JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CONFISCATION AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2014
Ms GARRETT (Brunswick) — It is with pleasure that I rise to make a contribution in the debate on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Confiscation and Other Matters) Bill 2014.
The bill contains a range of provisions that deal with numerous acts, but the central element of the legislation, as we have heard from previous speakers and from the lead speaker for the opposition, the shadow Attorney-General, who set it out in great detail, relates to unexplained wealth laws and the nature of those who profit from criminal activity. The effect that has on our community is deep and highly damaging. Obviously when those who are able to splash the cash from nefarious activity it encourages others to participate in such activity. It also encourages those who have engaged in criminal activity to continue and expand their businesses to create further wealth.
Significantly it is also a morale sapper for those in the community who are fighting criminals and criminal activity — our law enforcement officers who day in, day out toil to catch those who are doing the wrong thing and causing great harm to our community.
They often find themselves disheartened and caught up in lengthy court processes not just around proving the criminal activity of those who have been charged but also in trying to untangle the often complicated web of assets that people have established to avoid having the proceeds of crime seized. This can go on for years, and in the meantime those who are alleged to have engaged in criminal activity continue to live high on the hog as a result of other people’s misery. It is also a morale sapper for the broader community, for those of us who go to work every day, and pay taxes and hopefully do not inflict harm on others. To ordinary Victorians such as ourselves, to see those who have clearly profited from crime enjoying those spoils is a deep indictment of our community.
The legislation is welcome. It brings Victoria into line with other Australian jurisdictions. Its central focus is to switch the burden of proof in relation to unexplained wealth. Clearly parliaments do not switch burdens like this lightly. We have a democratic Westminster system, and our justice system relies on the fact that the state has to prove its case, but in certain circumstances significant exceptions are made.
It is important to note that while this is a significant step to take, it is not wealth that is unexplained that is grabbed without any recourse to the individual to whom the orders relate. If the individual in question can prove that the money they are spending came from legitimate income sources, then well and good; the money remains theirs. There is the threshold of requiring some reasonable suspicion on the part of officials to pursue these matters. Once that reasonable suspicion has been established in accordance with the provisions of the bill, the holder of wealth will be required to prove its lawful origin on the balance of probabilities. In my previous life as an adviser to former Premier Steve Bracks in the justice area I visited some of the warehouses where proceeds of crime were being housed. There were rows and rows of Maseratis, Porsches and the like, and that was just the tip of the iceberg of the proceeds of crime that remain at large.
The opposition does not oppose the legislation.
We think it is right and proper that Victoria be in line with other jurisdictions. We believe it goes a long way not just in terms of taking ill-gotten gains away from those who are currently enjoying them but also hopefully in acting as a significant deterrent to others and a morale booster for our law enforcement officers who are on the front line in tracking down criminals. That is not the only aspect of the legislation. It also addresses community corrections orders and specifies maximum periods for them. This government’s approach to law and order, including the issue of community corrections orders, has been a complicated one, and on this side of the house we would say it has been an abject failure, with overcrowding in prison cells and police cells in the lead-up to people having their day in court. The phoney tough-on-crime approach has stretched the system, and the bill will do little to address that.
The bill also makes provisions regarding assaults on registered health practitioners and creates an offence of assaulting a registered health practitioner. This can include a GP, nurse, midwife, dentist, pharmacist, physiotherapist or psychologist where that assault occurs in the course of the health practitioner providing care or treatment. Under the provisions of the legislation the offender must have known or been reckless as to whether the victim was a registered health practitioner, but tellingly they do not actually have to know the particular status of that practitioner’s registration.
Clearly this is a major issue in our community. A growing concern we have been grappling with in this house is the prevalence of the drug ice in our regional communities and cities and the disturbing behavioural impacts it has on its addicts and users. We hear time and again about users being admitted into emergency departments or local health facilities, wreaking merry havoc and not remembering what they have done.
Users have enhanced strength while on this methamphetamine and are highly aggressive and sleep deprived. I know it is extremely frightening for people working in our health system to be confronted with this when they are trying to treat people and address their health concerns and also particularly in the chaos of emergency departments or other health services where they are dealing with multiple people who are clearly in extremis or vulnerable.
This is a major issue confronting our community. I would like to acknowledge the work of the Leader of the Opposition, who recently brought out a very clear package of reforms confronting this issue, and also the work of the parliamentary Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee. I know the member for Niddrie and others spent months travelling the state hearing from people, including health practitioners, about the impact this drug is having on our community.
The provisions in this bill regarding the assault of health practitioners, particularly in the context of this heinous drug, are to be welcomed.
We do not oppose the amendments proposed by the government to this legislation regarding computers and access to data by law enforcement agencies in the context of people who are participating in appalling activities through the internet. We do not oppose those provisions at all; in fact we welcome them and hope they play a part in what is clearly a growing issue worldwide. We condemn those people both here in our community and internationally who engage in such heinous activity, particularly regarding children.
In summary we in the opposition do not oppose this legislation. We welcome the reforms regarding unexplained wealth. We believe they will make a difference in terms of dealing with criminal activity, deterring further criminal activity and providing a significant morale boost for those on the front line fighting that activity.
Hansard, 16 September 2014