My matter is for the Attorney General. It follows a 26th February article in The Australian newspaper, which reported that an agreement has recently been struck between all Federal, State and Territory Attorneys General to allow juries in child abuse trials to hear evidence of an accused’s prior convictions and interest in children. This evidence has previously only been disclosed in exceptional circumstances – which has meant that the histories of most child abuse perpetrators have remained hidden. Generally, these rules have also thwarted the prospect of multiple victims giving evidence against the same offender as part of the one trial.  Typically, such evidence has only been heard discretely in completely separate trials.
Recently, these problems (and a wide range of other issues and questions connected to them) were examined in considerable depth as part of the Federal Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Ultimately, this led to the Royal Commission’s very specific recommendation for more joint trials as well as greater admissibility and cross-admissibility of both tendency and coincidence evidence.
Historically, only around a third of Victorian sexual abuse cases have made it to court.  In turn, even in those instances when they have proceeded to trial, the conviction rates have been remarkably low – largely because the capacity to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt has been so significantly restricted.
There will very likely be better outcomes for victims if a pattern of offending behaviour is allowed to be presented.
Obviously, given our extensive interest in child welfare and protection (as well as stronger sentencing of child abuse offenders), Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has been very heartened to hear of these changes.  We have been particularly encouraged that such legislation has now been introduced in New South Wales, in respect of molestation cases.
This leads me to the action that I seek from the Attorney General, which is that she indicate (assuming Victoria has indeed signed it) how far-reaching the consequences of the agreement will be (and from when) for court cases in this State. I ask that especially in view of the historically divergent approaches that have been taken across Australia’s Federal, State and Territory jurisdictions on issues such as how the probative value of tendency evidence is assessed.  As part of Ms Hennessy’s response, I would also be grateful for her advice on whether there has been any discussion among the various Attorneys General to even potentially extending these changes to other areas of law, such as domestic and family violence.