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