In Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party we welcome this bill, as is also the case for the families of many victims of the types of crimes at the heart of this bill. Mr Grimley and I are pleased to see this legislation before the Parliament. Like them, we hope that its introduction may ultimately pave the way for the delivery of stronger sentencing decisions in the future for these atrocious offences.
Obviously, given Mr Grimley’s and my backgrounds, we know a number of these families at a personal level and have long shared their disappointment and frustration with many homicide-related sentences in the past. Primarily to maintain their privacy I will not specifically name all of those people on this occasion; however, I do want to mention a few who have lost a loved one under the circumstances covered in this bill. The first of those is Kerryn Robertson, for her tireless advocacy both publicly and privately for the interests of victims and for changes to Victorian law that better reflects and honours those interests. The death of Kerryn’s daughter, Rekiah O’Donnell, in 2013 from a gunshot by her boyfriend was cited a number of times in the course of the Legislative Assembly debate on this bill and will be in this house too.
In fact my heart breaks when I think of so many women whose lives have been lost in homicide by firearm cases and of the very light sentences handed to those who have killed them. In this respect and given their enormous impact on my electorate of Northern Victoria Region and its surrounds, I also want to particularly cite the cases in recent years of Karen Belej, Tamara Turner and, from my own old home town of Finley, Kara Doyle.
Just in passing I also want to thank Mr McCurdy, the member for Ovens Valley in the Legislative Assembly, for his very generous comments about me in his speech on this bill. Whilst these issues are obviously very near and dear to my heart, I certainly did not expect them to be personally cited in the discussion of this bill and I am very humbled that he acknowledged my work as an Enough is Enough campaigner.
This bill not only increases the maximum sentence for manslaughter crimes; it also recognises increasing community concern about the seriousness of occurrences of child homicide and of homicide by firearm and now allows for an accused to be prosecuted for manslaughter for each of these crimes. These are laudable revisions to our existing laws, and many people have been campaigning for such changes for many years.
Accordingly, I commend the government and especially the Attorney-General for developing and bringing this legislation to the Parliament. They are changes that will not only better recognise the gravity of these crimes but also establish more severe penalties for them. The step of increasing penalties for manslaughter clearly sends a signal that the government has itself not been fully satisfied with recent sentencing outcomes. However, all of that said, I would also observe that in a majority of the other Australian state and territory jurisdictions there is a maximum sentence not of 25 years but of life in manslaughter cases.
In Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party we agree with the Attorney-General’s decision to increase maximum penalties. However, we would like to go a step further as we prefer the maximum of a life sentence to the confinement on decision-making that is created by placing a defined upper limit on judge’s options for these incredibly serious crimes—that is, we agree with the approach of the majority of the other state and territories and believe that it is time that Victoria aligned its penalties with each of those jurisdictions. Our amendments will not remove a judge’s discretion to sentence in a way that is appropriate to each individual case. Very importantly, however, what they will do is ensure there is less restriction on the judiciary in the most serious manslaughter cases. They will also widen the scope that is available to them to more severely punished the worst of offenders.
Quite clearly we all know that not every instance of manslaughter warrants the maximum sentence or even the standard sentence. However, we always need to be taking the loss of any life seriously and hold perpetrators genuinely accountable for their crimes in each case. Our amendments better allow for that balance to be realised, and in the process they will indeed better equate the maximum penalties for these crimes with those in other state and territories. In turn this will be accompanied by a greater likelihood that median manslaughter sentences will rise. That is a little different to what we think will happen under the bill as it currently reads as it is only legislating for a relatively small increase in the maximum sentence.
To expand on something I mentioned a moment ago, it is also worth noting that Victoria currently has the lowest maximum sentence for manslaughter of any of the state and territories. If we increase it only from 20 to 25 years, there will still only be two other jurisdictions with a lower maximum term, and in one of those two cases that will only be true for a percentage of their manslaughter offences. They will in fact continue to have a higher maximum term than Victoria for aggravated manslaughter convictions. Also bear in mind that when we talk about a maximum sentence for these crimes we are talking about the sentence that would be imposed for the worst possible category instances of such an offence. Let us be clear here: manslaughter crimes are by definition heinous crimes. After all, they involve the killing of another person or persons. Self-evidently there should not be anything other than strong penalties for most of them.
That is certainly true in respect of what might loosely be described as the most longstanding of the kinds of manslaughter offences that involve one person killing another person. We believe it should also be the case for homicide by firearm and the child homicide offences that are now being encompassed by this bill. To this end I would echo the sentiments of Kerryn Robertson herself in saying that those instances where someone is killed through the shooting of a gun directly at them, other than in self-defence, should actually be regarded as murder. We broadly agree with that philosophy and believe that the best way immediately of reflecting it in legislation is to give it the same maximum penalty as murder in this bill. In Victoria we have had numerous deaths where the offender may or may not have intended for a gun to discharge, yet any crimes where guns are involved in the loss of a life are extremely serious, and I would argue most always avoidable.
Similarly in respect of child homicide, I think Victoria should take a lead from New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and the ACT. These jurisdictions have each moved in recent years to include reckless indifference to human life, including to children, in extending definitions of the crime of murder and therefore are now applying maximum sentences of life in prison for these offences.
Indeed I would encourage people to read a number of excellent documents from the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, in particular in this area. Among those, I would especially recommend its Sentencing for Criminal Offences Arising from the Death of a Child reportfrom October 2018, which looks in considerable detail at the efficacy of past and potential future sentencing for child homicide crimes.
I should at this point acknowledge the comments made by the Victorian Attorney-General in her second-reading speech on this bill about her reasoning for applying the same maximum penalties to each manslaughter offence. We understand where she is coming from in that sense, especially given there are some obvious complications around trying to establish appropriate maximum penalties for each and every one of the offences covered by this bill individually. However, we ultimately have taken a slightly different view to hers in that we believe there are some important distinctions on various grounds between one of these offences and each of the others. We have said from the beginning about the government’s very recently introduced legislation on industrial manslaughter offences that we do not agree with the approach being taken to that charge. As we argued at some length in that debate, and as was illustrated in a number of different forms in the committee stage, the way those laws are now written in Victoria it is difficult not to see that people will be charged with manslaughter under the legislation even despite the fact they will not have been directly personally connected to such incidents and deaths.
Conversely, in some cases people who were actually more directly responsible will not be liable. We made it clear then that we have a number of problems with how we think that law will work in practice. We therefore do not agree that the current maximum sentence in that case requires an increase, especially before we have seen that legislation practically tested or applied in any way. I will add that it was only as recently as a few months ago that the government clearly agreed with that decision itself, as it decided at that time that 20 years rather than 25 years was the appropriate maximum sentence. In all of its consultations with the main stakeholders on the bill it was also clearly the maximum sentence that it had decided was appropriate and that it would implement for these offences. Indeed I would add that having discussed this in recent days with some of the bill’s key stakeholders, there has been no communication from the government with them about this sudden plan to increase the maximum sentences to 25 years. They had to find out for themselves from media reporting. Accordingly, for all those reasons we will not be grouping that offence with the others to which we are attaching a proposed maximum sentence of life and will instead be seeking to leave it at the figure of 20 years agreed upon in both houses of this Parliament only a few short months ago.
For the moment I will largely leave things here. To repeat my earlier comments, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party generally likes the changes the government is making through this bill. As we often say, though, when justice, corrections and crime-related laws and motions are before the house, there still remains much more to do. In that respect we think there is some additional room for improvement in this bill, which can be most effectively and immediately achieved through the amendments I will formally move shortly. In the meantime I thank the house.