fatal offences are not granted parole if they do not satisfactorily cooperate with police in the investigation of the offence to identify the location, or last known location, of the body or remains of victims of the offence and the place where the body or remains of the victim of the offence may be found.
It is recognised that these cases, often called ‘no body’ cases, cause particular distress to victims’ families and our laws must not provide false hope. Families are rightly entitled to recover and bury their loved ones and to the small degree of closure that this may provide.
The sentencing and parole reforms introduced by the bill in ‘no body’ cases aim to provide an incentive for offenders to cooperate and also an opportunity for closure for victims’ families. Division 1 of part 3 of the bill will amend the Corrections Act to introduce a new presumption against parole, in new section 74AABA, unless the adult parole board is satisfied that the prisoner satisfactorily cooperated with police in these ‘no body’ cases.
Under the bill, the adult parole board will be required to consider a range of matters in deciding whether or not to grant parole in a ‘no body’ case. This will ensure that the adult parole board has all relevant information when making its decision. For example, the adult parole board will take into account reports from both the Chief Commissioner of Police and the Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation, the court record, as well as any victim submissions, the capacity of the prisoner to cooperate in the investigation of the offence, and any other information about whether the victim’s body or remains were recovered as a result of the prisoner’s cooperation in the investigation of the offence. These are complex and difficult cases. The bill ensures the adult parole board receives all the information it needs to make an informed decision.
Importantly, the bill will also introduce sentencing reforms. Division 2 of part 3 of the bill will amend section 5 of the Sentencing Act to expressly allow the courts to take into account whether or not an offender has cooperated in the investigation of the offence in ‘no body’ cases when determining an appropriate sentence for the offending. The sentencing reforms in the bill will apply to the sentencing of an offender irrespective of when the offence was committed or the finding of guilt was made.
The ‘no body’ cases reforms in the bill will apply to murder, conspiracy to commit murder, accessory to murder and manslaughter. This is a broader range of offences and these are all serious crimes. The circumstances of offending in such cases may involve an offender disposing of the body or remains of a deceased victim or having knowledge of the location of the deceased victim’s body or remains. The inclusion of these offences will therefore provide the opportunity for closure to the greatest number of victims’ families.
Prisoners sentenced for these four fatal offences will be serious violent offenders who can only be released into the community on parole by the serious violent offender or sexual offender division of the adult parole board overseen by the chairperson under the two-tier parole decision-making process that I outlined earlier.
This is a much more comprehensive way of addressing the complex and difficult issues raised by ‘no body’ cases. The inclusion of sentencing amendments, along with the parole reforms, will provide the greatest opportunity to incentivise offender cooperation, and bring closure to victims’ families as they rightly deserve.
The two parole reforms in the bill will also apply when the adult parole board is deciding whether or not to re-release a prisoner on to parole under section 78 of the Corrections Act. This is intended to cover cases where the relevant prisoner is or has been released on parole but has their parole subsequently cancelled. If parole is cancelled, the adult parole board may only re-release the prisoner on parole if satisfied in accordance with these new laws.
The parole reforms in the bill will apply not only to the relevant existing cases of sentenced prisoners in prison, but will also apply to any future such cases.
The parole and sentencing reforms in the bill are directed to a category of offender who committed a category of crime, not an individual offender. It is not intended to alter the original sentence of imprisonment after conviction for a criminal offence made by an independent court after a fair hearing. The bill does not intend to alter the court’s sentence. Rather, the bill introduces additional conditions that must be satisfied before the adult parole board may grant parole to prisoners sentenced for the relevant offending, or in the case of the sentencing reform, introduces an additional factor for the courts to take into account when determining the appropriate sentence for the relevant offending.
Clause 2 of the bill provides that the two parole reforms in the bill will commence on the day after the bill receives the royal assent. This ensures our parole laws are strengthened as soon as possible to boost community safety. To give sufficient time to prosecutors, legal practitioners and the courts, the sentencing amendment will commence by no later than the middle of 2017.
This bill represents another step this government is taking to keep our community safe. The families of victims of murderers and other killers deserve the respect, dignity and closure of a funeral of their loved ones. And those men and women in blue who swore to uphold our laws, and died in the line of duty, also deserve the utmost protection of our laws.
I commend the bill to the house.
Debate adjourned for Mr O’DONOHUE (Eastern Victoria) on motion of Mr Ondarchie.
Debate adjourned until next day.