Bail Amendment (Stage One) Bill 2017

Debate resumed from 8 June; motion of Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture).

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) — I am pleased to rise this afternoon to make some remarks on the Bail Amendment (Stage One) Bill 2017. Bail has become a hot-button issue for the Victorian community. We have seen over the course of the last two years a rapidly escalating crime rate across the state of Victoria. We have seen unprecedented incidence of crime across the state of Victoria and types of crime that Victorians have traditionally not experienced. We have seen a rapid increase in instances of things like carjackings in Victoria. We have seen a rapid increase in instances of home invasion, serious assaults and violent offences against the person. The crime rate has substantially increased across the spectrum in the last two and a half years. This is not something that has been isolated to particular pockets of Victoria; we have seen it occurring across the entire state.

The statistics released last week by Crime Statistics Agency Victoria on a local government basis record the extent and breadth of that increase in crime. I know in my electorate, which covers municipalities such as Greater Dandenong, the City of Casey, Frankston and down through the south-east, including Kingston, the increases in significant violent crime are very, very substantial. In some instances the rate of crimes against the person involving violence have increased by more than 100 per cent. They have increased by 50 per cent, 60 per cent or 70 per cent and in many cases by more than 100 per cent.

That has alarmed the community. It has alarmed parents. It has alarmed older people. It has made crime a hot-button concern at the front of people's minds. This is unprecedented for Victoria. Victorians have not traditionally regarded themselves to be at risk of crime — certainly not at risk of violent crime in the form of home invasions and carjackings. These are things we might see in a war zone or in the Middle East but not on the streets of Melbourne, yet week in and week out we are seeing those types of offences taking place on the suburban streets of Melbourne.

This has led to a growing and now quite deep-seated fear among the Victorian community as to how safe they genuinely are in their communities, and not only how safe they are in their communities but also how safe they are in their homes. That is unprecedented. For Victorians and Melburnians to be concerned about their safety in their own homes is without precedent and is extremely regrettable in a city like Melbourne in 2017.

Part of that fear in the Victorian community comes from the community's concern about the revolving door of the justice system and the belief that when people are apprehended by Victoria Police for serious crimes or violent crimes against the person they are prosecuted through the courts and they end up with lenient or effectively non-existent custodial sentences and are back on the street, or, even worse, they are apprehended for a violent offence, charged by police, released on bail and go on to commit a subsequent offence.

There have been a number of cases where offenders, having been accused and charged with quite serious violent offences, have been released on bail and have gone on to commit more violent offences. When this Parliament resumed in February of this year the first item of business was a condolence motion — an expression of condolence and regret — by this house for what had occurred in January in the Bourke Street Mall. That event and the fact that the alleged offender was on bail was of great concern to and caused great anger in the Victorian community.

This is something we have seen repeated time and time again, possibly not to the severity of the offence that occurred in Bourke Street, fortunately, but certainly there have been other cases where offenders have been released or are on bail pending consideration of matters with which they have been charged and they have been in the community and have committed subsequent violent offences. The Jill Meagher case comes to mind as it involved an offender with a known history who was allowed to move freely in the community and was therefore able to commit that murder.

In the last two and a half years we have seen growing concern in the Victorian community at the level of crime against the person, at the level of crime that is being committed in people's homes and at the failure of the bail system to ensure that people who are apprehended for violent offences are not subsequently released on bail and therefore allowed to commit further offences.

Given that concern in the community, it is ironic that one of the first legislative changes made by the Andrews Labor government on coming to office in 2014 was to water down Victoria's bail laws by watering down the offence of breaching bail. This was an offence which had been put into the Bail Act 1977 by the previous coalition government in recognition that if a person who has been accused and charged with a serious offence is released on bail — and that bail is of course not a right but a privilege in effect that that particular individual is granted by the court — —

Ms Pennicuik interjected.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS — I take up the sort-of interjection from Ms Pennicuik that bail is a right. I know where she is going with this presumption, but I would absolutely reject the notion that bail is a right. I know that is not exactly what Ms Pennicuik was saying, but the notion that it is a right of a person who is charged with an offence to receive bail is certainly not the message that this Parliament would want to be sending. I know where Ms Pennicuik was going with the presumption towards bail, but I would make a very clear distinction between a presumption towards bail and the right to bail.

On coming to office one of the first actions of this government was to water down bail laws. It watered down the provisions which had been inserted by the previous government to create the offence of breaching bail — that is, recognising that being released on bail is not a right and that it carries with it responsibilities and obligations. The fact that somebody who is on bail does not live up to the obligations that have been imposed upon them by the court in granting bail is something we on this side of the chamber believe should be recognised with a distinct criminal offence. Not only should there be a provision for bail to be revoked but that breach of bail itself should be an offence.

One of the first acts of the Andrews Labor government was in fact to water down that offence with respect to juvenile offenders. That is something that was not supported by the coalition. One of the ironies of the last two and half years is that so many of the offenders who have been of concern to the Victorian community have in fact been juvenile offenders. It has been juveniles who have been committing the carjackings, the home invasions and the other violent robberies that have come to be of great concern to the Victorian community. The Andrews government got off to a bad start with bail when its first act was to water down changes made in the previous Parliament. Since then we have seen concerns in the community escalate in respect of the availability of bail and what that has meant for people with a history of violence being released back into the community and subsequently committing other offences.

Since the event of January this year we have seen the government scramble to be seen to be addressing the bail problem. This piece of legislation today is in many respects the government's first attempt at it. One of the pieces of work that was undertaken in response to the community's concern around bail was the review undertaken by former justice Paul Coghlan, which looked at the Bail Act 1977 and considered the way in which it operated. The recommendations which came out of the Coghlan review were in themselves relatively modest.

The review did not recommend a wholesale replacement of the bail system or a wholesale replacement of the Bail Act as it stands — and it is an act that is 40 years old this year. It recommended some relatively modest changes, and this bill before the house today is very modest in its implementation of the modest changes that Paul Coghlan recommended. In fact it is very telling that the title of this bill is the Bail Amendment (Stage One) Bill 2017. It is almost an implicit message from the government that it knows this bill is inadequate. It knows these changes to the bail system are inadequate and that it has not done the work that is required to beef up the state's bail system However, it felt political pressure to bring something forward, so it has introduced this bill which makes some minor changes to the bail regime but certainly does not go anywhere near providing the degree of rigour that this side of the house and increasingly the Victorian community believe is necessary for the bail system. The title of the bill suggests the government knows it needs to do more and has failed to do so.

The Attorney-General was asked as part of the budget estimates process about the resourcing that had been made available to take into account the effects of the government's proposed bail changes — that is, whether additional resourcing would be required in the custody system to accommodate people who were remanded rather than released on bail. If you are tightening bail, it is a not unreasonable expectation that you will need to provide facilities and resourcing for additional capacity in remand facilities across the state. It was evident from the Attorney-General's response that there was no clear allocation of additional resources, which clearly must reflect the government's view that there will not be a substantial change in the number of people who are remanded as a consequence of this bill. That raises the question as to whether this legislation goes anywhere near meeting the expectations of the Victorian community in tightening bail.

It is certainly the view of the coalition that this bill does not go far enough. The coalition has over the last six months, through the work of the shadow Attorney-General in the other place, John Pesutto, and through the work of the shadow Minister for Corrections in this place, Mr O'Donohue, made a number of policy announcements around the way in which the coalition government would tighten bail and the presumptions around the granting of bail, particularly where serious violence offences are concerned. The presumption that Ms Pennicuik interjected about earlier would be reversed in respect of a wider suite of serious violence offences. There would not be a presumption that a person who had been charged with a serious offence would have access to bail; there would in fact be a presumption that they would not receive bail unless extraordinary circumstances dictated that bail should be granted rather than the person being remanded.

This bill falls far short of the policy direction the coalition believes bail should be heading in in Victoria and it falls far short of addressing the community's concern about the revolving door in the bail system and the consequential serious violence offences which are occurring right across the state. As I said, the title of the bill reflects the government's own acknowledgement that this bill is inadequate in addressing the community's concerns around bail.

This bill starts down the path of picking up some of the recommendations from the Coghlan review. The coalition will not oppose the bill, but we say that it does not go far enough. It is too slow a response from a government that has a crime tsunami on its hands. The community expects better and this side of Parliament expects better, and if the Andrews Labor government is not willing to deliver a better bail system, a coalition government will deliver one after November next year.

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