JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CANCELLATION OF PAROLE AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2013

20 February 2013 ASSEMBLY

 

JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CANCELLATION OF PAROLE AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2013

Second reading

 

 

Mr WYNNE (Richmond) — I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Cancellation of Parole and Other Matters) Bill 2013. As other members on this side have indicated, we are not opposing this bill but we seek to canvass a couple of issues in some detail. The bill provides for the cancellation of parole in circumstances where the prisoner is charged with or convicted or found guilty of certain offences whilst on parole. It clarifies the powers of the Adult Parole Board of Victoria in relation to issuing orders around electronic monitoring, and it clarifies the circumstances in which a child may be legally represented and whether a child is sufficiently mature to give instructions to a legal practitioner in proceedings in the family division of the Children’s Court.

I come to this debate with a particular set of insights from my early professional career when for a couple of years as a young social worker and criminologist I worked for the then Office of Corrections, in a division then called the special supervision unit. That unit had the specific task of assessing the most dangerous criminals in the state for the purpose of recommendation to the parole board for deliberation and the subsequent supervision of those dangerous offenders once they were released from prison.

Obviously as a young criminologist I gained a particular set of insights from working with some of the most expert people — psychologists, social workers, lawyers and so forth — and very experienced parole officers who had the very onerous responsibility of making assessments of that most dangerous category of prisoners. Often those people had been imprisoned at what was called the Governor’s pleasure, with a requirement that every 12 months they be assessed for their suitability for parole.

At that stage many of those prisoners were housed in poor conditions at Ararat. Subsequently, of course, the Thomas Embling Hospital has taken up that task. They were prisoners who had been convicted and imprisoned for some of the most horrendous crimes that one can imagine perpetrated on our community. The unit had a very onerous responsibility.

As a young criminologist I learnt a tremendous amount from my colleagues and was in a position to assess many of those most dangerous offenders and make recommendations to the adult parole board as to their suitability or otherwise for release. There was also the circumstance of supervision of some of those people in the community. I reiterate that in that context we are talking about people who were classified as the most dangerous — and potentially recidivist — offenders in the community.

Many of the opportunities that attend on this bill, such as the electronic tracking of offenders, were not available at that time. Nonetheless, that unit did a tremendous job in trying to balance the essentially competing demands of, not surprisingly, the community’s right to feel safe versus a reasoned assessment in making recommendations to the parole board in as fulsome a way as possible so that measured decisions could be made about the potential for the release into our community of some of those most dangerous offenders. I bring that particular perspective to this debate tonight.

Prior to this bill the cancellation of parole would have meant that a person who had been charged again with a dangerous offence would almost automatically have had their parole suspended. Members on this side argue that that is a proper course of action to take. We are talking about a relatively discrete group of offenders — that is, people who have offended against the community standard, who have offended again and who would have their parole automatically suspended.

It is important that we clarify the question of the jurisdictional powers of the adult parole board in relation to electronic monitoring, which is helpful. When it is properly implemented, it will provide for the community a level of satisfaction that when people are released their activities are monitored through electronic surveillance. In circumstances where their parole release requires home detention, electronic monitoring clearly provides a helpful addition to their supervision.

I want to touch upon a third element. I listened carefully to the quite impassioned contribution earlier by the member for Benambra. He brought to the debate his own experiences as a police officer and outlined the most horrendous experiences of people he had known. He described the dreadful offences that had been committed and tragedies that had occurred during his time in the police force.

There would not be a person in this Parliament who would not fully understand the conviction with which the member for Benambra brought those particular experiences to the attention of the house.

That is not to say that parole is not an important element of the rehabilitative process. On our side we would argue strongly that whilst we have to be clear and unambiguous about the consequences for people who offend against the opportunity that parole affords them to be released into the community and to develop opportunities for their full rehabilitation and reintegration into society, checks and balances clearly have to be weighed up. A quite onerous burden is placed upon the members of the parole board to make those judgements. Obviously they have been informed by the excellent work of Professor Freiberg and his Sentencing Advisory Committee processes, which were set up by the previous government and which I am pleased to say have been continued by this government.

The final point I want to make quickly is in relation to clauses 10 and 11. It goes to the question of the capacity of a child under the age of 10 years to have their views on matters before the family division of the Children’s Court articulated. We would like the government to perhaps reconsider this matter. There will be children under the age of 10 who are in the position of being able to clearly articulate to a legal representative their particular views on what are often the most distressing family disputation matters in the family division and who may find themselves in the position of lacking legal representation. We ask the government to reconsider that while the bill is between the houses.

Let us not find ourselves in the circumstance where a young person’s views are not fully articulated in that court process.