SENTENCING LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (ABOLITION OF HOME DETENTION) BILL 2011
I am pleased to rise to make a contribution on the Sentencing Legislation Amendment (Abolition of Home Detention) Bill 2011. As my colleagues have said, Labor is not opposing this bill. The bill will remove the capacity for a court to make an order for home detention, an order which — it is of interest to note — has only been made a few hundred times in seven years.
Such a limited number of orders made is, by any serious estimation, a drop in the ocean when compared to the number of sentencing orders made by courts every day, including those for imprisonment, bail, community-based programs, parole and the like. The home detention program was designed to be, and has been, operated in an extremely tight and very limited manner. The test for eligibility for home detention was stringent. Restricted to non-violent, low-risk offenders, home detention orders were for a maximum of six months and only available for sentences under 12 months.
Further, offenders had to have the absolute support of family members to participate. This support was carefully investigated, assessed and monitored by an independent party. In the broad ensemble of the various players in the criminal justice system the home detention program has had a very minor part. This is the critical issue that lies at the heart of this government’s trumpeting of this bill as a key centrepiece of its law and order approach.
Like so much that this government does — or does not do, as is more often the case — this is a smokescreen and a facade. It is designed to make the government look like it is delivering on its tough-on-crime commitment when in actual fact we see that the government’s law and order agenda can only be described as lurching from crisis to crisis.
Let us take, for example, the list of law and order achievements that the member for Morwell so proudly referred to in his contribution to the debate on this bill.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Weller) — Order! This is about sentencing, and we should stick to sentencing.
Ms GARRETT — It is indeed, and law and order was a critical part of many of the contributions made in the house, including that of the member for Morwell when he talked about police on the streets and the police EBA (enterprise bargaining agreement). I think, while we are talking about what has been described in a second-reading speech — —
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Weller) — Order! This is not about the police EBA, this is about sentencing.
Ms GARRETT — Yes, it is about sentencing, and it was described in the second-reading speech by the minister responsible for the bill as a key part of the government’s law and order approach. While we are discussing the home detention bill, and as it has been raised by members of the government, who referred to the police, I think it is appropriate that we touch on the broader agenda of the government’s law and order agenda and what role this plays — —
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Weller) — Order! I pulled up the member for Yuroke when she strayed into talking about the police EBA. This is about sentencing; it is not about the police EBA.
Mr Herbert — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, the member was referring to comments that another member was allowed to make in this very debate. I think, under normal operations and given the normal way we would proceed on this, that is a fair comment for this member to make in her contribution to the debate.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Weller) — Order! I will listen intently, but it has got to be related to the sentencing bill.
Ms GARRETT — I will comment briefly in response to the member for Morwell’s contribution on this bill. It is my belief and my contribution to this debate that this home detention bill is a smokescreen for a litany of failures in the law and order agenda. In relation to the police EBA and the PSOs (protective services officers) rollout we have unprecedented levels of industrial action by the police and an unprecedented level of bitterness among the police. We would ask, as we discussed on this bill — —
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Weller) — Order! I ask that we come back to sentencing. The bill is about sentencing, and we need to be discussing sentencing, not EBAs and other bills.
Ms GARRETT — But while we are discussing sentencing, we in this house today are talking about what is a tiny part of the criminal justice system, and that is the home detention program.
This government is not acknowledging the big blue elephant in the room. My contribution to this is that the government should be focused on working out these major problems with the police force instead of trumpeting the home detention bill as a centrepiece of its law and order agenda. I repeat that the home detention program only ever applied to non-violent offenders. We ask the government to, instead of focusing on these issues, focus on supporting and properly rewarding the thousands of officers who risk their lives every day to deal with actual violent offenders and violent crimes that do threaten the health and safety of the Victorian community. The government’s focusing of all its attention on home detention and this bill while these other issues are burning out of control demonstrates that the government’s law and order agenda is in tatters.
This brings us to the issue of violent crimes. As we know, the home detention regime does not apply to violent crimes.
We again point to the appalling and disturbing increase in family violence; there has been a 25 per cent increase in the last year in the number of violent crimes in the home. While we have had significant resources allocated by this government to transport safety issues with the PSO program — which has come under significant criticism in regard to whether those dollars could be better spent in transport safety, including having police on the beat in and around stations — there is no such focus on family violence and assaults in the home. What we have is the government fiddling around with a tiny program that only ever applied to non-violent offenders, was strictly monitored and was one of a raft of sentencing options available to the court. It is a dressing up of inaction in fancy words and loud fanfare.
We have had a very interesting week this week.
There has been a lot of anger coming from the other side of the house, and perhaps that is a sign of frustration that the only issue that appears to have been on track in the law and order agenda, which we know is a key agenda of this government, has been the home detention bill. On behalf of our constituents and all Victorians we ask that the government direct some of that passion and energy into delivering for the state on the law and order agenda and in other areas. We ask that those opposite do something. We ask that they sit down and talk to our police force and give its members the respect they deserve. We ask them to honour their commitment to pay our police properly. We ask them to take advice about the best use of resources for transport and street safety, and we ask them to address urgently the growing issue of family violence. As the Police Association of Victoria has said on its website, this government needs to get its head out of the sand. This bill is a prime example of this government having its head in the sand.
While we do not oppose this bill, we do reject this government’s litany of failures in the law and order area. We reject this government’s feeble attempts to hide its inertia with what can only be described as limp window-dressing such as the bill we are dealing with today.