State care leavers (15.11.2017)

Written on the 15 November 2017

15 November 2017

COUNCIL 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

 

 

I am very pleased to be able to rise and speak to Ms Springle's motion.

I was just speaking to the minister, who was explaining that the government will be moving some amendments to the motion. I think that all of us in this chamber are very much in agreement on this motion, if this is what we are going to be achieving here today, to look at this issue of children who unwittingly had criminal records. When this motion appeared last week, I had not known about the extent of this issue.

Ms Springle just highlighted in her contribution some of the inquiries and royal commissions that we have had, and she mentioned the Betrayal of Trust report.

Whilst I am on my feet, I would like to acknowledge the work of this Parliament in relation to that inquiry. I had the great honour to be chair of the committee that conducted that inquiry. Yesterday I was reminded by the Deputy Clerk that it was four years ago yesterday when we tabled that landmark report here in this place. It does not seem like four years ago. I know that the royal commission is coming to its conclusions. We did some tremendous work which I know has assisted that commission.

I understand that this issue really came to light in recent times in the media, although others have been pursuing it for a very long time. A program about it was aired on SBS. As Ms Springle said, Professor Bronwyn Naylor from the Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT has been working on the Woor-Dungin criminal record discrimination project. My understanding is that that is something that has been going on for not very long. That particular Aboriginal-led collaboration involves a number of community and legal organisations that are trying to achieve the introduction of a legislated spent convictions scheme in Victoria and an amendment to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to prohibit discrimination against people with an irrelevant criminal record.

As has been highlighted very clearly by Ms Springle, up until 1989 there was an overlap in the way that the Victorian Children's Court made child protection orders and sentencing orders. As has also been highlighted, there have been a number of reviews and inquiries where people have spoken about their experience and those criminal records and the impact that some of those practices might have had. In the past we have had apologies in this place that have acknowledged some of those wrongs under previous parliaments and governments, really acknowledging the impact on those who have suffered under previous practices.

As I said, until 1989 there was that significant overlap in the way the Victorian Children's Court made child protection and sentencing orders, and the protection orders appeared on the same register as those sentencing orders. The way it was conducted was that a sentencing option as well as an order was available if a child was in need of care and protection. This then significantly blurred the lines between wardship and protection in criminal justice and punishment. That is the issue.

It is my understanding that, as Ms Springle said, Professor Terry Carney had undertaken significant work on this for a number of years. It appears that there were people caught up unknowingly, as was highlighted in that SBS program that I saw. Uncle Larry Walsh was displayed in that program. He told us his story about how he was caught up in this. From the age of eight or nine he had a criminal record. He was unsure why he did have such a criminal record, and that has been with him for his entire life.

I note that some work was done by Magistrate Peter Power, who looked into this issue too. I want to just note some of his findings in this because I think they go to the point that we are all trying to understand here. I know that Ms Springle asked the Attorney-General a question requesting information from the Department of Justice and Regulation about the historic matter of children in need of protection having this recorded as an offence. She did that some months ago. It is my understanding that the Attorney-General did come back and say that they were looking into this matter, that it was important and that they needed to determine the nature of the relevant issues and any action that was required. I think that is a good thing, but we are here because Ms Springle has moved this motion because she really is endeavouring to find out what did happen.

Professor Naylor has described some of the issues, saying:

The format for the Children's Court to record a decision did not differentiate between a criminal decision/sentence and a welfare/care placement.

She highlighted very clearly how that could have happened at the time:

The Children's Court Act 1973 gave the Children's Court jurisdiction to hear charges of childhood offending and over applications for children to be admitted to the care of the department as a child 'in need of care and protection', or a child classified as uncontrollable

Under the Children's Court Act 1973 the same rules and procedures applied to criminal charges and applications for protection of children.

I see that on the face of it what we are trying to do here is at least ensure that those people who have this history of being recorded as having had some sentence when, quite frankly, if they were babies and toddlers they could not possibly, in my view, have such a criminal record have those sentences expunged. I think that is what this motion is about at its heart. It is to recognise that, and those people who have been affected need to have that acknowledged.

I note that, as Professor Naylor points out in her research:

After the Carney review the Children and Young Persons Act 1989 separated the court's criminal jurisdiction from its child welfare role. It seems that from this point, the combination of criminal records with state ward records ceased.

That act was from 1989, and we are now in 2017. It was some time ago. We have had all those years go before us. I think it is important that the government and the department undertake that work that is required to be done so that we really know the extent, history and detail of what we are talking about here.

Of course, there is precedent for expungement. I note that today the same-sex marriage vote results have been released. In talking about that, I refer to expunging the criminal records of homosexual men from when homosexuality was regarded as a crime. It was a former colleague, Clem Newton-Brown, a former member for Prahran, who actually led the charge on this. He did an extraordinary job for his community and for many gay men across Victoria in having us recognise this. He had apparently learned of a move in Britain where they passed a law to allow thousands of men with convictions for consensual sexual activity to apply to have their records cleared.

He lobbied very successfully to Robert Clark, the then Attorney-General, who obviously dealt with this issue. That was a tremendous move for so many who had been involved in that. My colleague Clem Newton-Brown, who was an excellent member for Prahran, worked with the community and worked with the then Attorney-General to see that that was followed through, and I think everybody in this place also acknowledges the enormity of those expungement laws and expunging those criminal records for those men in particular.

Ms Springle It wasn't just men people.

Ms CROZIER People, Ms Shing thank you. I was actually just reading a by-line, but it was people. I did not want to highlight anyone, but I think in terms of what he was talking about when he was talking to Noel Tovey, who he worked very closely with in relation to this issue, that really did provide an enormous relief for all of those people who were in fact affected. As I was saying, I was reading this line because it was an opinion piece written by Clem Newton-Brown, and he spoke about the Noel Tovey situation. He also, in this editorial, wrote:

It was Liberal Premier Rupert Hamer who decriminalised homosexuality in Victoria in 1980. In the federal Parliament and in almost every other Australian state it was Liberal governments that acted to right a wrong that turned otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals due to their sexual orientation.

On this day, when we are talking about same-sex marriage, even though I have digressed slightly from the motion, the point is that these were significant areas that were addressed and dealt with. There is precedent for this, but I do believe that we need to see the details of what the Attorney-General has to say on this. I note that the government is going to move their own amendment. I am supporting the Greens' motion here because of the discussions I have had with Ms Springle over the last two days about this. I want to also acknowledge my discussions with Ms Mikakos's office in terms of my concerns that I raised in relation to understanding the detail. I think we are all in agreement here, but we need to have a clear understanding of what the department is doing. I am not sure why the government is wanting to move their own amendments when I think we are all in agreement with having a look at this issue. Of course expungement has a legislative requirement, but I think the intent of this motion is one that we are all in agreement with, so I will be supporting Ms Springle's motion on the basis of that.

I hope that we as a house and a chamber can then have a look at the detail once the government provides the information, because paragraph 3 of Ms Springle's motion calls on the government to provide a report to the Parliament by 12 December detailing the extent of the problem and how it plans to redress these issues, including an apology to care leavers for the harms caused to them. I know there will be other comments on that particular point that I want to make, but I think it is important that this Parliament and this house understands what the government has done or is doing. I look forward to hearing from the government as to what they are doing. I know the Attorney-General's office, as I said, has been working on it, but from my discussions with Ms Springle and others I think we are all in agreement that if there was reason to examine these criminal records of those children or the administrative history that has been noted then we need to understand that. I think that this house should be very supportive of the endeavours of Ms Springle and the government and what they are trying to achieve here.

 

 


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