Justice Legislation Amendment (Access to Justice) Bill 2018
Written on the 22 May 201822 May 2018
GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)
I was very interested to hear Mr O'Sullivan's contribution because he was highlighting exactly what the coalition has already announced in the area of law and order where the government has been completely void and is now in catch-up mode, as we have seen in recent days and weeks.This evening we are speaking about the Justice Legislation Amendment (Access to Justice) Bill 2018. I note that in their contributions various members have gone through the main provisions of the bill, which aim to give effect to a number of recommendations from the government's 2016 Access to Justice Review. I understand there were 60 recommendations from that review, and this bill gives effect to 16 of them. I am not going to go through all of those recommendations, but I will make mention a bit later of some areas around VCAT.
The bill amends the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 as a result of the federal government's implementation of same-sex marriage, which was a very big issue that went to the people of Australia a few months ago. That decision has now been determined.The bill is an omnibus bill. It amends certain acts. Various parts of the bill have different functions, and various members have discussed access to legal aid. Of course legal aid is necessary. It is part of our legal system that enables people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access legal aid. There will be various views on this, and I note Ms Pennicuik has circulated a number of amendments on the areas around legal aid, which is of course an important part of our legal system.
This bill also does a number of other things. It increases the threshold amount for small civil claims in VCAT from $10 000 to $15 000. It sets out matters a court may have regard to when making protective cost orders. It amends the County Court Act 1958 and the Magistrates' Court Act 1989 to enable the making of regulations with greater flexibility. It does a number of other things, which I will not go through in great detail.But I do want to speak, as other speakers have, about our justice system here in Victoria, because although this bill looks to strengthen that system by implementing some of the recommendations from the Access to Justice Review, there is little or no reference to victims of crime. Whilst it is necessary for people to be able to access the legal system to defend themselves, what we have seen from this government is a complete lack of understanding of the impacts of crime on its victims, and some of them are very profound.
I am reminded of just some of the issues that have arisen in the last three and a half years. Of course since the election of the Andrews government there has been an increase in crime of 10 per cent. The increase in serious crime is much higher than that. Other speakers have spoken about the very serious crimes that are occurring in this state currently and that have previously occurred. I am talking about home invasions, carjackings and rammings of police vehicles, all the issues that have become very pronounced in recent years, specifically under this government because of their soft-on-crime approach. That first came to light I think when a message went out to young offenders with the weakening of bail laws. This government sent a message to young offenders to say, 'If you breach bail, don't worry; it's okay, there'll be no consequences'.I have asked time and time again what message that sends to young people. You do not want young people repeatedly committing crimes, sometimes very serious crimes, then getting bail, breaching bail and committing more crimes. It does them no good, it does the community no good and it certainly sends the wrong message to people right across the state. That is why people are fed up with this government's attitude. They are fed up with this government not understanding the impact of crime on them, their families and their workmates.
There has been a significant increase in violent crime in my electorate of Southern Metropolitan Region. I refer to the very graphic scenes that were shown not just around the state or country but actually went worldwide. Those scenes were of the robbery of a jewellery shop in Toorak Village. That jeweller was robbed again three months later. A horrendous crime occurred the first time. One of the workers was innocently doing their job and was subjected to a robbery involving machetes and guns. This person suffered huge trauma and was not able to go back to work. When they were finally able to return to work, what happened? The jewellery shop was robbed again and the manager was hit over the head with a gun butt.The message that the judiciary sent to these young offenders was inappropriate, and that is what has enraged the entire Victorian community. When they see these very violent crimes and the justice system letting these people off lightly, it is no wonder that law and order is a very big concern for the vast majority of law-abiding Victorians. Of course Victorians should be concerned, because they have seen what has happened.
Mr O'Donohue has walked into the chamber. He has led the way on so many of these issues, whether it is introducing a private members bill on police car rammings or other initiatives which the government sluggishly then followed and claimed as theirs. No, they came to the table kicking and screaming. That is because Mr O'Donohue, Mr Pesutto in the Assembly, Matthew Guy and myself have been listening to the victims of these crimes. We have heard some very profound and alarming stories from some of the victims we have spoken to. They have given us tremendous feedback and a real understanding of their experiences within the justice and legal systems.That is what we as legislators should be doing. We should be listening to the community and acting accordingly. The reactive approach by the government in recent times is not fooling Victorians at all. They understand that we are going to an election in just a few months time. In fact this government will be in caretaker mode in five months time, which is quite significant in relation to how they are playing catch-up now. They will talk about the thousands of police coming on line, but that is not the issue. Those police are dripping into the system, but this is about the legal and justice systems that have been so bereft and have let down so many Victorians. I think the many victims who have seen these crimes time and time again in their own communities, their own workplaces and their own homes are fed up with the attitude of this government, and it is not abating.
The government will argue that the crime figures have gone down, and I am very pleased to know the number of reports of family violence have gone down. That is a good thing. That means that the message that all of us want to send about family violence being absolutely unacceptable at any time is hopefully getting through. However, the numbers are still way too high extraordinarily high and we need to be doing much more to ensure that those family violence instances continue to decrease.There have been instances of gang violence. Members of the government took years to even acknowledge that gangs exist. They said they were not gangs, that they were just affiliated groups of young people. No, they are gangs. It is gang activity, and it is very violent activity. It is terrifying and it is terrorising people in their own homes, streets and communities, as I have said before. Government ministers were in denial that this was happening. They had their heads in the sand. Well, they have finally woken up, because the community has spoken very loudly. They have been incredibly angry about the inaction of this government and the approach that this government has taken in relation to various aspects of the judiciary. They talk a lot there is a lot of rhetoric but the follow through is pretty soft.
As I said, there are concerns around the justice system in the state, as well there should be. A major priority of any government is to keep its community safe, and this government is failing, and has failed, that very basic tenet. We need to be absolutely vigilant about this stuff. We need to be protecting the community. We need to be providing those perpetrators with rehabilitation but also providing sentencing that is appropriate and that the community expects.
Mr O'Sullivan read out a list of policies that the coalition has announced in relation to law and order, and we will have a lot more to say in the next five or six months until November. But if I can just say again: this bill does address some of those issues, and certainly the opposition will not oppose the bill because of the omnibus nature of it and the changes that it introduces to various acts. It is going to give vulnerable people who need it access to legal aid, which as I said at the outset is a good thing. But overall the justice system in the state needs to be dealt with appropriately. There are enormous concerns in the community in relation to how sentencing and justice is dealt with in this state. I am very pleased to be part of an opposition that understands those concerns in the community. We will be doing so much more than this government has done it has failed miserably.