Open Courts Bill 2013

It is always a great pleasure to rise to speak after the member for Prahran. I know how much the member loves law reform. You mentioned law reform in your riveting contribution which we all listened to in absolute silence. I thought it was inspirational. Your love of law reform and your party’s love of law reform is no better evidenced than — —

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Morris) — Order! The member for Brunswick will address her remarks through the Chair.

Ms GARRETT — Through the Chair, evidence of the member for Prahran’s love of law reform and the government’s love of law reform is no better evidenced than by the government’s abolition of the Law Reform Committee, of which the member for Prahran was the chair and I was the deputy chair, and its comprehensive rejection of the committee’s most recent report, in which committee members unanimously recommended changes to legislation affecting access by donor-conceived people to information — gone!

There was also the replacement of a full-time law reform commissioner with a part-time position.

This government goes on and on with its passion for law reform, so I pay tribute to the former chair of this Parliament’s Law Reform Committee, which is a perfect and wonderful segue — I think it is important to use the term ‘segue’ — into talking about this piece of legislation. Once again this government is serving up smoke and mirrors. It is serving up a piece of lasagne that has got a little bit old, which government members said was going to be piping hot out of the oven.

Members of this government came to power having made a number of promises. Currently we are all flooded with coverage of the federal election campaign. We have all seen the blue wash behind Tony Abbott and heard the references to a covenant with the people, the six points of the contract and the pillars — the five pillars, the four pillars, the seven pillars. They love their pillars! Anyway, Tony Abbott has five ‘pillows’, and they are a lovely hue of blue!

I remember — we all remember — the statement, ‘Fix the problems. Build the future’. Who was the Premier then? Ted Baillieu was elected on the five pillars, and those opposite were saying, ‘We’re going to be hard, and we’re going to be tough on law and order. It’s going to look very blue, and when we’re tough on law and order it will be indigo blue’. Those opposite promised all of this, and then the member for Prahran stands up to speak on this bill and with no shame says that under Labor the situation with suppression orders was terrible.

Members of the government said they were going to talk about cases where suppression orders had been applied and analyse those cases, and that this bill would change things. Very interestingly the member for Prahran did not mention the fact that even the Attorney-General has acknowledged that this bill may not do what it says it might do and that government members may need to continue to monitor the operation of the suppression order system in this state.

Mr Pakula interjected.

Ms GARRETT — Absolutely, and he did that in between twitching about how terrible the union movement is in this state and how he is going to fix it all. Under the wash of blue I do not remember any of that sort of nonsense, but here we are with the wash of blue.

We should move on to the bill because, as the shadow Attorney-General has so eloquently pointed out, at its heart this bill does very little to change what was already being done in the court system.

It sets out matters which the courts must have regard to, but they are matters that courts already have regard to within their inherent jurisdictions. What courts are currently doing they will still do. Opposition members have no problem with this legislation; we do not oppose this bill.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms GARRETT — We are not. We have no problem with open and transparent justice. We have no problem with the codification or reflection in statute of what is often an existing practice. As the shadow Attorney-General has pointed out, it may be that this legislation will assist the process, and for that reason opposition members do not oppose this legislation, but — for heaven’s sake, and for the sake of the Victorian people and this Parliament — do not present this bill as something that it is not.

This piece of legislation comes in a long line of measures in the justice area which have been presented as things that they are not. We were told — and the Victorian people were told — that the problems would be fixed and the government would have an agenda that was tough on law and order. Even when this government has come into this place and served up such cold puddings as this bill, its members refuse to acknowledge the complexity of the issues we are faced with in the justice system. They spout platitudes, make empty statements and use smoke and mirrors when talking about what they are doing, but when we peel back the smoke and mirrors and the — —

An honourable member — Can you peel back a mirror?

Ms GARRETT — I think you can, and I am going to say you can. I am sure the Attorney-General says he can. But we look at what is happening — —

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms GARRETT — When we peel back the smoke — and maybe some people on your side are peeling back the smoke — we see that police cells are absolutely overcrowded with prisoners and our corrections system is at breaking point. We were promised all these new jails, and the contracts for those jails have been an appallingly run disaster. The Police Association is beside itself with what is happening with its members. Instead of being on the beat and looking after crime, they are looking after prisoners in cells; they are wardens with no training and no capacity to deal with this situation, and the system is at absolute breaking point.

We only have to look at the horror that is the debacle around the parole system and the secrecy that has surrounded some horrific incidents to see that this government has failed to stand up for openness and transparency on these issues, yet members of this government can stand here today and say that this legislation is about openness and transparency in our justice system. Shame.

The shadow Attorney-General has pointed out many times in this house that the crime rate under this government, which is supposedly tough on law and order, has increased every year; under the former government it decreased consistently. We again look at the joke of the minimum sentencing bill that was served up — that is, supposedly minimum sentencing. The public were told it was about statutory minimum sentencing, but in fact in the legislation members of the judiciary retained their discretion on every point.

Mr Andrews — ‘Or any other reason’.

Ms GARRETT — As our leader points out, the phrase was ‘or any other reason’. We on this side of the house do not run away from the fact that the justice system is complicated and difficult, and it is hard to strike the balance between diversion and taking people out of a justice system that would otherwise condemn them to a life of crime and incarceration and being tough on those who absolutely deserve the full force of the law. However, members of the opposition would like to have a more honest conversation with the Victorian public than those on the other side of the house have ever given the Victorian people credit for. They serve up supposedly simple solutions but then deliver fairy cakes with icing on top that are shown to be hollow. I think the cooking theme I am running with tonight is very good!

Let us look at the situation around the drug problem in this state, in particular the failure to tackle problems with methamphetamine use and the ice scourge that is happening at the same time as this government is cutting funding for drug education officers in schools. Members of the government need to have an honest conversation, which they promised to have, with the Victorian people.

Now there is the issue of government members coming in here with 30 house amendments at 2 o’clock. This is yet another example of the — —

Mr Newton-Brown interjected.

Ms GARRETT — I assume the member for Prahran is a lawyer — in fact I know he is — and he has lauded this bill as delivering all these things, yet he does not believe that those who are scrutinising this piece of legislation should have more than a couple of hours to consider the house amendments. Quite frankly, why is the government serving up house amendments at that hour? Once again, this is shoddy and dodgy, and it is about selling absolute nonsense to the Victorian people on an issue of such critical importance as to how we manage these matters. If there was ever a time in which we need to have an honest conversation about our justice system, it is now. We need to have an honest conversation about what we are doing about parole and what we are doing about prisoners in police cells. We do not subscribe to secrecy when it suits us. Those opposite say that this bill removes secrecy, when the fact is that it does so very little.

We on this side of the house do not oppose this legislation, but we do oppose government members’ lack of character and lack of conviction in the justice system.

Hansard, 2013