Eastern Victoria

Second reading

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Second reading
Debate resumed from 7 December 2016; motion of Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan).
Ms SHING (Eastern Victoria) (10:15) — I rise today to speak in relation to the private members bill, the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Youth Offenders) Bill 2016. I would like to go through the way in which this bill has set out a number of provisions as they relate to community safety, the work that is already being undertaken by this government to address the issues that surround youth offenders in the current regulatory and legislative framework and the way in which we have needed to provide a better framework for parole and for assistance that creates the best opportunities possible for young offenders to receive the assistance that they need and deserve in order to make their way into the world in a more responsible, better supported and more mindful way, relating to moving away from the circumstances which have caused them to offend in the first instance or which have contributed to their offending as it stands and as it is addressed by the courts.
In noting at the outset that the government will not be supporting this private members bill, it is important to go back over a number of components of the discussion on youth justice and youth offending, the way in which our court system has addressed young offenders in the past, the parliamentary process which has led to the discussion of this bill and the time which has lapsed between the date at which the bill was first put onto the notice paper and where we are now.
We have seen this private members bill languish on the notice paper since December last year. That is important. It is important because were it to have been a matter of the highest priority, as those opposite and around the chamber will no doubt claim, then we would have in fact had the opportunity to debate and discuss this bill well before now. But to see that nearly a year later we are only just in a position to be able to talk on this particular bill is something that smacks of political opportunism. It is an issue which deserves and warrants a greater level of care, of scrutiny and of examination than that which the private members bill proposes. What it does do is it sends a message that issues that relate to young offenders and issues that relate to the way in which support, assistance, diversion and deterrence are administered to young offenders are a mechanism by which to advance a political narrative, and for many others around this chamber they are not much more.
What we are seeing is that those opposite and those around the chamber will go to all manner of lengths to refer to matters already before the courts and to misunderstand the purposes of parole, the way in which the Youth Parole Board works, the fundamental objectives of the Youth Parole Board in the work that is undertaken by its members and the primary principles that underpin parole in the first instance.
This is in essence one of the great divisions between those who sit opposite and the Andrews Labor government. To misunderstand the purpose of parole and how the Youth Parole Board works is something which more readily allows a base political opportunity to emerge, which is in fact what we have seen with this private members bill.
For the sake of clarity and for the sake of completeness in talking to this bill it is important to talk about the objectives that underpin parole in the first instance. Parole is in fact there to reduce recidivism by ensuring that supports are in place for young offenders leaving custody and transitioning back into the community. What we have seen as far as the recidivism rates are concerned is that typically there is a long tail on recidivism rates beginning to turn and to increase where support is dropped and funding is reduced. There is a direct correlation to this. Any of those opposite who would seek to disagree with this should simply look at the recidivism figures, at the way young offender rates began to rise and the way general offender rates began to rise and recidivism rates began to rise where that correlating investment was not made in parole and parole related initiatives and programs to enable a more effective, a more robust and a more durable transition back into the community.
The issue of the administration of justice is not something which is simply a point in time exercise in accounting or triple bottom line economics; it is in fact the whole of life study in providing people — once they have received the sanction or conviction or treatment by the courts for an offence or offences which they have been found to have committed — with the support, guidance and assistance that they need and that they in fact deserve to receive to find a proper sense of accountability and responsibility in that transition back into the community. We know that where that investment is made and is done properly recidivism rates in a correlating fashion reduce. All of the evidence tells us that it achieves better results for community safety if a young person is supported as they move back into the community following their time in custody.
What we see in particular is that where specific supports are provided to young people who have got particular individual or family circumstances, where they are tailored to the offender, where they are tailored to the young person who is seeking to rebuild a life, they stand a much greater chance of success. What we do know is that where programs are tailored to people in regional areas, to culturally and linguistically diverse community groups, to Aboriginal community members, we can see that the tailoring of those programs has a direct and positive impact on the chances of non recidivism in the future. Correspondingly the results are worse if a young person is simply shown the door at the end of their sentence.
It is very easy, as I indicated earlier, for those opposite and those in the community to reduce the issue of youth offending to a slick three word slogan and to abandon the fact that treatment and rehabilitation and accountability and responsibility for young offenders is best achieved over a period of time. This is hard work, and it is hard work because so often it is necessary for a young offender to receive guidance and support and accountability over time. This takes resources. It takes effort. It takes more than simply standing and posturing about the problem to actually address issues which are often many, many years in the making and often arise from a lesser capacity to be involved in education, in participation in the workforce and in receiving and accessing effective and good healthcare services.
What we see in the work of the Youth Parole Board is that it already considers a range of issues when it is looking at paroling a young offender. The various considerations that are analysed by the Youth Parole Board prior to making a decision are specifically there to enable it to make a decision which is in the interests of the community and of public safety on the one hand and on the other hand in the interests of that person as he or she grows and matures by making sure that he or she has the best prospects possible of being able to turn his or her life around and become a positive, contributing member of the community.
We see time and time again that where this effort is made and where young offenders can access programs — which might range from positive role modelling and mentoring on the one hand through to understanding the impact of their actions on the other — as part of a parole board consideration, the results show they work. We see that where young people are in a position where they are operating without support, where they are moving through the community without a proper understanding of what is expected of them, that the results are not reflected in a non recidivism, which we as good government see as being imperative.
To try to decouple the issues of resources and support and assistance into the parole structure from the issues of the offence and the nature of the offending in the first instance is an exercise in flawed logic. It is an exercise in flawed logic which in fact does little to advance our understanding of how better to support people, not just after they have finished a process through the courts or through proceedings but as they continue to move around within our community.
Looking at the way in which we can elevate community safety and provide better protections for the community, we need to make sure that this is a priority when a young offender is being sentenced by the court. That is precisely what we are doing. We have in fact recently seen the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Bill 2017 pass the Parliament. Again, just to clarify for the avoidance of any doubt of those opposite who might try to claim that nothing has been done in this area, it contains a suite of legislative measures that crack down on serious offenders and that in fact toughen sentences for serious and violent crimes and increase consequences for young offenders.
What we did see when this debate occurred in this place on that bill before it became legislation was an attempt by the Liberals, in the name of their agenda and narrative on crime, to try to scuttle this bill, to try to in fact water down the work which we are doing. When we look at not what a party or a section of the chamber is doing but why, it becomes relatively clear. Like this private members bill, which again has existed and been listed on the notice paper since December 2016 but has not come to our active attention until now, those opposite sought to scuttle the work that was being undertaken through the bill recently passed that does provide that greater level of accountability, that does provide a crackdown for serious offenders, that does provide a holistic approach to the administration of justice and to the protection of community safety, as well as to the prevention of crime through active and proactive measures designed to reduce further instances of engagement by young offenders in the justice system.
To move through to the statistics in this regard, there were more paroles cancelled due to reconviction in both 2010–11, with 36, and 2011–12, with 36, than there were in the past financial year. Let us walk that back a little bit. In 2015–16 we had 34 paroles cancelled due to reconviction. If we compare and contrast what happened under a government of which Ms Crozier was a member, under the former coalition government the reconviction rates were higher. There is no getting around that. There is no getting around the fact that in 2010–11, when the coalition government was at the helm, there were 36 cancelled paroles due to reconviction and in 2011–12 there were also 36.
Mr O’Donohue — Actually that is half yours — 2010–11 was half yours under the Brumby government.
Ms SHING — I will take up the interjection from Mr O’Donohue. He said the number in 2010–11 was in fact half of that under the Brumby government. Thanks, Mr O’Donohue. It is still 36, so for the first six months of the former government led by the coalition the number was still higher, and in the following year you were at least consistent. You were at least consistent in relation to the number of paroles cancelled, again being 36.
Now we see a situation where, for a matter which is so screamingly urgent that the private members bill has been on the notice paper since December last year, Ms Crozier all of a sudden wants to change the law, when the coalition government effectively did nothing for four years, while in fact the reconviction rate of parolees was higher than it is now. So let us look at what that means. What that means is that this bill says, ‘Do as I say and not as I do’. This bill says, ‘I am in fact more than happy as a coalition opposition to put something forward for nothing more than bad faith — a cheap bottom line, tawdry political narrative’.
We can see what the coalition did when they were in government: they invested nothing. The coalition opposition now attempt to bring out a tagline, and I get a sense that perhaps the coalition’s tagline might be ‘Caring for communities’; it seems to be something around protecting communities. I do not know whether they have actually settled on it, but their current leader, Matthew Guy in the other place, has indicated that it is all about protecting communities.
Ms Pulford — Did you say their current leader?
Ms SHING — I did say the current leader. Thank you, Ms Pulford, just for any avoidance of doubt. It has been a little shaky and there have been more than a few tremors, but for the avoidance of doubt let us just look at what has happened in the context of the crime rate as it occurred and as it unfolded under the coalition government. The coalition when they were in government between 2010 and 2014 in fact saw an increase in the crime rate. They will not talk about this very often, because it is pretty inconvenient. It is in fact inconvenient to have to face the fact that a tough on crime approach does not actually yield the results that those opposite would have us believe. The crime rate has not simply gone up because of — as claimed by those opposite, as claimed by anyone who is a member of the Liberal Nationals coalition in the Victorian Parliament — the Andrews Labor government.
What is yet to be seen — and I cannot wait for this day to come because it will be an exercise in just about the most delicious irony that any of us have seen in some time — is any claim by those opposite that in fact the recent drop in the crime rate is due to initiatives of the coalition and in fact has nothing to do with the work that this government is putting in. We have seen time and time again initiatives that go beyond the rhetoric, that go beyond the three word slogans, that go beyond the cheap political pointscoring by those in the opposition, who are prepared to, as is evidenced by this bill that we are debating here today, implore us to do as they say and not as they do.
We have unrolled a number of initiatives that are designed overall to not just address the crime rate as it occurs in a reactive fashion but tackle it in a proactive way, such as the 3135 police officers and the $1.9 billion being invested into wiping out the scourge of family violence. What we did see is that when initiatives such as these were announced, the current Leader of the Opposition and others from the coalition were very quick to say that there was nothing in the budget to tackle law and order. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. When we look at the fact that 40 per cent of police work is being undertaken in relation to family violence work, we can see that those opposite are again after a cheap headline. When we see that those opposite are in fact, as Ms Wooldridge was quick to condemn, very happy to decry the Royal Commission into Family Violence as ‘a lawyers picnic’, when we see that those opposite are not prepared to acknowledge that the scourge of family violence is the number one law and order issue in our community, then what we see is that it is all too convenient for those opposite to go to what they see as the cheap shots to garner the most populist response without in fact understanding these issues or being prepared to join with the Andrews Labor government in getting behind a multipartisan approach to support for initiatives such as these.
I am still waiting, as are so many others, for the coalition to get out publicly and support the work of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. I am still waiting, as are so many others — from peak bodies to community organisations to the victims and survivors of domestic and family violence and abuse. What we see is the quibbling around the edges and the dismissal of family violence as a non issue when it comes to law and order. What we see is that this does not neatly fit within the narrative of those opposite — the narrative that includes things such as this private members bill, things that distil the issue of law and order and of crime to a neat little package of a narrative that seems to always boil down to the coalition claiming to be tough on crime and the coalition claiming that Labor does nothing about it. For the reasons that I have outlined already, nothing could be further from the truth.
What we see is that, to move back to the work at hand with this bill, the information set out in the Youth Parole Board annual report 2015–16 indicates very clearly that the work being undertaken by the Youth Parole Board is extremely extensive, extremely transparent and extremely comprehensive. I would invite those opposite to read the annual report of the Youth Parole Board: it is a publicly available document and it is probably something that would assist the coalition in better understanding the work of the parole board without simply reading from a dot point crib sheet of why it is that they support a bill that in fact has not really moved on the notice paper since the end of last year. The Youth Parole Board already reports extensively on parole orders issued by the board. It already reports extensively on warnings issued by the board and on cancellation of parole, on the special conditions attached to parole plans and on the characteristics of young offenders. It reports on these things because we need to understand the work of the board, the individual matters that are considered by the board — I will not go into any detail on those considerations and I will not go into any detail on matters that are before the court, and I would, as an aside, sincerely hope that nobody else in this place in the course of this debate will refer to matters that are before the court — and the special conditions that are attached to parole plans.
Understanding the characteristics of young offenders is key to making sure that we can reduce and wherever possible remove the risk of reoffending. Understanding those characteristics and providing conditions and providing solutions through programs and through service delivery that take them away from the habits or circumstances that may have led to the offending in first place will maximise the chances of those young offenders being able to not only not go back to habits and patterns of behaviour that may have contributed to their offending in the first place but also contribute positively to the community over a lifetime.
We see that the Youth Parole Board details the number of offenders released on parole and those that have had their parole cancelled due to compliance and reconviction. This is where it is clear that the numbers of paroles being cancelled due to reconviction were in fact lower over the 2015–16 year than they were under the former government.
When we actually look at the number of persons convicted of a serious offence, as defined by section 72 of the Corrections Act 1986, that was committed while they were released on parole, it adds no value to the youth justice system to include those numbers. It would in fact likely create an extremely onerous administrative burden for the Youth Parole Board. The decisions of the Youth Parole Board are, for example, in swiftly revoking parole when parole officers notify about poor compliance. These decisions demonstrate that the board considers parole breaches to be a serious matter. That is something which does not appear to be appreciated by those opposite — not when they are in government and certainly not when they are in opposition. Should these concerns be identified, the board has discretion to swiftly issue a warrant to return the young person to custody — for example, when they are found or plead guilty to a serious offence.
As I indicated earlier in my contribution, we have made significant efforts in work undertaken to change the way in which we support and provide initiatives and incentives to the Youth Parole Board to make decisions that get outcomes which are durable and which enable people to continue to live and to transition back into the community at minimal risk to community safety and security.
The work in addition to this that we have done through enacting the legislation that we did — the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Act 2017 — does contain, as I indicated earlier, that suite of legislative measures for a crackdown on serious offenders, tougher sentences for serious and violent crimes and an increase in consequences for young offenders. So that work is already there. For anyone to claim that is in fact not the case — for anyone to claim that this is a lacklustre process that does not deal with young offenders understanding the consequences of their crime or their offending — would be at its highest an exercise in bad faith.
The board when it is considering the range of matters before it bases its decisions on information from a range of sources. That information includes comments by the sentencing court and reports from custodial staff, parole officers, psychologists and psychiatrists, medical practitioners and other professionals working with that young person. This is not a process undertaken by the board in a vacuum; in fact it is quite the opposite. The board also considers requests put forward by the young people themselves, and the parole plan which is presented to the board by the parole officer is required to include comprehensive information about that young person’s plans for living in the community on parole. Again, it is not a dump and run situation; it is not a situation which occurs in a black hole. It is a situation which is informed by the views and the positions of professionals associated directly with that young person and by people whose expertise and knowledge lies in the system itself and in assessments of young offenders.
It is a system which is also geared toward understanding that the young person’s own circumstances and position must be considered as part of a parole board decision. On the day of parole itself the board will interview each young person and explain the conditions of their parole. The young person in question then signs the parole order, indicating that they understand and consent to the expectations and conditions of parole. Youth parole orders have at their heart core terms and conditions that are also prescribed in statute, as set out in the Children, Youth and Families Regulations 2007. Those terms and conditions are as follows:
(a) the parolee must not break any law;
(b) the parolee must be supervised by a parole officer;
(c) the parolee must obey any lawful instructions of his or her parole officer;
(d) the parolee must report as and when reasonably directed by his or her parole officer;
(e) the parolee may be interviewed by his or her parole officer at any reasonable time and place that the parole officer directs;
(f) the parolee must advise his or her parole officer within 2 days after the change if the parolee changes his or her address;
(g) the parolee must not leave Victoria without the written permission of his or her parole officer;
(h) the parole officer of the parolee must not unreasonably withhold written permission under paragraph (g).
These terms and conditions as they are set out work alongside the recently passed Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Act 2017. As I indicated earlier in my contribution, this act is part of Victoria’s largest ever suite of legislative measures to keep the community safe. Community safety is the very highest priority for the work that is being undertaken across the spectrum of these legislative measures. Community safety is at the heart of a responsible government’s work when it comes to issues relating to family violence and when it comes to issues that affect access to law enforcement services and to response on the ground from the middle of Melbourne to our most remote and rural communities.
We need to make sure that we have the right mix in place and not only a system that keeps our community safe and provides better resources, training and support for people who work on our front line every day to make and keep Victorians safe but a system which is geared toward more than a sugar hit for the sake of a headline. We need a system which is not just focused on a single point in time but which is in fact focused on whole of life work to ensure that offenders — and, as relevant to this bill, young offenders — understand the consequences of their actions, the impact of what they have done, the gravity of the offences that they have committed and the nature of consequence as it applies to them. But it is important that they are also able to become better with support and assistance through the provision of programs that enable them not to return to offending wherever possible, not to compromise community safety and not to compromise the wellbeing or the lives of others around them but in fact enable them to be better, because where we abandon that responsibility we lose sight of what the role of good government is about. Where we fail to take account of the impact of particular decisions or the pathway through a particular regulatory or legislative framework, judicial process or legal proceeding, again like recidivism figures, it can have a long tail, and we fail to take up the opportunities to minimise reoffending and to drive the recidivism rate down.
What we see and what we will continue to see where there is not this corresponding investment in a long term framework to improve the way in which young offenders are treated, not just in the course of their legal proceedings but in the way in which parole conditions are set, regulated and enforced, is an abandonment of that responsibility, and that has a knock on effect for community safety and it has a knock on effect on the confidence of the public in the legal system. That in fact does not help to make sure that the tough on crime components of the legislative reforms that we have introduced that have passed this Parliament will have the desired outcome. It takes more than one particular position or one particular legislative process to prevent a young offender from reoffending. It takes more than simply cheap shots to make and keep the community safe.
What we have seen in the recent reduction in the crime rate in Victoria is the work starting to have effect. That is the work of a historically high investment in energy, resources and engagement to understand the drivers of crime and of offending; the way in which we can improve the court system and the administration of justice; the way in which we can tailor considerations of bodies such as the parole board to offenders themselves; and the way in which we can, to the best extent possible, prevent crime being committed by that young person either immediately after or at any point after they have worked their way through the system as it relates to any previous offences.
What we did see, as I indicated at the outset — and again I ask why this bill is on now, some 11 months after it was first put on the notice paper; asking ‘why’ rather than ‘what’ is an important driver of this — when we were debating the government’s bill, was an attempt by the Liberals to scuttle it at every opportunity. They proceeded with a reasoned amendment. Unlike those opposite, the government has not waited to take the action necessary to deal with the immediate issues. As I indicated earlier and as I have indicated on a number of occasions, and as the minister, other cabinet members and the Premier have all indicated on numerous occasions, serious violent offending will not be tolerated. That is very clear.
What we do have is work being undertaken by the government already to make provision for specific circumstances to be considered in the course of setting terms and conditions. What we do see, as I indicated earlier, is that the parole board itself has the capacity to include various components of a better administration of justice in the orders and the terms and conditions that are set by the board.
What I would like to do is to take the house, if I may, to the Youth Parole Board’s annual report 2015–16 and to the factors that are able to be considered by the board beyond those that are set out in the regulations that I listed earlier. It is an inclusive list, so there is a broader discretion to consider other relevant matters and other material considerations, but those factors include:
interests of/risk to the community;
victims’ wellbeing;
interests of the young person;
age of the young person;
capacity for parole to assist the young person’s rehabilitation;
intentions and comments of the sentencing authority;
the nature and circumstances of the offences;
outstanding charges/pending court appearances;
young person’s criminal history;
previous community based dispositions and compliance;
family and community support networks;
release plans …
and submissions, including those, as I indicated earlier, from professionals and people with expertise and an understanding and knowledge of young offenders themselves, as well as submissions made by the young person.
What we do see in this annual report is a very careful consideration of the work that can be and is undertaken by the parole board not just to consider the matters at hand as they relate to the young offender but to make sure that the parole board has a capacity to engage with stakeholders and with practitioners in the youth justice system.
What we do note is that work has been undertaken by the parole board, including through a parole and custody forum that took place in June last year to bring together over 100 key stakeholders and practitioners involved in the Victorian youth justice system. What we see is that members of the Youth Parole Board are able to present their reflections on the strengths and challenges that face a contemporary youth parole system in Victoria. What we do know is that an intensive amount of work is being undertaken in relation to the considerations of the parole board to make sure that to the best extent possible its decisions reflect all of those components that I outlined earlier.
When we look at all the work being undertaken, from the creation of the parole plan through to supervision, we can see that there are numerous programs associated with understanding a young person and a young offender’s trajectory through the parole process as well as the work being done to transition them into the community. What we see is that this work needs to be adequately supported and resourced. It needs to ensure that practical supports are provided on the ground where they are required, that there is clarity and transparency and that where decisions are taken there is a level of confidence in the work being undertaken.
For the reasons that I have outlined, the government will not be supporting the private members bill. It is a shame that it has languished on the notice paper for nearly a year. It is a shame that it comes off the back of a reasoned amendment and repeated attempts by the coalition to scuttle the legislation now in place. It is a shame that it comes off the back of a narrative from those opposite and the Liberal Nationals coalition to deny, underplay or refute the work going on across the spectrum to understand the drivers and causes of offending, including as they relate to family violence and the lack of access to support, services and programs and as they relate to serious offenders, while maintaining — the core of what we do — the primacy of community safety.
It is unfortunate for all of those reasons that we are here debating this private members bill now. It is not a case of better late than never. It is an opportunity missed by those opposite to do the right thing. On that basis, we will not be supporting the bill.