Crimes Legislation Further Amendment Bill 2016
Debate resumed from 24 November 2016; motion of Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children).
Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) — The Crimes Legislation Further Amendment Bill 2016 makes a number of technical amendments, particularly in relation to procedures in court with respect to evidence and criminal procedure in the Supreme and County courts relating to an attempt to simplify attempt provisions where reasonable belief in consent is an element of a sexual offence and to ensure that relevant jury directions apply in all sexual offence cases.
To briefly run through the key provisions of the bill, clause 3 allows for the giving of concurrent or consecutive evidence by expert witnesses in criminal proceedings, as is the case in civil proceedings.
Clause 6 gives the Supreme and County courts the authority to hear a charge for a related summary offence where a charge for an indictable offence has been discontinued.
Clause 7 confers the authority outlined in clause 6 in relation to unrelated summary offences if the accused consents and expresses an intention to plead guilty to the charge.
Clause 13 establishes a simplified fault element in sexual offence cases involving a reasonable belief in consent, requiring the prosecution to prove that at the time of the attempted sexual act the accused did not reasonably believe that the alleged victim would consent to the sexual act in question.
Part 5 of the bill amends the Jury Directions Act 2015 to ensure that relevant jury directions apply to charges of conspiracy, incitement or attempt to commit a sexual offence.
The amendments that this bill makes are of themselves not controversial. There is a question over how in a practical sense clause 13, which relates to a simplified fault element in sexual offences cases, is going to work. Obviously as these procedures are yet to be introduced in the County and Supreme courts the practical impact of those — in terms of how the court is directed by the judge — is yet to be determined. There is a degree of ambiguity as to how that provision in clause 13 will work to give effect to the intention with respect to a simplified fault element. With the exception of the uncertainty on clause 13, the other provisions of the legislation are uncontroversial.
It is somewhat surprising that the house is being asked to deal with this legislation today. This is a bill which was introduced to the Parliament in 2016. It follows on from a period where the Attorney-General introduced a number of bills to give effect to policies and reforms started by the previous Attorney-General, the member for Box Hill in the other place, and following on from seeming to exhaust those bills which gave effect to a policy position and reforms introduced by the member for Box Hill in the other place.
The Attorney-General then embarked on a series of legislative changes which could best be described as housekeeping in nature, and this bill before the house this afternoon is one of those bills. These are minor changes, they are uncontroversial changes and they go basically to the smooth operation of the relevant courts, being the Supreme Court and the County Court.
What they do not do is address the growing concern in the Victorian community at the failure of this government to address the crime wave that we are experiencing. In the quarterly stats released by the Crime Statistics Agency we see great spikes in serious crimes across the majority of Melbourne's suburbs, be they inner suburbs or outer suburbs. Certainly in the south-east we have seen this, with increases upwards of 50 per cent in serious offences — assault, break and enter and burglary offences. We also see this in the number of home invasions, which have now become of such plague proportions as to be a broad topic of conversation in the general community, and they are certainly reflected in an unprecedented level of fear and concern in the general community at the prospect of being subject to home invasion.
We see the same thing with carjackings and the way in which the incidence of carjackings in Victoria, particularly in metropolitan Melbourne, has escalated to such an extent and has become so common and frequent that it is now a topic of concern to the general population. When you think back two or three years, members of the Victorian community were not talking about carjackings. They were not concerned about carjackings. They were not concerned about home invasions. You did not go to a community function and have people talk to you about home invasions or carjackings. Those things were for all intents and purposes unheard of. But we have seen since the election of this government and since its adoption of policies which reflect its soft-on-crime nature those sorts of problems explode. We have seen other serious violence offences such as assaults explode.
And what have we seen from the government? We have seen a weakening of bail laws, as occurred in the first year of this government. We have not subsequently seen the government reverse that decision to weaken bail laws, nor have we yet seen any change from the government to tighten those bail laws, which have become incredibly contentious, as we have seen time and time again offenders being released on bail where the risk to the community of subsequent offending is high, and the government has failed to step in.
We saw the recent example where the government attempted to hang bail justices out to dry on the basis that they were somehow the problem in releasing offenders on bail. This was a convenient excuse for the government, which was faced with yet another bail crisis, yet the facts did not support that the problem was bail justices. In fact work that was commissioned by the previous government and reported by the previous Attorney-General indicated that, where a bail justice heard an application for bail that was opposed by police, in 80 per cent of cases they would remand the person in custody. By contrast, where a magistrate heard an application for bail which was opposed by the police, in 80 per cent of cases they would bail the person.
Despite the government's attempt to say that this is all the problem of bail justices and that it will therefore introduce a night court with magistrates, the reality is quite different. It was actually the magistracy that was making the decision to release people on bail, rather than the bail justices. That is something that to date has not been addressed by the government. There are a plethora of issues of that nature that go to reinforce the perception, which has become reality, that this government is soft on criminal activity and that criminals are getting the upper hand. We have seen that with the gang activity, which came to the forefront 12 months ago and has continued since those riots at Moomba in 2016. We saw the government in its first term repeal the move-on laws, which would have gone directly to addressing what happened at Moomba last year and would have gone directly to addressing what happened at White Night and at other major events in the last 12 months.
The bill before the house this afternoon is uncontroversial. These are minor technical changes which go to the issue of procedure in our courts, but they do not address the community's concern about this government's approach to law and order and the fact that this government has weakened laws in areas such as the move-on provisions, has weakened bail laws and now has a situation where crime in the community is out of control. People do not feel safe at home and do not feel safe in their communities, and this government is failing to do anything about it.