Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Bill 2017

Written on the 23 June 2017

22 June 2017

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER

 

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

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan)

I rise this evening to speak on the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Bill 2017. As with the piece of legislation we just went through, this bill is indicative of where the government is at. It is a Thursday evening just before the winter break and we are debating these important bills at this hour. Nevertheless it is important to point out just what is going on and why we need to be looking at various reforms and looking at the issues at hand. Can I say that youth justice has of course been a significant issue in Victoria since the Andrews government came to power. We have seen the chaos and the crisis that has arisen within the youth justice system. I think it is very indicative of what is happening in our law and order space more broadly and how the government has failed to keep abreast of the issues, has failed to keep the community safe and is playing a lot of catch-up.

This bill amends the Crimes Act 1958 to create an offence of recruiting a child to engage in criminal activity. It amends the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 to create particular rules around eligibility for dual-track sentencing or uplift of cases from the Children's Court to the higher courts, requiring community safety considerations in sentencing and mandatory parole conditions that will apply to young people who commit specific serious offences. It clarifies when a young person can be returned to a youth justice facility when they are charged with offending in the facility. It allows the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation to authorise publication of identifying information when a child or young person escapes from a facility. It establishes a new sentencing option for children that is an alternative to detention and will involve intensive supervision and monitoring.

The bill protects youth justice staff from liability for using reasonable force and requires reporting on use of force to the secretary. It increases flexibility in deciding where children and young people are housed within youth justice facilities. It improves information sharing about young offenders between the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation, the Youth Parole Board, Victoria Police and the community. It creates a tailored legislative basis for a diversion program in the criminal division of the Children's Court. It enables the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation or the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to issue a written instruction to a person directing them to not communicate with a child under the relevant secretary's care or in detention.

The bill amends the Sentencing Act 1991, the Bail Act 1977 and the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 to strengthen the criminal justice system response to young offenders, particularly in relation to serious youth offences, offences committed within youth justice facilities and dealing with issues of remand.

That is what the bill does, according to the explanatory memorandum, so you can tell that there is a significant amount of reform that the government desires to achieve with this bill. All of those areas, obviously, have been very, very problematic for the government. Of course I have mentioned the crisis that has plagued the government. We have seen a real breakdown of our youth justice system occurring under the Andrews government, and we have seen the community put at risk, youth justice workers put at risk and those young offenders within the facilities put at risk on far too many occasions.

I think it is an indictment of the Andrews government and the minister for not taking heed of the situation earlier. When I think about just what those issues are in relation to the number of riots that have occurred within youth justice, it is a litany of very serious riots, assaults and incidents that have occurred. Time and time again in this place we have tried to understand the full extent of that but we have been blocked from knowing or refused access to the full details. I think that is also indicative of this government, which is trying to hide the facts about what has actually happened.

Only this week I have been asking about the Muir report. In fact Ms Fitzherbert, who is not in the house at the moment, made an excellent speech this morning about the extent of the government's obfuscation on providing the Muir report. We have got various other reports, but I think the point is that the Muir report was given to the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU). That information was given to us in evidence as part of the youth justice inquiry. The CPSU themselves said, 'The department gave us the report'. For the government and Ms Mikakos to deny the Parliament and the Victorian people that report is indicative of why we have so many issues. The issues that this bill goes to are coming to the fore, but we will see what it will actually achieve.

While I am speaking about the youth justice inquiry in terms of the issues that have arisen within youth justice and looking at the issues that need to be reformed the government also tried to not have that very important inquiry. I commend the committee members for the work that is being undertaken on that inquiry. I think it is very enlightening. Certainly the committee members are getting a greater understanding of the issues at hand from all the necessary and relevant evidence that is being given from the people who have come before the inquiry. That is informing the committee about the issues that have arisen, what needs to be done, how it can be strengthened and how we can improve the situation here in Victoria.

As I said, we have got a system in crisis. There is no doubt about that. I mentioned the number of riots. I am just going to list those again, because I think it is important to understand just why the opposition and others have spoken so passionately about the issues and how badly the government has handled the issues. Of course the riots really did start on 31 October 2015. Despite what the government might say, this litany of riots never occurred under previous governments. Yes, there were issues. Yes, there were serious incidents

Ms Mikakos Nothing ever happened during your whole time of government?

Ms CROZIER No, you are not listening, Ms Mikakos.

Ms Mikakos That is what you are claiming, and that is what you have said previously.

Ms CROZIER I will say it again, Ms Mikakos, the litany of riots, the assaults, the damage, the tremendous and dreadful circumstances that have arisen under your watch is shameful. You should be ashamed of what has happened. We have had riots and I will take up the interjection by Ms Mikakos, because as I said, incidents occurred but we never had the dozens of riots and mass escapes.

Ms Mikakos interjected.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Melhem) Order! I do not want to hear anymore interjections. Ms Crozier, please speak through the Chair. And Minister, I am sure you will have the right of reply. Let us not make it personal so we can get on with it.

Ms CROZIER Thank you, Acting President. If I have got an interjection, I will just put it on the record that these are the facts. I will list them. On 31 October 2015 in Parkville, six inmates armed with cricket bats and tennis rackets and I am not going to go through this whole list, but I am just making the point.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms CROZIER Do you want me to? Well, we could be here until midnight, but I will not do that to you all. There was climbing on the roofs

Mr Ondarchie Serious stuff.

Ms CROZIER It is very serious, because this is the litany of failures. On 31 October 2015 that was 18 months ago, Ms Mikakos. On 6 March 2016 there were a number of riots that went on in Parkville again for a series of days. On 6 March and 7 March there was a lockdown after hammers, pitchforks and metal bars were stolen from a horticultural shed. On 7 March six teenage boys were involved in a 7 hour stand-off on the roof. They were armed with poles and some were seen damaging parts of a roof. Again there were more violent incidents earlier in the month. On 23 March, much later in the month, an employer was injured when he intervened to separate a physical altercation. On 26 March a young offender was rushed to hospital after receiving a broken leg during a restraint process.

On 6 May there were lots of images that were reported to show the extent of the damage. The point of my listing these is that there were a whole range of issues in the public domain in relation to what had happened. This was really highlighted for the first time after the government refused to provide anything, and it really just demonstrated the extent of the damage. On 27 July, again there were further investigations after some young offenders spent time in solitary confinement. Again the reasons as to why that young person was there were subject to a number of reports, as were the ongoing issues about inadequate staff numbers or staff not having expertise to look after these young offenders in these facilities. In August, again at Parkville.

Mr Ondarchie Shambles.

Ms CROZIER Absolute shambles, Mr Ondarchie. Again in August, young offenders spent hours on the roof causing lengthy lockdowns. It went on to say that there were more altercations during the evening.

Mr Ondarchie Was that pizza day?

Ms CROZIER Mr Ondarchie, I am not quite sure. But that did come out, did it not? On 8 December it was becoming so difficult for staff, due to the very violent incidents, that they were seriously fearing for their safety and their lives. That was reported, and I think that is just indicative. The WorkSafe report at the time which actually highlighted that and spoke about how the workers were fearing for their lives again indicates the chaos, the crisis and the extent of the mismanagement under the Andrews government.

Again later on in September, just a couple of days later, there were more incidents at Parkville on 11 September it went on all through September, day after day. So the government said they had had review after review after review, yet they did nothing.

On 19 September young offenders again were causing enormous amounts of trouble and were trying to get involved in more riots and cause more chaos. But again, as you said Mr Ondarchie, it was revealed that there were special demands met, including those pizzas and soft drinks that you mentioned.

On 3 October a young person had his skull cracked by a rival gang member inside one of the detention centres. These gangs et cetera Ms Mikakos refused to acknowledge; in fact she said they did not exist they were just associated groups or words to that effect. This goes on, and I am just highlighting this because I think it is important to understand in the course of this debate just how much of a mess the youth justice system is in and what actually needs to be done.

In November, of course, there was a very serious issue with those major riots that took 60-odd beds out of the system and the absolute chaos of the situation that then arose out of the decisions made by the government decisions that were found to be illegal. Ms Mikakos and others have never taken responsibility for the chaos and the millions of dollars of damage that has cost taxpayers. Of course coming into January of this year, there were more riots in Parkville in early January 7 January and by the end of January when there was a mass escape it really did put the safety of Victorians at risk, and I think Victorians had had enough at that stage. They had seen the chaos, the mayhem and the absolute debacle of how it had been managed by the minister, who still refused to take any responsibility for this entire scenario of

Ms Mikakos Accept your responsibility for apologising to Neil Comrie. Have you still got your shameless media release on your website on Matthew Guy's website?

Ms CROZIER Ms Mikakos, you should apologise to the state of Victoria for the chaos

Mr Ondarchie On a point of order, Acting President, despite your warning to the minister she is clearly defying the ruling of the Chair by way of interjection and not talking through the Chair. You have some choices here: you might ask her to desist, or in fact you could call the President.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Melhem) Order! There is no point of order, because I remind you, Mr Ondarchie and Ms Crozier, you are doing exactly the same thing, so what we are observing is a two-way street. I warned everyone to stick to the script and not to make it personal. I think there have been interjections on both sides, so Ms Crozier, please return to the motion, and let us not make this personal.

Ms CROZIER It is not personal, Acting President. I was just making the point about the chaos of the system, and if Ms Mikakos wants to take responsibility, that would be great. But, no, we have not had any of that action at all for the entire time.

So there is a lot to be said about what needs to be done, because of course we have got ongoing crime issues across the state. There are many, many issues that need to be fixed, and of course Matthew Guy, I am very proud to say, has been leading the charge in this along with Edward O'Donohue and John Pesutto and really looking at a whole range of reforms that the community actually expects. They really do expect to have actions that match words, not just hollow promises around some of these issues.

We have got the crime stats of last week which indicate there are still many, many issues. If I can just refer to those in relation to some of the people that we are talking about that are captured in this bill, again the numbers are still very extensive. In the 10 to 14-year-old age group, there were 4207 alleged offenders between April 2016 and March 2017; in the 15 to 19-year-old category there were 21 312 young people in the system who have been involved in offending, and there are many issues that need to be addressed.

Of course many people obviously are out in the community doing some very good work in relation to addressing some of these young offenders, and I commend them for the work they do. But I think one of the problems is that what the government has undertaken has weakened the bail laws. We saw that as soon as they came into power they actually weakened the youth bail laws, and of course from there we have got a whole range of significant issues that have arisen out of that.

Why I mention that is because what message does that send? If you are a young person who has committed a serious offence or committed a crime, been given bail and then breached it, at least you know that there is a consequence for that breach. But if that is weakened down and not there, it sends the wrong message, so it means nothing. So what is being said by those people in authority is 'It means nothing', and that is the issue. Some of these people like to challenge the boundaries, they like to really push the boundaries, so giving them that option of having no consequence is the worst thing you can do, and it actually has had a major impact on crime that has occurred across the state.

As I said, we have got so many issues that are arising constantly because of the lack of authority by this government in talking to the Victorian community and reassuring them that they have got this situation under control because clearly they do not. The crime statistics tell us that; you cannot take that away from those crime statistics that came out last week.

If you look at the crime statistics overall in assaults and related offences, robbery, dangerous and negligent acts, endangering people and theft they are all up. The last thing you want to do is to have this cohort go into that major cohort of adult offending without taking some action. This reminds me of what happened this morning. I woke up today to find that four young people, two 14-year-olds, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old, had carjacked an Uber driver funnily enough just as we are about to debate the Uber bill in a petrol station in my electorate of Southern Metropolitan Region. That car and those offenders two 14-year-olds, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old were found in Healesville. These are serious crimes. There could have been a dreadful catastrophe with those young people behind the wheel.

As I said, the opposition has led the charge on many of these issues in relation to reforming our crime

Mr Ondarchie It had to. The minister is doing nothing.

Ms CROZIER Well, we have seen what has happened in the overall area of crime. We have had four corrections ministers in the space of this government. That says it all, as well as how hopelessly this portfolio has been managed and the seriousness of what is going on. I think the Victorian community deserves much more than what this government has done.

Returning to the main clauses of the bill, they include creating a new offence that applies to an adult over 21 who recruits a child under 18 to commit a crime on their behalf. I think everybody would agree that those adults who try to encourage young people to join gangs or to commit the serious crimes we have seen, including carjackings, home invasions, aggravated burglaries and the burglaries in the jewellery stories in my electorate of Southern Metropolitan Region, are just dreadful. Those jewellery stores have been robbed and burgled at the hands of young people with machetes and guns not once but multiple times. Anyone who is

Mr Ondarchie interjected.

Ms CROZIER This is a serious issue. That there are adults who recruit these young people to gangs or get them to behave with a pack mentality to undertake these crimes just serves to demonstrate what is going on. Those people need to be absolutely held to account. The judiciary and others need to hold those people to account in relation to the terrible crimes that they are committing. The area of criminal justice changes, which I have just referred to in terms of recruiting, is, I think, a welcome addition to what we require to deal with some of these issues and some of these people who undertake seriously dangerous activities.

I will come back to clauses 9 to 19 as these relate to youth control orders. The opposition has proposed an amendment which was moved in the Assembly. I will also be moving that amendment in the Council on behalf of Mr Rich-Phillips. I will come back to that because I want to explore the youth control orders that are already in place in a little more detail.

The bill also talks about another couple of areas in relation to inserting two categories of serious offences category A and category B serious offences. A category A serious youth offence is defined to include murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, child homicide, intentionally causing serious injury in circumstances of gross violence, aggravated home invasion, aggravated carjacking, arson causing death, culpable driving causing death and a terrorism offence in division 101 of the criminal code of the commonwealth. These are very serious crimes that we are talking about here. For carjacking and home invasion, Mr O'Donohue proposed legislation in this place some time ago to deal with this issue. Regretfully it was not taken up by the government. If it had been, we would have seen many of the offences that have occurred being dealt with a lot earlier, and we could have dealt with those issues prior to this bill coming into the Parliament this evening. Nevertheless, I am pleased to say that category A serious offences relate to very serious things.

We saw the terrible situation in Brighton with the terrorist incident. That was a dreadful and shocking incident and a very sad and tragic circumstance. Members have highlighted the failure of the government to implement all the recommendations of the Callinan review in relation to what should have been done. Perhaps we could have avoided that terrible tragedy. Nevertheless, it is shockingly sad and tragic that that incident occurred in my electorate of Southern Metropolitan Region. So many people who I know were affected by it just because they live very close to where it happened.

Of course that came off the back of what happened in London and Manchester and the events in Europe generally, which seem to be occurring on a far too regular basis, and I think all members in the house would hope that we can curb, stem and hopefully not see here any more of the terrible acts that we have seen across Europe and elsewhere in the world.

I also mentioned the category B offences, which include recklessly causing serious injury in circumstances of gross violence, rape, rape by compelling sexual penetration, home invasion and carjacking. There are definitions of what these category A and B serious youth offences relate to.

The clause in the bill that relates to crimes that could be heard or tried in a higher court is clause 27, and it inserts a new section into the Criminal Procedure Act which transfers charges to the Children's Court for category A and B serious youth offences. It will then go to a higher court if it is deemed appropriate and necessary. Again I think that is a welcome addition regarding what can be done in relation to those extremely serious offences that I have just mentioned and highlighted.

Clauses 32 and 33 in the bill also talk about the powers of the secretary and how they would apply. It would mean giving the secretary essentially wider discretion to look at various factors when transferring a detainee, enabling the secretary to have greater powers.

Clause 40 allows for identifying details of a young person who has escaped from a youth justice facility to be published. This was highlighted after the mass escape from Malmsbury, the escape where we had that terrible situation of 30 young offenders who rioted and put the whole youth detention facility in chaos. It was a very dangerous situation. It was a terrible, terrible incident that occurred after months and months of warnings, and what happened? They just lifted a sally port door, took a few swipe cards and walked out of the place. Not only did they walk out of the place but they carjacked cars and drove across the state. They pulled people from their cars young women and others; terrified people. There were home invasions, carjackings and burglaries on that night. It was chaos, it was mayhem

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Melhem) Order! Ms Crozier, I am sorry to have to interrupt you, but it is dinner time.

Sitting suspended 6.31 p.m. until 8.07 p.m.

Ms CROZIER Before the dinner break, I was talking about a number of clauses in the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Bill 2017. In particular, I was talking about clause 40. This clause allows details identifying a child who has escaped from a youth justice facility to be released. I was also referring to the mass escape on 25 January of this year when there was the most horrific set of circumstances. Young offenders did escape from Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre, and they did cause mayhem and chaos across not only Malmsbury and surrounding areas but also across Melbourne and Victoria. There were 30 young people involved in that one escape incident, and 15 of them were on the run. It took 24 hours for police to get those young offenders to identify where they were and to then bring them back into the youth justice system. It was an incredibly dangerous situation. Thankfully nobody was seriously hurt, but there were serious consequences.

One of the issues that arose throughout the night as these young people were running around the state after escaping from Malmsbury, and some of them were involved in a carjacking, was that they were putting the lives and safety of Victorians at risk. We saw that with the home invasions and aggravated burglaries that occurred. There were very violent occurrences throughout the night, and the police were unable to name and identify those young offenders because of current laws. This is what we have been talking about. In fact it was part of the opposition's reforms late last year that we would name young offenders who had been involved in serious crimes. The situation on 25 January highlighted how crucial it is for police to be able to identify such offenders.

Imagine if you were an innocent Victorian going about your business. You had pulled up at a petrol station or the like and all of a sudden these young violent offenders chased you down and nobody could identify them. Nobody knew who these people on the run were. Those who observed them did not know that they had escaped from a detention centre, and of course anything could have happened. Thankfully nothing terrible did happen that night, but it just demonstrates the chaos that has been created and the crisis situation that has occurred in youth justice under Daniel Andrews and Minister Mikakos.

This was a wake-up call to Victorians like never before, and they realised that this government had lost control of youth justice. It was symbolic of what had been happening for the previous 18 months. There had been a litany of failures, as reflected in the previous riots, which I outlined earlier in the debate. These were very serious situations indeed.

If I could just go to clause 46 of the bill, which provides for tougher consequences for youths who assault youth justice offices, again there have been a litany of failures in this regard in terms of the ability of the government to protect youth justice workers, who are constantly being assaulted and sustaining some very serious injuries. That clause is headed:

Custodial sentence for certain offences against emergency workers and custodial officers on duty

It changes an aspect of the Sentencing Act 1991, so that it reads 'a custodial officer on duty or a youth justice custodial worker on duty'. That again goes to the point made in the WorkSafe report, which was obtained under freedom of information laws, that violence is common throughout these youth justice centres. In Malmsbury in August 2016 there were 41 incidents of violence against staff and 20 cases of stress. Now that was just August last year, and we have had many more incidents since then. I have just referred to the Malmsbury escape, where there were enormous stresses for those workers, who were really very fearful, not only for themselves but also for other young offenders in the detention facility as well as people in the community.

The number of people on WorkCover benefits has escalated under the Andrews government, and I think that just highlights the mayhem of the whole system. As I said, this WorkSafe report referred to August last year, and six months on we have seen so many more issues. I think this clause is also a welcome aspect of the bill because it will protect those workers or aim to protect those workers and enable them to have more security and certainty about their ability to go to their workplace and not come home injured, not come home damaged and not have to take stress leave.

I have spoken to people who have said, 'You know, this happens all the time the assaults happen all the time'. It is the situation we are in, where we have got this chaotic situation in our youth justice facilities and where we have got staff who are not properly trained. They have got very little training they have come in after two days of training. The government was putting out ads saying 'No experience required'. How can you put people in these really sensitive and delicate situations, sometimes dangerous situations, without giving them any training or any experience and expect them to manage? I think it is quite irresponsible, and it just demonstrates the desperation of the government. Of course they were trying to go interstate, trying to recruit from Tasmania and all over the place but to little avail. Nonetheless, it just explains the situation we are in, and this bill addresses those issues, but this should have been addressed a long time ago.

Clause 59 of the bill provides for a diversion program, enabling the Children's Court to adjourn proceedings. If successfully completed, no conviction will be recorded, but the child must acknowledge responsibility for the offence in order to be eligible for this scheme. That is pretty self-explanatory.

If I could just go back, I spoke about the amendment to the bill that I would like to speak to now, and it goes to part 3 of the bill. Part 3 of the bill clauses 9 to 19 introduces youth control orders involving intensive supervision and monitoring as an alternative to detention, requiring offenders to engage in education, training, work, treatment or counselling. They can of course include restrictions or curfews or the like I ask that my amendment be circulated. I move:

That all the words after 'That' be omitted with the view of inserting in their place 'this bill be withdrawn and part 3 redrafted so that certain of the proposed additional powers in part 3 be instead made available for existing orders for young offenders'.

The reason for the coalition moving this amendment as was highlighted in relation to the same amendment when it was moved in the Legislative Assembly by my colleague the member for Hawthorn and shadow Attorney-General during the second-reading debate is really to remove part 3 because of concerns that the new youth control orders may apply to some very serious offences that could be undertaken by young offenders who have committed these serious crimes and concerns around why the existing youth control orders could not be further enhanced rather than new youth control orders being introduced in relation to these aspects.

The coalition believes that these orders will provide more options. While I acknowledge what the government is trying to do here in terms of strengthening those areas surrounding youth control orders, the proposed youth control orders really do give further options to these serious offenders that are committing some serious crimes. What we know and what we have seen is that many young offenders on bail and parole have breached those provisions and have caused serious offences, and we do not want that to occur again. There are already non-custodial orders available, and if offenders do not fit the criteria that already apply, then the question remains around whether a young offender should be actually allowed to remain in the community and not in a detention facility.

If we are furthering these youth control orders to allow more options, it gives greater capacity for some of these young offenders who are committing some very serious offences to then be out in the community. That is really what we are concerned about, and that is why I, like my colleague in the other place, have moved this amendment. As has been stated, we believe the community's safety should be paramount.

There have been too many occasions of hollow words from the Premier and members of the government on these issues. As I said in my earlier contribution, the government weakened the bail laws, and we have seen the consequences of that. Again I say that this gives young offenders further opportunities to commit serious offences. As the member for Hawthorn said in his speech in the Legislative Assembly:

we have seen in recent years in particular how offenders who are out on parole, bail or community correction orders are going on to reoffend, and the budget that the government handed down last month shows a 60 per cent increase in the rate of reoffending for people who are out on community correction orders.

That is the main thrust of the reasons for the amendment as circulated. I am not going to say too much more about that. I have highlighted those concerns, and I have highlighted the areas of the bill that are important. While the opposition is not opposing the bill, I think it is important to point out the very severe and significant litany of failures by this government in relation to youth justice in particular and how the system needs to be strengthened. It should have been strengthened a long time ago. The government has had long enough.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Ms Patten) Order! For the clarification of members, the reasoned amendment is in Ms Crozier's name but it was circulated with Mr Rich-Phillips's name attached to it.


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