East West Link

It is a privilege to rise to speak on the Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2013. It is a privilege for every member of this house to speak on the bill, because I know that every member keenly feels the losses that our community has suffered with the horrific crimes we have witnessed and experienced, particularly over the last little while. This is a deeply distressing issue for members of this house and the communities they represent. Our communities have been deeply wounded. Of course, though, their wounds are minor compared to those of the families and loved ones of those who have suffered.

This bill is on a topic that I know each member, regardless of the side on which they sit, feels deeply. I know the passion with which people speak, and what I have heard from them reflects that. The member for Prahran went through a range of heinous situations we have witnessed, and his voice reflected the pain he feels. We all feel a deep sense of loss.

We know, particularly in circumstances like the Jill Meagher case, that the justice system failed these people profoundly. As I speak on the bill, reflecting on the words of those who have spoken before me and acknowledging this distressing issue, I know that clearly this community needs an honest conversation about the justice system. Both sides of the house need to have an honest conversation with the community about the justice system. Plenty has been said on my side of the house about the failings of those on the other side in this area, and no doubt I will touch on some of them.

It is important that I, as someone on the left of politics, someone who came here as a human rights lawyer, and all of us on this side of the house, honour and expand a rights-based, intellectual tradition of those who have been the victims of crime, who are so often women and children.

While it is critical that we have first-rate people defending and standing up for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, that is not the only path for human rights lawyers, and our side of politics must properly develop and respect the language of rights of those who have suffered.

Similarly, I believe those on the other side of politics must understand that it is complex and difficult to navigate the justice system and that cutting services and removing from those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable the pathways to a meaningful and participatory approach to society compounds and expands problems relating to criminal activity and making the wrong choices in life. Again I say we need an honest conversation about where resources are allocated, about where rights lie and about where we see the future of our community. Clearly there is a major problem in some of the most deviant and diabolical individuals being released on parole to then continue to commit the most appalling and unimaginable crimes.

We support this bill, but as my colleagues have said, the concern is that it does not do what it purports to do. In particular we note there has not been an honest conversation. We note that the drafting of the bill was conducted in secrecy, and as a community, given what we have all gone through, the days of secrecy and not having honest conversations on matters such as these are over. It is clear when you hear the raw stories of the families profoundly affected by some of the decisions that have been made by those in our justice system that they feel that secrecy has compounded their distress. We certainly highlight that as a major issue. I understand that these are difficult conversations, but they are difficult conversations we all need to have.

There is no point in making changes if the resourcing is not there to back up those changes in a meaningful way, and that is absolutely clear.

The fact that the budget for the Adult Parole Board of Victoria is just shy of $3 million, the fact that we have had a series of legislative changes from the government claiming that it is changing the law and order agenda with no money to back that up, the fact that we are seeing what could be described as just window-dressing changes to our justice system that really are not addressing the area where we need to be focusing resources and our attention, is very disappointing.

The parlous state of legal aid in this community is short sighted. It is bringing much of our system to its knees, and it is compounding costs at the other end.

Mr Watt interjected.

Ms GARRETT — It is. Trials are being abandoned and strange decisions are being made. I understand that the member for Burwood is agitated about these truths but we are trying to have, as I said, an honest conversation — —

Mr Watt interjected.

Ms GARRETT — I think the member for Burwood should reflect on some of the comments he has made. I do not mind robust discussion but I would not accuse myself of grandstanding.

I am not afraid to say that sometimes I do, but not tonight.

These things are critical. If the government wants to convince Victorians that it has a genuine agenda in this area and that it wants to clearly address some of the major failings in our justice system and does not want to compound those failings by creating a system in which people are unable to get away from a potential life of crime, then it needs to do a lot more than it has done with this piece of legislation. It needs to do a lot more than it has done with its previous pieces of legislation in the law and order space.

As I conclude on what is a profoundly distressing topic for every member of this house I ask for that honest conversation. The government holds office, and it is up to its members to show leadership on this issue; we will be holding them to account on that.

The secrecy, the lack of resourcing and, to paraphrase the member opposite — even though I am not supposed to take up interjections — the ‘grandstanding’, have really been all on the government side on so many of these issues. It has failed the Victorian community with hollow words that are not backed up by genuine change.

I call on the government to embrace that honest conversation, to embrace change and not to fall back into old language and old habits. Rather, it needs to see the complexity of, the reality of and the difficulties in the justice system and do the best it can to make sure those who need it the most, the vulnerable and the victims, actually get the relief and the care they deserve.

Hansard, 2013