Sentencing (Community Corrections Order) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2016

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Sentencing Community Correction Order) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2016. I welcome the opposition’s indication, expressed by the member for Hawthorn, that it supports this important legislation, which is essentially about ensuring that our community is safe and that community expectations are met. This is a fairly simple bill, but it does address many issues concerning community correction orders (CCOs). It also touches on sentencing, bail and the historical homosexual convictions expungement scheme, which I will touch on very briefly towards the end of my remarks.

The government and the Attorney‑General are to be congratulated that they did hear the very loud and clear message that the use of community correction orders for serious offences has had a cumulative effect that needs to be addressed. That is what this legislation is all about doing. It essentially reduces the length of a term of imprisonment that may be combined with a CCO from two years to one year or less, and it reduces the maximum length of CCOs imposed by higher courts to five years. As I highlighted earlier, it makes a series of unrelated amendments to community correction orders in the areas of sentencing, bail and the historical homosexual conviction expungement scheme.

As the member for Hawthorn highlighted, this legislation does introduce two new classes of serious offences to the Sentencing Act 1991. This is very important in the sense of ensuring that the community’s expectations, via our court system, are met. I want to congratulate the Department of Justice and Regulation for all the work and community consultation it has done to ensure that this legislation can be passed in the lower house as soon as possible.

The member for Hawthorn highlighted the guideline judgement of Boulton v. The Queen, which I read myself back in 2014 when it was first handed down. It was very much brought about by the Director of Public Prosecutions. It essentially highlighted a range of scenarios, even serious offences, where community correction orders could be addressed. The legislation that we are dealing with today in part addresses that guideline judgement, in a sense tightens up the use of community correction orders and does a lot more as well.

The opposition has said that it supports this legislation, just as Labor supported the member for Box Hill when he brought forward in the previous Parliament the legislation that introduced community correction orders as a new mechanism to tighten up sentencing after a whole range of matters had arisen, in particular the abolition of suspended sentences. When suspended sentences were taken away, I went around and met with a variety of judicial officers, including magistrates and judges, and they said they wanted something put in place as another option. When in government the member for Box Hill, through the work he and his department did, including consultation, brought in community correction orders and was supported in doing so by the then opposition. In many respects we are going through another reform in this very important area of public policy.

It is important to touch on what the new categories of offences, category 1 and category 2, will mean. Essentially category 1 offences are the most serious offences in criminal law. For these offences the courts must impose a custodial sentence. The government has carefully considered which offences should be included in category 1, as these changes are a significant restriction on judicial discretion and therefore should be appropriately targeted. The changes in this bill will take into account the harm caused to victims and the culpability of persons that commit these terrible crimes. We are certain that the government has it right in relation to the category 1 offences in the sense that they will reflect the community’s expectations.

The bill will provide that when sentencing a person for a category 1 offence, a court must impose a custodial order. A term of imprisonment combined with a CCO is prohibited. The category 1 offences are as follows: murder; rape; persistent sexual abuse of a child under the age of 16; sexual penetration of a child under the age of 12; incest, where the victim is under the age of 18; causing serious injury intentionally in circumstances of gross violence; causing serious injury recklessly in circumstances of gross violence; rape by compelling sexual penetration; trafficking in a large commercial quantity of a drug of dependence; and cultivating a large commercial quantity of a drug of dependence.

Category 2 offences are also very serious. The court will impose a custodial order when sentencing a person for a category 2 offence, unless the court finds that one of the special reasons provided for in this legislation does exist. Category 2 offences are as follows: manslaughter; arson causing death; child homicide; trafficking or cultivating a commercial quantity of a drug of dependence; intentionally causing serious injury; kidnapping, including the common‑law offence of kidnapping; and providing documents or information to facilitate a terrorist act.

It is very important, though, Acting Speaker Kilkenny — and I know that you follow the law very closely — that courts will only be able to impose a CCO or a non‑custodial sentence for a category 2 offence if special reasons can be demonstrated. Special reasons are: the offender has assisted or undertaken to assist in the investigation or prosecution of an offence; the offender is aged over 18 but was under 21 at the time of the offence and can prove a particular psychosocial immaturity; the offender can prove impaired mental functioning; the court imposes a court secure treatment order, otherwise known as a residential treatment order; or there are substantial and compelling circumstances that justify not making a custodial order, having regard to Parliament’s intention that a custodial order should ordinarily be made for a category 2 offence, and the cumulative impact of the circumstances of the case justify departure from such a sentence.

I think it is important to highlight though, when reducing the term of imprisonment combined with a CCO, that this bill is substantially targeting the combined CCO imprisonment orders by reducing the length of a sentence of imprisonment that may be combined with a CCO to one year or less and providing that a court must not fix a non‑parole period as part of the sentence.

The government considers in many respects that the 2014 reforms probably, while well intentioned, did lead to an inappropriate expansion of the use of CCOs. The figures speak for themselves. Since 2014 the number of offenders on a combined order has steadily increased. In 2015 there were 2028 combined orders imposed by the Magistrates Court, compared with 1013 imposed in 2014. Similarly, there were 356 combined orders imposed by higher courts in 2015, compared with 96 combined orders imposed in 2014. The application of the community correction orders in many respects was broad. They were applied in incredible numbers, and the Andrews government now is really about ensuring that we do meet community expectations and that we do get it right.

I think both sides of Parliament agree that our legal system has gone through many substantial changes. As parliamentary secretary you deal a bit with the frontend in terms of the laws that we make as legislators, and then when you are serving the police or corrections minister you get to see the backend in terms of the bricks and mortar and the impact that it has on our jail system. I know the Attorney‑General and the justice department have had a very close look at community correction orders. They have tried in many respects through this legislation to make sure that their use is tightened and that they are not used for some of the most heinous and serious crimes that we, unfortunately, see being committed in our community.

I know that the Premier often says in this chamber that there can be no higher calling than community safety. On that note, in my closing remarks I just want to congratulate the police minister. Hot off the press though, only today we have had the Victoria Police annual report 2015–16 tabled, which shows that Victoria has 13 188 full‑time equivalent sworn police as at June 2016 — 155 more officers than the previous year and 232 more police officers since 30 June 2014.

Since its election the Andrews Labor government has funded 1156 police personnel, which is made up of 530 sworn officers, 400 police custody officers, 109 protective services officers and 117 specialist staff including intelligence analysts and forensic officers. We are getting on with the job of protecting the Victorian community.