Old courts should not leave regions short-changed

Adjournment speech

October 26, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:59):

My adjournment is for the Attorney-General, and the action I seek is for the Attorney to detail how many courts in regional Victoria are being considered for closure based on information in the Victorian Auditor-General’s audit of Court Services Victoria.

Court Services Victoria (CSV) is responsible for 75 buildings in 66 locations and a budget of more than $691 million. The conclusion reached by the auditor was that after seven years, since CSV was established as an independent body, it cannot demonstrate if its service actually supports the courts to perform their functions. That is simply remarkable.

The responsibility for this failure does not just rest with CSV given the failings of its governing body, the Courts Council, to provide sufficient directional, guided strategy. It does seem that years of problems are being ironed out with their strategic plan, approved in September.

Many court facilities across Victoria are not fit for purpose and demand remodelling, showing the court system requires a 70 per cent increase in physical facilities in Melbourne CBD, metropolitan region and regional courts to meet future needs. A 2019 inspection audit found that $550 million was required by 2024 to bring facilities up to standard and maintain them. The budget for CSV is approved each year by the Attorney-General, so while CSV operates as a separate authority, there is clear fiscal responsibility for this government. A number of courts across northern Victoria have had great investments, such as Shepparton and Bendigo. Other courts, like Wangaratta and Benalla as examples, are very run down. Fit-for-purpose courts may be costly, but I would be concerned that courts in rural areas might be closed simply because they have been left to rot.

If every court service is economised into regional centres, it may leave some residents at severe disadvantage, be they victims, plaintiffs or defendants. Victims of crime often report to me their frustration of mentally gearing up to a court date only to have their offender fail to appear. This is re-traumatising for victims and costly to our court system, so making offenders accountable to appear might save some money that can be reinvested in regional courts.

People in regional areas live with the reality of delays and obstruction to a whole range of services, but cutting court numbers for the purpose of economising without due consideration for equity of access should not leave our regions short-changed.