Witness Protection Amendment Bill 2016

Written on the 15 June 2016

9 June 2016

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

 

I rise to speak on the Witness Protection Amendment Bill 2016.

In doing so I also state, as Mr O'Donohue did in his contribution, that the opposition will be supporting the bill.

I would just like to make a few comments in relation to the bill before us this afternoon, as it follows on from the interim legislative provisions introduced by the coalition in March 2014 via the Witness Protection Amendment Bill 2014. Significant work was undertaken by the coalition in relation to various elements that surround the witness protection area, and I know that the former Attorney-General, the Honourable Robert Clark in the other place, did significant work. Indeed it was he who asked for a review to be undertaken, and of course the report of the Honourable Frank Vincent, AO, QC, was tabled in March of this year. I note that this bill undertakes to look at many of those recommendations that were provided in Justice Vincent's review.

Frank Vincent is a man of great knowledge in this area of law. He has spent much of his career working on the area around parole or witness programs and dealing with some very difficult cases in the justice system, so I think it was very apt for him to have undertaken this review. As someone who has worked with him closely on a previous inquiry, I understand the level of detail he would have gone into and his deep and thorough knowledge, so although I have not read this report and I understand that much of it for obvious reasons has been redacted I have no doubt that it would have been undertaken very thoroughly and would have provided excellent recommendations to government which government can be guided by. Hence the government has been so guided in formulating this bill.

As has been highlighted, the bill itself also looks at the governance and administration of witness protection in Victoria to include strengthened independent oversight, public reporting, mandated case reviews and the introduction of decision-making principles. The independent oversight role will be split between IBAC and the Public Interest Monitor, and in that role the Public Interest Monitor will monitor witness protection decisions and provide assurance that decisions are made in accordance with the witness protection principles and in the public interest.

So the bill is very much looking at what needs to be done in terms of those decisions that are made in these important areas. As other members have stated, these are particular cases where people need particular protections, so those decisions are very significant and they need to be provided with those assurances. IBAC will annually audit Victoria Police's compliance with keeping records under the act. These measures balance operational secrecy, security, public accountability and good governance. That also goes to that aim of the bill to provide for assurance and to ensure that independent oversight and governance is adhered to.

The bill also extends the scope of the act's governance reforms to a broader range of police witness protection conduct. I will not go through all of those elements because I think that has been highlighted by other speakers in their contributions. They have spoken eloquently about the difficulties and complexities in relation to some of the witnesses who may come before the witness protection program. Obviously every case would have to be based on its complexities and the issues surrounding it, but should somebody be taken into witness protection, then there are significant concerns for that individual and their family.

Other members have highlighted some of the very serious undertakings witnesses make, whether they be the need for them to change location or change their identity, which are things that are not done lightly. They are taken very seriously, and they need to have a proper and thorough process and proper governance and principles applied around those elements. Certainly with the review Frank Vincent has undertaken highlighting those various elements, this bill acts on those recommendations he has provided.

I understand that, as I have said, the bill amends both the Witness Protection Act 1991 and the Crimes Act 1958, and it aims to implement all those recommendations that have come out of the Vincent review. As Ms Pennicuik and others I know Ms Shing went through elements in her contribution have highlighted some more technical aspects of the background to this bill, I will not endeavour to do that this afternoon.

I just put on the record that the coalition supports the bill. The coalition considers that the Witness Protection Amendment Bill, with those recommendations made in the review undertaken by Frank Vincent, will provide greater security for the community and greater security for the police and other agencies involved in witness protection programs and the like and will provide that reassurance for both the community and all those who are involved.

With those few words, along with my colleague Mr O'Donohue I support the bill.

 


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