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Report targets better victim support

Statement on report

May 11, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:16):

I rise to speak on the Legal and Social Issues Committee report on the inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system*.

With more than 50 per cent of people incarcerated in Victoria going on to re-offend and 6pc of offenders being responsible for more than 44pc of crimes reported to Victoria Police, there was a solid case for evaluating how we break the downward spiral of offending and try to limit the suffering of those who are victims and survivors.

In retrospect, given how broad this inquiry was, I probably would have preferred that the examination of the criminal justice system was separated into two parts: first, how we address serious and violent offending, and then a separate consideration of lower level offending.

In considering factors that increase the risk of engagement with the criminal justice system, the inquiry confirmed that adverse childhood experiences have a significant impact and that support for children and young people should be community led, place based and focused on education and employment.

How we implement early interventions and primary prevention strategies that address the root cause of offending, particularly where it relates to disadvantage, trauma, childhood neglect and family violence, is an ongoing challenge and a responsibility. This was strongly reflected in the report and is a key focus of the regular discussions I have with ministers about our justice system.

While the inquiry gave a general recommendation to raise the age of criminal responsibility, I acknowledge the answer the Attorney-General recently gave to a question in the chamber about this very matter.

I am very supportive of the Attorney’s response that the focus should be on holistic programs that stop children from being caught up in the justice system in the first place. How we support at-risk children and, importantly, their families with appropriate, trauma-informed services that are implemented early with intensity and consistency must be a priority.

This inquiry considered diversion programs and the important role they have to play in providing alternative pathways to prison whilst keeping our community safe.

Victoria Police issue around 130,000 cautions and diversions every year, and Drug Courts are another judicially-supervised pathway that is proving effective and worthy of expansion. There are various recommendations about data and the importance of evaluations and transparency. Some will be difficult to implement and require further unpacking with key stakeholders before progressing.

Three chapters of the inquiry report are dedicated to victims of crime, their experience and support. Some of the recommendations made by the inquiry have progressed quite recently, including a new financial assistance scheme, which will go a long way to assisting victims of crime, something I have been advocating for since my first day in Parliament.

While I made a deliberate decision not to submit a minority report, I will put on record my strong opposition to any watering down of practices or laws relating to high-risk offenders, or that may rush major law reform without evidence-based early interventions in place that are well-funded, evaluated and working.

This makes it clear that our justice system should ensure that presumptions against bail are targeted to serious offending and serious risk. It also recommends that any review of practices should take the views of victims and law enforcement into account. I will note that offences subject to strict circumstances in the granting of bail include serious charges such as murder, manslaughter, threats to kill, rape, incest, family violence, drug trafficking, home invasion and committing offences while on parole. These are not trivial offences, and they are certainly not victimless.

We cannot forget the six people killed and 30 injured at Bourke Street Mall (on January 20, 2017). We cannot forget the families who suffer after their loved ones have been killed by someone on parole or bail. This did not just happen once. It happened to Jill Meagher, to Karen Chetcuti, to Zoe Buttigieg, to Courtney Herron, to Masa Vukotic. Before the Coghlan review more than 20 Victorians were killed by serial offenders who should have been in jail—20 offenders.

With more than 800 pages and 100 recommendations there will continue to be much to say about the justice inquiry. I look forward to the government’s consideration of the recommendations made and the continued debate it will no doubt generate as we continue to endeavour to make our community safer.

* The report was tabled in the Legislative Council on February 24, 2022.

Victims’ strength and bravery seeks to change justice system

Media statement

March 24, 2022

Tania Maxwell has recognised victim-survivors’ strength and bravery for putting changes to Victoria’s criminal justice system in an eight-month parliamentary inquiry initiated by the Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party MP.

The Member for Northern Victoria – welcoming today’s release of the inquiry report by the Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee – said its recommendations were influenced by victim-survivors’ submissions.

“I stand here today to say I hear you, and this report is for you,” Ms Maxwell told victim-survivors seated in the Legislative Council gallery.

“I hope the recommendations in relation to victims of crime support will be accepted and implemented by the government as soon as possible.

“Some of the these are not new to this Parliament and focus on the recurring theme that prevention and early intervention is essential for fair, just, safe communities.

“Some will require further debate, and while I made a deliberate decision not to submit a minority report, I will put on record my strong opposition to any watering down of practices or laws that protect our community from high-risk, violent offenders.

“We must make sure that any reforms brought about by this inquiry reduce risk, support community safety and balance the rights of victims over those of offenders.

“Otherwise, we may simply reduce statistics without actually reducing crime or the harm that accompanies it.”

Ms Maxwell said victim-survivors’ decisions to share their experiences with the committee revealed deep and enduring suffering that usually flows from the impact of crime.

“When I brought my referral motion to Parliament in June 2020, I noted that significantly driving down crime has to be a goal that we all share,” she said.

“With more than 50 per cent of people incarcerated in Victoria going on to re-offend, I wanted the committee to investigate the drivers of recidivism, how we safeguard our community against violent offenders, and also ensure our corrections system is sufficiently ‘corrective’ in its action and outcomes.

“This required considering the justice system across all stages and in its totality, from supporting at-risk and vulnerable children before they’re born, to crime prevention, policing, corrections and courts.

“We examined the opportunities for reform to break what is often a downward spiral of offending for those caught up in crime, and ultimately how we can limit the lifetime of suffering for those who are victims and survivors.

“I look forward to the government’s careful consideration of the 100 recommendations in this report and I will continue to advocate for their implementation, especially the 31 directed at better supporting victims of crime.”

Ms Maxwell also drew attention to apparent consensus in submissions by legal services and other stakeholders advancing an increase in the age of criminal responsibility to the committee.

“While this is something that may be considered by the government, I would emphasise that without the implementation of evidence-based early interventions and primary prevention frameworks, this would not be a sensible or practical initiative at this time,” she said.

“The report discussed diversion programs and other alternatives to incarceration for young people and I hope that those opportunities will be strongly considered by this government.”

NOTE

The Legislative Council on June 3, 2020, supported the referral of Tania Maxwell’s motion for an inquiry in Victoria’s criminal justice system to the Council’s Legal and Social Issues Committee to examine:

  • Factors influencing Victoria’s growing remand and prison populations
  • Ways to reduce rates of repeat offending (recidivism)
  • How to ensure judges and magistrates have appropriate knowledge and expertise when sentencing and dealing with offenders, including an understanding of recidivism and the causes of crime; and
  • Appointment processes for judges in other jurisdictions, especially reviewing skill sets required for judges and magistrates overseeing specialist courts.

Visit Legal and Social Issues (parliament.vic.gov.au) for the inquiry’s specific terms of reference.

The first of the inquiry’s public hearings was held in Wangaratta on June 30, 2021.

Image: Victim-survivors Cathie Oddie (centre), Di McDonald (back left), Tracie Oldham (obscured), Lee Little and Thomas Wain, and inquiry chair Fiona Patten MP at a media conference following the inquiry report’s release at Parliament on March 24, 2022.

Justice inquiry puts victims first

Speech

March 24, 2021

Legal and Social Issues Committee

Criminal justice inquiry report tabled

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (10:17):

It gives me great pleasure to speak to this report tabled today for the Legal and Social Issues Committee inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system. This is something that I have intended to do since the day I was elected to this Parliament.

First, I would like to thank the chair and committee members as well as Lilian Topic, Matt Newington and other committee staff for their support throughout this enormous inquiry.

The physical size of the report, as you have seen, is an indication of the work required, including background research, compiling information from the 170 submissions and evidence from 50 public hearings through to supporting the deliberations and drafting of the final report and recommendations.

I pay tribute to the many victims that contributed to this inquiry, both through written submissions and in hearings, and I welcome some of them who are in the gallery today.

The sharing of their experience demonstrates the deep and enduring suffering that comes from the impact of crime. My referral to the committee was born from these experiences, and I stand here today to say: I hear you, and this report is for you—sorry, I am so emotional about this. I also thank the organisations who work across the broad justice space, who dedicate themselves to difficult and important work.

When I brought my motion to the Parliament back in June 2020 to refer this inquiry to the Legal and Social Issues Committee, I noted that significantly driving down crime has to be the goal that we all share—that and supporting victims of crime. With more than 50 per cent of people incarcerated in Victoria going on to re-offend, we simply must stop this.

I wanted the committee to investigate the drivers of recidivism—how we safeguard our community against these serious violent offenders, but also ensure our corrections system is sufficiently corrective in its actions and outcomes. We have considered the opportunities for reform to break what is often a downward spiral of offending for those caught up in crime, but also how to limit the lifetime of suffering for those victims and survivors.

Motion agreed to.

Help improve our criminal justice system

July 7, 2021

The criminal justice system inquiry now underway in Victoria is the broadest in 30 years.

The inquiry has come about after horrific murders in Wangaratta in 2015 and 2016. A rapist on parole committed one of these crimes. The other was committed by a previously convicted violent offender who had just been released from prison for breaching parole.

These awful events spurred a community campaign called ENOUGHISENOUGH that led to my election as a parliamentarian. They’re also the reason why the inquiry’s first hearing opened in Wangaratta on June 30, this year.

The Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee – of which I’m a member with six other MPs – is conducting the inquiry.

The committee is chaired by Fiona Patten who, in this video with me and deputy chair Tien Kieu, talks about the inquiry’s terms of reference. These include:

  • Factors influencing Victoria’s growing remand and prison populations
  • Ways to reduce rates of repeat offending – known as recidivism
  • How to ensure judges and magistrates have appropriate knowledge and expertise when sentencing and dealing with offenders, including an understanding of recidivism and the causes of crime; and
  • Appointment processes for judges in other jurisdictions, especially reviewing skill-sets required for judges and magistrates overseeing specialist courts.

The inquiry provides a clear opportunity for people throughout the state and especially in rural and regional communities to influence change. Voices that have long been lost in what can be daunting, complex system can now be heard. The committee wants to hear them. It also wants to host more hearings in regional communities.

So I really encourage people who’ve had both difficult and positive experiences in the criminal justice system to make a submission. This video sets out how the inquiry works, what it’s examining, and how you can participate.

Find out how to make a submission. Or if you need advice about the process you can call the committee staff on 03 8682 2869. My statement about the inquiry also provides more details.

Please have your say.