JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2012

It is a pleasure to rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. As we have heard from the opposition’s lead speaker, the member for Altona, Labor will not be opposing the bill primarily because this is a relatively minor bill that makes a number of small amendments to a range of matters in the justice system.

What is worth noting, when you look at the breadth of acts that are touched upon by this bill, is the very important and often complicated work that the justice system engages in on a daily basis. If we look at the bill, we see there are amendments to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 and we note that the bill allows the President of the Children’s Court to appoint and remove dispute resolution convenors. We know how important dispute resolution is in the justice system generally, and particularly in some of the very difficult issues that the Children’s Court faces on a daily basis regarding families and vulnerable youth, and it will be of assistance to have the president, who is at the coalface of many of these issues, able to appoint and remove dispute resolution convenors.

Similarly the other acts that will be amended by the bill include the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989, the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 and the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000, which I will touch on briefly. But that breadth of work of the justice system and the importance of it really cause me to reiterate the lead speaker’s comments regarding the proper funding of services that support that work, particularly in areas such as mental health, children’s services and the like. Without that funding much of this work would be unable to be carried out or would suffer severely, and we again call on the government to look at its hardline approach to many of these budget and service cuts, because it will impact directly on the very critical services that the justice system provides.

I would like to echo the comments of the member for Morwell. We are on the Law Reform Committee together, looking at the reference regarding access to justice for those who suffer from an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment. It is a very important reference that we are grappling with, and certainly the changes that this bill makes to the assessment and referral court list are welcome. We know that often with people who have an intellectual or cognitive impairment, and certainly with those who have acquired brain injuries, diagnosis may not even occur until incarceration. The earlier people are diagnosed the better in terms of accessing services, preventing recidivism and dealing with difficult conduct. Extraordinary leaps and bounds have been made in this area. There is clearly a lot more to be done, given the disproportionate number of people in our prison system with acquired brain injuries, intellectual disabilities and and/or mental illness, so this is extremely important work and the changes made by this bill are certainly welcome, although there is a long way to go.

With respect to the amendment to the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act and the fact that the bill now allows the role of chairman to be occupied by someone working on a part-time basis, we would just like to note on the record — or I certainly would — some concern as to whether this represents a downgrading of the position and of the emphasis and importance placed on the law reform commission. It is a most important body that has done an extraordinary amount of very good work. It plays a critical role in our justice system in examining, highlighting and critiquing law and possibilities for law reform. Because of the important role the commission plays within the justice system, we would not want to see that work lessened or the emphasis on it removed or in any way undermined.

In conclusion, while Labor does not oppose this bill, it points out that that the bill touches on many aspects of fundamental importance within the justice system.

These need to be properly funded and properly cared for by this government.

Hansard, 2012