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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.

Budget boosts community safety and security

Media statement

May 3, 2022

Victorian budget 2022-23

Tania Maxwell MP says state budget funding to plan for a redeveloped public residential aged care home in Bright, build a new aged care home in Mansfield, and create an alcohol and other drugs (AOD) residential rehabilitation centre in Mildura will boost family safety and security in Northern Victoria.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party MP asked the government to support Alpine Health’s Bright high-care aged care and hospital redevelopment project and a drug treatment and recovery facility in Mildura when she delivered her budget submission to Treasurer Tim Pallas MP on February 8.

“The Treasurer’s announcement today that Alpine Health will get $1.52 million to help it plan the redevelopment of Hawthorn Village to become a 40-bed residential aged care home means grandparents and parents will be able to look forward to staying in alpine communities close to their families and friends as they grow older,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Mansfield families will enjoy the same opportunity with a commitment from the government that Mansfield District Hospital will share in $146m to develop one of three new, much-needed residential aged care homes in regional Victoria,” Ms Maxwell said.

“For the western end of my electorate, I asked the Treasurer when I met him to consider allocating $35m for a drug court and alcohol and other drugs (AOD) rehabilitation unit in Mildura.

“The budget announcement of $36m for this unit is a really important step towards improving safety in Sunraysia communities and, now that it’s been made, I’ll continue to press for Mildura to be added to the network of Victoria’s drug courts.

“A major study has shown that re-offending can drop by one third and offences become less serious in communities where drug courts operate. The impacts of drug use and related crime also drop in communities where rehabilitation services are available.”

Ms Maxwell said funding for 82 new mental health beds would include the addition of 16 beds to the existing 20 beds in a redeveloped, modern acute care centre at Northeast Health Wangaratta, and new beds and land purchases for Goulburn Valley Health’s expansion in Shepparton.

“I raised in March the need for acute mental health services for 12-to-15-year-olds with Mental Health Minister James Merlino so I’m pleased to see the government further funding mental health support for young people.

“It’s providing $1.1m for place-based youth programs including Youth Live4Life, $6.6m to continue the Healthy Heart of Victoria program in the Loddon-Mallee region, and $12m to support group-based parenting counselling to improve infant, child and youth mental health and wellbeing.

“Support for justice and policing is also very welcome.

“The provision of $14m to support victim-survivors of sex crimes so they can get help and, as much as possible, avoid the trauma of re-telling their experiences when dealing with the police and justice systems is overdue.

“It’s good to see the government attach value in the budget to a proposal put last month by Justice Party colleague Stuart Grimley MP for an online alternative for sexual assault reporting.”

“A specialist family violence court is to be established in Bendigo, together with a Koori court to consider cases involving Indigenous Australians, specialist court services are to be expanded in the Loddon-Mallee, and $342m is to fund an extra 502 police and 50 protective services officers.”

Ms Maxwell said emergency service funding included:

  • $42m for the state’s emergency response workforce and fuel management
  • $25m to replace and renew critical bushfire emergency assets and resources
  • $10m to boost energy supplies
  • $9m for Country Fire Authority stations
  • $2.4m to continue to the Victoria’s powerline bushfire safety program

Image: Tania Maxwell MP (left), Tim McCurdy MP, Alpine mayor Sarah Nicholas, Alpine Health chief executive Nick Shaw, and Helen Haines MP .

[Photograph montage, December 2021]

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.

Tania Maxwell strengthens victim protections

Media statement

March 9, 2022

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party late yesterday secured government agreement to extend protections for people harmed by crime from facing their offenders at Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal hearings.

Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell MP successfully amended the government’s omnibus workplace safety bill* in the Legislative Council to stop stalkers and people threatening serious injury or death from attending or being notified of tribunal proceedings.

“Where a victim seeks help on the path to recovery, the government rightly wanted to prohibit someone who has committed, or is accused of committing, family violence or abhorrent sexual offences from being given notice of the time and place where the hearing is to occur,” Ms Maxwell said.

“This is a welcome protection for victims, but in Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party we believed the changes should go further.

“Threatening to kill, do serious harm and stalking happen within the home and family relationships.

“But these horrific offences also occur beyond it – where people work, socialise and communicate – and they’re widely reported as being markers for future violence.

“Threat re-offending occurs at twice the rate for all offenders in Victoria, and there’s no substantial difference in re-offending rates between family situations and elsewhere.”

Ms Maxwell said a Victorian Law Reform Commission paper had reported almost 13,900 stalking offences recorded by Victoria Police, with stalking in the context of family violence occurring at only a slightly higher rate than in other situations.

“Similarly, in the eight years to December 2019, more than 66,000 threat offences were recorded by police in Victoria,” she said.

“Nearly two thirds of these were threats to kill and more than half were associated with family violence.

“That means a substantial proportion were unrelated to family violence, and I think we have a responsibility to provide protection and support for those victims in the same way that we protect victims of family violence.”

Ms Maxwell said threat offences cause immediate fear but also limit a victim’s freedom of choice.

“Someone who has a fixation on a person, perhaps without even knowing them personally, can wreak havoc in their victim’s life,” she said.

“An opportune offender can use the knowledge of their target’s VOCAT hearing to offend again – such as placing a tracking device on the victim or their vehicle.

“Simply being in the vicinity of the tribunal can become an act of intimidation, alone deterring a victim from even making an application for assistance.”

Ms Maxwell’s amendment was also supported by the opposition.

Comments attributable to Di McDonald, a victim-survivor of stalking whose offender was jailed in 2020 for eight months and given a two-year community corrections order:

Stalking appears to still be a forgotten crime. To be told by a magistrate at the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal to come back when you have a case is truly horrific. To read a victim impact statement in front of the offender is also horrific.

To have stalking and threats to kill and commit serious injury now recognised is a huge step forward. I still have not been recognised for the psychological injuries suffered from my offender seven years ago.

I listened to the debate throughout. It was such a high-five moment when the bill passed. As a result of these amendments, future victims will now have their voices heard.

A massive thank you to Tania Maxwell and everyone for their persistence in highlighting these insidious crimes.

ENDS

* Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill 2021

Image: Herald Sun

Stronger victim protections become law

Motion

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (16:18): 

I rise to speak on the Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill 2021. This bill is another omnibus bill. It makes changes to eight different acts, including extending compensation provisions to allow those with serious silicosis to make a subsequent claim and extending weekly pensions to dependent children of deceased workers until they are 25 years of age if they have a disability or are a full-time student or apprentice.

The bill extends the presumptive cancer rights for firefighters to vehicle and equipment maintenance employees. This is something that we consulted widely on and considered extremely carefully. We understand this will affect around 100 workers, predominantly diesel mechanics or district mechanical officers. I sought clarity on the circumstances in which vehicles are repaired on a fireground and the circumstances in which a worker may be exposed. There have been, and still are, situations where these workers were undoubtedly exposed to cancer-causing chemicals and particles.

We recognise the quite unique exposure of firefighters to toxins that has elevated their risk of cancer and that these rights were long pursued and are very important to both career and volunteer firefighters. As I have mentioned before, I lost a dear friend before Christmas who was a longstanding member of the CFA and contracted cancer. He was very grateful for the presumptive rights that he was afforded.

There is some concern, particularly from the United Firefighters Union, that removing the term ‘firefighter’ and replacing it with ‘person’ broadens the scheme. They fear it will be diluted in the process, and I respect that concern. But we have considered that while diesel mechanics may not be in a consistent, active firefighting role, in attending a fireground they may experience exposure to a range of deadly chemicals and toxins. In how the presumptive rights are crafted there are requirements to qualify and rebuttal provisions. While we recognise that there may be very few mechanics that attend firegrounds, if they are exposed to fire and develop cancer, they should have presumptive rights to compensation. Let us hope they never have to use them.

Women firefighters have to date been too low in numbers for research to determine the risk of developing female-specific cancers from exposure to fire. However, I am continuing to pursue this with the government, as I strongly feel we should be taking a precautionary approach, a preventative approach, in the interests of fairness and equality and extend the schedule to include female-specific cancers. It would have been a very welcome announcement today, being International Women’s Day. I have undertaken consultation with members of the fire services, unions, volunteers and academics, and there is broad support for this precautionary principle to apply, and it is something I will continue to push for.

I turn now to another important aspect of the bill, which is an amendment to the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996. This bill will prohibit the tribunal giving notice of the time and place of a hearing to a person who committed or is alleged to have committed an act of family violence or certain sexual offences.

This is a welcome protection for victims, but we think it should go further, and I will be proposing amendments to extend this to offences of stalking, threats to kill and threats to inflict serious injury. I will be asking for those amendments to be circulated later as we head into the committee of the whole.

The serious offences of stalking or making threats to kill or threats to inflict serious injury can occur within the context of family violence, but they also exist outside of that context. The Victorian Law Reform Commission consultation paper on responses to stalking cited 13 872 offences recorded by police in Victoria, with stalking in the context of family violence reported at only a slightly higher rate than non-family violence stalking. It certainly shows the prevalence.

Similarly, in the eight years to 31 December 2019 more than 66 000 threat offences were recorded by police in Victoria. Nearly two-thirds of those threats were threats to kill, and more than half were associated with family violence. That leaves a substantial proportion that were unrelated to family violence, and we must provide protection and support for those victims in the same way that we protect victims of family violence.

Threat offences cause immediate fear but also limit victims’ freedom of choice. Someone who has a fixation on another, perhaps without even knowing them personally, can wreak havoc on the life of their victim, and we are all very familiar with the death of Celeste Manno.

An opportune offender can use the knowledge of a Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal ((VOCAT) hearing to further offend, such as putting a tracking device on the victim. Simply being in the vicinity of the tribunal can be an act of intimidation. This alone could deter a victim from even making an application.

The new financial assistance scheme will not require tribunal hearings, which I think will be welcome for most victims, and will eliminate this issue. I will talk more about this amendment during the committee stage, but I hope that the chamber will support us in extending this provision a little further for very serious offences that are known to be markers for future violence and give important protection to victims.

There are other changes to acts in this bill that I will not refer to now and will leave for other speakers to address. I look forward to asking a few questions in the committee stage. I thank the house.

Amendments

Ms MAXWELL:

I move:

1. Clause 87, before line 11 insert—

“(aa) an offence against section 20, 21 or 21A of the Crimes Act 1958 or any corresponding previous enactment; or”.

We agree that alleged offenders of family violence or sexual offences should not be notified of or attend tribunal hearings relating to their victims. While there may be some loose argument that an offender may have some reputational interest in a victim’s assistance claim, it is an affront to the very notion of victim’s assistance that an offender is given the opportunity to be aware of a claim, let alone attend, listen or, even more strongly, participate.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission review into the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 recommends that alleged offenders should not be notified of a victim’s hearing or be allowed to attend. It is our expectation that the new scheme will deliver on this. In the meantime the bill closes part of the loophole but still leaves a serious gap.

I know in the circumstances of Di McDonald the offender was notified of her interim claim and attended the court. Ms McDonald would refute that the offending was in the context of family violence. The offender wanted a relationship, but she did not. What could be described as some malicious mischief resulted in the magistrate denying her interim support and suggesting that she come back when she had a case. Ultimately the offences against Ms McDonald were proven beyond reasonable doubt and her offender received a substantial jail term, so her victim status is very clear.

Many threat and stalking offences do occur in the context of family violence, but around one-third of them do not. The devastating case of Celeste Manno is very clearly in my mind when thinking of the serious indicator that threat offences and stalking will lead to future violence. The reoffending rate for threat offences is double the rate for all offenders in Victoria, and there is no substantial difference in the reoffending rates between family violence and non-family violence offenders. One-third of victims of these serious offences will not be protected by this prohibition unless this amendment passes. It demonstrates the need for the new system to be expedited, but in the meantime we need to make the changes we can to improve safety and support for victims. On that basis I commend these amendments.

Craig ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan):

The state Liberal-Nationals coalition will be supporting these amendments of Ms Maxwell today. Can I thank Ms Maxwell and Karen Rourke from her office for the very comprehensive amendment explainer that brought it to us. This is in some sense, with respect to Ms Maxwell’s explanation, a bit of a no-brainer. This amendment should carry forward as an improvement to this bill, and as a result we will be supporting it.

Ingrid STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood):

The government has introduced changes to the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (VOCA Act) to remove barriers for victim-survivors of family violence and sexual assault applying for financial assistance at the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). They align with findings and recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence and the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC). VOCAT provides financial assistance to victims of violent crime under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act. Currently VOCAT can notify alleged offenders and allow them to appear at hearings where they have a legitimate interest or substantial interest in the victim’s application for assistance.

In 2018 the Victorian Law Reform Commission reported on its review into the VOCA Act. The government has committed to significantly progress the recommendations of the report in this term of government. The review recommends that the new scheme will place victims at the centre, and therefore the alleged perpetrator of an offence would not be notified of the victim’s hearing and should not be able to attend that hearing under the new financial assistance scheme. Recommendation 21(a) states:

The proposed Act should provide that the objectives of the Act are to:

recognise, on behalf of the state, victims and the impacts of a criminal act on a victim, through the provision of a respectful forum for victims to be heard and to have their experiences properly acknowledged by the state

In doing so, the VLRC found that:

… removing perpetrator notification reflects a trauma-informed approach that prioritises victims’ safety and wellbeing.

Regardless of model, or other technical and procedural reforms implemented, the Commission considers this to be a significant step in prioritising victims’ safety and wellbeing needs and placing victims’ needs at the centre of the state-funded financial assistance process.

Removing perpetrator notification and attendance at hearings reflects a trauma-informed approach to responding to victims of crime. The Royal Commission into Family Violence made a similar finding: that notifying perpetrators and allowing them to attend a VOCAT hearing can traumatise victims.

Exactly which offences and prohibitions should apply to within the current VOCAT legal framework was a complicated decision. The Attorney-General and the Minister for Victim Support considered this in detail with regard to the VLRC’s finding that notifications had a chilling effect for survivors of sexual assault or family violence.

The original amendments made by the government were confined to family violence and sexual offences to balance VOCAT’s needs to gather evidence and determine facts whilst removing barriers and improving victims’ safety in matters where it was identified as most problematic. Offenders’ notifications will not be included as part of the new administrative financial assistance scheme.

The government thanks Ms Maxwell for raising the experiences of victims of stalking and other offences listed in this additional amendment to extend the notification and attendance prohibition to further offences of stalking, threats to kill and commit serious injury. This is supported by the government.

We need to make it clear that there is a balance to be reached between modifications to the current scheme and the work to implement the new scheme. While we reached a position in the bill following the request of stakeholders, we also understand the trauma and negative impacts for many of the victim-survivors who Ms Maxwell has mentioned today and at other times in this place, and this is why we are happy to accept these sensible suggestions.

The government is committed to delivering a new administrative scheme to deliver financial assistance for victims of crime in Victoria. The financial assistance scheme will replace VOCAT, and this is an administrative scheme. No hearings will be required, and therefore there will be no place for alleged offenders. The government amendments included in this bill go beyond the VLRC recommendations to deliver immediate positive outcomes for survivors of family violence and sexual assault prior to the commencement of the FAS.

We need to balance the need to ensure family violence and sexual assault survivors can seek assistance at VOCAT without fear of their abuser being notified of their VOCAT application with the need for VOCAT to appropriately consider an application outside of family violence and sexual offences where illegal activity may have taken place. The Andrews Labor government is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and building a new financial assistance scheme for victim-survivors.

Mr ONDARCHIE:

So that is a yes?

Ms STITT:

It is.

Ms MAXWELL:

I would just like to thank the minister for her words and particularly thank the members of the government who I have collaborated with in regard to these amendments. I thank them for their time and for their support.

Amendment agreed to; amended clause agreed to.

Clause 88 (19:06)

Ms MAXWELL: I move:

2. Clause 88, page 58, before line 1 insert—

“(aa) an offence against section 20, 21 or 21A of the Crimes Act 1958 or any corresponding previous enactment; or”.

Mr ONDARCHIE:

Consistent with the amendment to clause 87, the state Liberal-Nationals coalition will be supporting this amendment and thank Ms Maxwell for bringing it to the house.

Ms STITT:

Similar to our position on clause 87, the government will be supporting Ms Maxwell’s amendment to clause 88.

Amendment agreed to; amended clause agreed to; clause 89 agreed to.

Reported to house with amendments.

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (19:08):

I move:

That the report be now adopted.

Motion agreed to.

Report adopted.

Ms MAXWELL:

I move:

1. Clause 87, before line 11 insert—

“(aa) an offence against section 20, 21 or 21A of the Crimes Act 1958 or any corresponding previous enactment; or”.

We agree that alleged offenders of family violence or sexual offences should not be notified of or attend tribunal hearings relating to their victims. While there may be some loose argument that an offender may have some reputational interest in a victim’s assistance claim, it is an affront to the very notion of victim’s assistance that an offender is given the opportunity to be aware of a claim, let alone attend, listen or, even more strongly, participate.

The VLRC review into the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 recommends that alleged offenders should not be notified of a victim’s hearing or be allowed to attend. It is our expectation that the new scheme will deliver on this. In the meantime the bill closes part of the loophole but still leaves a serious gap.

I know in the circumstances of Di McDonald the offender was notified of her interim claim and attended the court. Ms McDonald would refute that the offending was in the context of family violence. The offender wanted a relationship, but she did not. What could be described as some malicious mischief resulted in the magistrate denying her interim support and suggesting that she come back when she had a case. Ultimately the offences against Ms McDonald were proven beyond reasonable doubt and her offender received a substantial jail term, so her victim status is very clear.

Many threat and stalking offences do occur in the context of family violence, but around one-third of them do not. The devastating case of Celeste Manno is very clearly in my mind when thinking of the serious indicator that threat offences and stalking will lead to future violence. The reoffending rate for threat offences is double the rate for all offenders in Victoria, and there is no substantial difference in the reoffending rates between family violence and non-family violence offenders. One-third of victims of these serious offences will not be protected by this prohibition unless this amendment passes. It demonstrates the need for the new system to be expedited, but in the meantime we need to make the changes we can to improve safety and support for victims. On that basis I commend these amendments.

Mr ONDARCHIE:

The state Liberal-Nationals coalition will be supporting these amendments of Ms Maxwell today. Can I thank Ms Maxwell and Karen Rourke from her office for the very comprehensive amendment explainer that brought it to us. This is in some sense, with respect to Ms Maxwell’s explanation, a bit of a no-brainer. This amendment should carry forward as an improvement to this bill, and as a result we will be supporting it.

Ms STITT:

The government has introduced changes to the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (VOCA Act) to remove barriers for victim-survivors of family violence and sexual assault applying for financial assistance at VOCAT. They align with findings and recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence and the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC). VOCAT provides financial assistance to victims of violent crime under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act. Currently VOCAT can notify alleged offenders and allow them to appear at hearings where they have a legitimate interest or substantial interest in the victim’s application for assistance.

In 2018 the Victorian Law Reform Commission reported on its review into the VOCA Act. The government has committed to significantly progress the recommendations of the report in this term of government. The review recommends that the new scheme will place victims at the centre, and therefore the alleged perpetrator of an offence would not be notified of the victim’s hearing and should not be able to attend that hearing under the new financial assistance scheme. Recommendation 21(a) states:

The proposed Act should provide that the objectives of the Act are to:

recognise, on behalf of the state, victims and the impacts of a criminal act on a victim, through the provision of a respectful forum for victims to be heard and to have their experiences properly acknowledged by the state

In doing so, the VLRC found that:

… removing perpetrator notification reflects a trauma-informed approach that prioritises victims’ safety and wellbeing.

Regardless of model, or other technical and procedural reforms implemented, the Commission considers this to be a significant step in prioritising victims’ safety and wellbeing needs and placing victims’ needs at the centre of the state-funded financial assistance process.

Removing perpetrator notification and attendance at hearings reflects a trauma-informed approach to responding to victims of crime. The Royal Commission into Family Violence made a similar finding: that notifying perpetrators and allowing them to attend a VOCAT hearing can traumatise victims.

Exactly which offences and prohibitions should apply to within the current VOCAT legal framework was a complicated decision. The Attorney-General and the Minister for Victim Support considered this in detail with regard to the VLRC’s finding that notifications had a chilling effect for survivors of sexual assault or family violence.

The original amendments made by the government were confined to family violence and sexual offences to balance VOCAT’s needs to gather evidence and determine facts whilst removing barriers and improving victims’ safety in matters where it was identified as most problematic. Offenders’ notifications will not be included as part of the new administrative financial assistance scheme.

The government thanks Ms Maxwell for raising the experiences of victims of stalking and other offences listed in this additional amendment to extend the notification and attendance prohibition to further offences of stalking, threats to kill and commit serious injury. This is supported by the government.

We need to make it clear that there is a balance to be reached between modifications to the current scheme and the work to implement the new scheme. Whilst we reached a position in the bill following the request of stakeholders, we also understand the trauma and negative impacts for many of the victim-survivors who Ms Maxwell has mentioned today and at other times in this place, and this is why we are happy to accept these sensible suggestions.

The government is committed to delivering a new administrative scheme to deliver financial assistance for victims of crime in Victoria. The financial assistance scheme will replace VOCAT, and this is an administrative scheme. No hearings will be required, and therefore there will be no place for alleged offenders. The government amendments included in this bill go beyond the VLRC recommendations to deliver immediate positive outcomes for survivors of family violence and sexual assault prior to the commencement of the FAS.

We need to balance the need to ensure family violence and sexual assault survivors can seek assistance at VOCAT without fear of their abuser being notified of their VOCAT application with the need for VOCAT to appropriately consider an application outside of family violence and sexual offences where illegal activity may have taken place. The Andrews Labor government is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and building a new financial assistance scheme for victim-survivors.

Mr ONDARCHIE: So that is a yes?

Ms STITT: It is.

Ms MAXWELL:

I would just like to thank the minister for her words and particularly thank the members of the government which I have collaborated with in regard to these amendments. I thank them for their time and for their support.

Amendment agreed to; amended clause agreed to.

Clause 88 (19:06)

Ms MAXWELL:

I move:

2. Clause 88, page 58, before line 1 insert—

“(aa) an offence against section 20, 21 or 21A of the Crimes Act 1958 or any corresponding previous enactment; or”.

Mr ONDARCHIE:

Consistent with the amendment to clause 87, the state Liberal-Nationals coalition will be supporting this amendment and thank Ms Maxwell for bringing it to the house.

Ms STITT:

Similar to our position on clause 87, the government will be supporting Ms Maxwell’s amendment to clause 88.

Amendment agreed to; amended clause agreed to; clause 89 agreed to.

Reported to house with amendments.

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (19:08):

I move:

That the report be now adopted.

Motion agreed to.

Report adopted.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party victim rights amendments pass

Stuart Grimley MP, State Leader, Member for Western Victoria
Tania Maxwell MP, Member for Northern Victoria

JOINT STATEMENT

February 9, 2022

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party last night advanced Victoria’s recognition of people harmed by crime when the Legislative Council passed two key changes to the government’s omnibus criminal procedure legislation.

The Opposition and crossbench supported two of three DHJP amendments to the Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Procedure Disclosure and Other Matters) Bill 2021.

These changes were first recommended to the government by the Victorian Law Reform Commission six years ago in a landmark review of the role of victims in criminal trials.

The first will mandate the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) to notify crime victims of their right to make a victim impact statement at an offender’s sentencing.

The second will compel the OPP and other crime agencies to inform victims of their right to compensation or restitution from a convicted offender, and to refer them to available legal help.

The third, endorsed by the Victims of Crime Commissioner, would have enabled victims to seek a review of an OPP decision to discontinue an offender’s prosecution, or allow a serious offence to be plea-bargained to a lesser charge, and to be told of this right.

But the proposed right to a review was defeated on a tied vote, 18-18, when the Reason Party’s Fiona Patten and Greens’ Samantha Ratnam shifted their support to the government, which opposed the change.

The Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick opposed each of the DHJP amendments.

Comments from Stuart Grimley MP:

“With these amendments, the simple fact is that whatever is in the current regulations, policies and legislation, dealing with victim impact statements and restitution is not working.

“These amendments are simple and straightforward and will further strengthen the rights of victims within the judicial process.

“We must remember – victims do not choose to be victims. That decision is made for them by offenders. These amendments give more control back to victims, which is so often cruelly taken away by perpetrators.”

Comments from Tania Maxwell MP:

“Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party works for fair, just and safe communities.

“We’ll now be working hard to find another way for people harmed by crime to request a review when a prosecution is dropped or changed.

“Enduring feedback from victims of crime is that they feel let down and excluded from the justice process. They say we have a legal system, not a justice system, and that this compounds their trauma.

“The Victims’ Charter Act 2006 requires that victims’ views are sought and that they are informed of decision-making. But victims are often informed of these decisions after they are done and dusted and there is no provision for victims to seek any form of review.”

Advancing fair, just outcomes for crime victims

Speech

February 8, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (15:18):

I rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Procedure Disclosure and Other Matters) Bill 2021. I am not going to go through a lot of the bill, as my colleagues Dr Bach, Mr Erdogan and Mr Grimley have already discussed in some length what the bill actually does. However, I will say that the bill amends disclosure obligations as recommended by the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants, provides for victims to give remote evidence for family violence matters in some circumstances and allows for personal safety information orders to be made online. All of these are things that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party gives full support.

The bill provides for a Chief Magistrate to hold a dual commission. The bill also provides the ability to give a sentence indication to an offender in order to encourage more guilty pleas. I know we have a massive backlog in our courts at the moment, and this is designed to speed up that process. Indeed the latest annual report from the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) shows that plea offer advisings almost doubled from 2017 to 2019. I note that it is often suggested that plea-bargaining helps avoid further trauma for victims, which is sometimes the case, but often it is not. Victims often tell me that they want their day in court, they want the opportunity for evidence to be presented. So while the plea-bargaining process and encouraging guilty pleas may provide certainty, it is not always the certainty that victims equate with justice.

This bill makes consequential amendments to the Victims’ Charter Act 2006, and I will be putting an amendment forward to require that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) provides a process for review of certain decisions and to notify a victim of this entitlement. This right to review would include decisions to not charge a person with a criminal offence, to substantially modify charges, to discontinue the prosecution of charges or to accept a plea of guilty to a lesser charge.

Enduring feedback from victims of crime is that they felt let down and excluded from the justice process. They have also conveyed that we have a legal system and not a justice system and that this compounds their trauma. The Victims’ Charter Act requires that victims’ views are sought and that they are informed of decision-making; however, victims are often informed of these decisions after they are done and dusted and there is no provision for victims to seek any form of review.

Recommendation 10 of the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) report The Role of Victims of Crime in the Criminal Trial Process recommended:

The Victims’ Charter Act 2006 (Vic) should be amended to:

(a) establish a right for victims to seek internal review of a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to discontinue a prosecution or to proceed with a guilty plea to lesser charges

(b) require the Director of Public Prosecutions, when informing the victim of these decisions, and the reasons for these decisions, to notify the victim of their right to seek internal review and the procedure for doing so.

The recently released report of the VLRC review into improving justice system responses to sexual offences noted that when Sarah was told the OPP would not be going to trial she was devastated:

I couldn’t believe this could happen after all the reassurances I had … It was like living my worst nightmare … It felt like they humored me by meeting with me but they had already made their decision … I felt betrayed by everyone …

Another victim-survivor said in response to news the charges against her offender had been bundled up for a sentence of a community correction order:

I felt very let down by the OPP.

She said she:

… felt that justice had not been served …

The Victims of Crime Commissioner supports a review system akin to the victims’ right to review schemes that are in place in the United Kingdom and Scotland. These recommendations are so important for victims as they deliver rights to them that they do not have now.

For most victims their case is their one chance. Their whole lives revolve around it. They endure lifelong trauma from the offending against them. The independent victims commissioner for London, Claire Waxman, described the United Kingdom’s right to review scheme as an important check and balance and as empowering for victims. Decisions might be reviewed and determined to be correct, to be reasonable, and this process can give reassurance to victims. Importantly a review of the process in Scotland, where a right to review scheme has been in place since 2015, identified that in 11 per cent of applications the original decision was overturned and proceedings raised. That is one in 10; that is a significant number.

My colleague Stuart Grimley has introduced two other amendments that improve rights for victims, including the requirement for a prosecuting agency to notify victims of their right to make a victim impact statement and the requirement notify to victims of their right to make a compensation or restitution order under the Sentencing Act 1991—more important rights for victims of crime.

I encourage members of the Legislative Council to consider these important recommendations of the VLRC and the victims of crime commissioner and deliver these important rights for victims of crime. I cannot imagine why anyone in this chamber would oppose these amendments that mean so much to victims of crime. I would like to also just insert a quote from our Premier made on social media on 18 February 2020. Mr Andrews said:

Victims should always be supported—no matter what.

Anything less simply isn’t enough.

I would like to ask if we could circulate my amendments.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party amendments circulated by Ms MAXWELL pursuant to standing orders.

Ms MAXWELL:

I would just like to give a little bit of a briefing and background in relation to these amendments. My amendment inserts a new requirement for the DPP to seek the views of victims before making a decision to agree to or oppose a sentence indication and requires the DPP to give a victim information about the matters taken into account in making a decision to oppose a sentence indication. The VLRC review of victims’ experiences in the criminal trial process found that victims who are dissatisfied with a decision by the DPP to discontinue a matter or proceed with a guilty plea to lesser charges does not have any right to have the decision reviewed by the DPP, and it recommended a structured process of internal review. The commission considered that decisions cannot be reviewed by any other government entity or the courts and that a structured, transparent process should be established for the internal review of decisions. The victims of crime commissioner supported a system of review. Such systems exist in other jurisdictions, as I stated earlier in my speech.

Broadly, this amendment has a similar purpose, which is to give more rights to victims of crime in the criminal justice process, as does the bill, by requiring the prosecuting agency to advise a victim of crime of their right to an internal review of decisions made relating to plea charges which affect sentencing indications. Victims of crime are the most directly impacted by crimes against the person. A common complaint of victims is that they feel let down and excluded from the justice process, that we have a legal system and not a justice system, as I indicated earlier.

I would like to just quickly give some examples. A person charged with 70 offences against the person linked to family violence has the charges plea-bargained into six consolidated charges. Through the appeals process the sentence is reduced to a community correction order. Victims deserve better than that. A person charged with murder for the death of his partner in an act of family violence has it downgraded to a driving offence. This substantially alters the sentence and parole conditions. The family is of the understanding that the charge may be downgraded through plea-bargaining to a charge of manslaughter but are completely blindsided by the plea-bargain that is ultimately negotiated. This offender receives a longer suspension of his drivers licence than he receives as a sentence of incarceration.

Victims who are dissatisfied with decision-making have no recourse, as I said before, to seek a review of a decision of the DPP. I would ask everyone to please give great consideration to this amendment. The outcome we want is to improve situations for victims of crime, something that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party fights strongly for each and every day. I commend this bill to the house.

Party seeks to cement victim rights in law

Media statement

February 8, 2022

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party will move today to cement new victim rights in the Victims’ Charter Act that were recommended in a 2016 Victorian Law Reform Commission report.

State leader Stuart Grimley (Western Victoria) and Tania Maxwell (Northern Victoria) will propose three amendments to the Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Procedure Disclosure and Other Matters) Bill 2021 that would change the Victims’ Charter Act 2006.

The first of these would require the Office of Public Prosecutions to notify crime victims of their right to make a victim impact statement at an offender’s sentencing.

The second would compel investigatory agencies and the OPP to inform victims of their right to seek compensation or restitution from a convicted offender, and to refer victims to available legal assistance.

The third would enable victims to seek a review of decisions by the Director of Public Prosecutions to discontinue prosecution, or proceed with a guilty plea to a lesser charge for an offender (plea-bargain), and require victims to be notified of this right.

“Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party recognises that the current government has been reforming some aspects of Victoria’s criminal justice law,” Mr Grimley said.

“But the government has left behind some key recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s 2016 report into ‘The role of victims of crime in the criminal trial process’ that would favour victims.

“Almost six years on, it’s time to stop talking about change, make it, and empower victims of crime.

“DHJP has seen time and again where victims are not advised of their right to make a victim impact statement ahead of sentencing. This is usually the only opportunity for them to participate formally in the criminal justice process, and it can be traumatic if they’re denied it.

“We also know that few victims are actually notified of their right to claim compensation for physical and mental injury, theft, property loss, and damage and destruction.

“The current law requires them to make a claim for compensation for mental or physical injuries within 12 months of a guilty verdict, so they need to act quickly. But you can’t act on something you don’t know about.”

Ms Maxwell said the VLRC also recommended establishing a right for victims to challenge a decision by the DPP to drop a prosecution or to plea-bargain.

“The amendment we’re putting forward would require the DPP to inform a victim of the reason for these decisions, the victim’s right to seek an internal review, and the details of how the review process works,” she said.

“A similar scheme operates in Britain where, when challenged, 11 per cent of decisions to discontinue prosecution or plea-bargain charges such as sexual assault were subsequently proved in court.”

The Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Procedure Disclosure and Other Matters) Bill 2021 is scheduled for debate in the Legislative Council on Tuesday, February 8.

Victims’ experience can bring telling reform

Adjournment

December 3, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:18): (1693) My adjournment is to the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence (Hon. Gabrielle Williams MP), and the action I seek is for the minister to meet with a group of victims and victim-survivors of coercive control and family violence regarding the review into coercive control that was discussed in my motion last week.

I was very grateful last sitting week to have three people visit this Parliament as part of their call for a strengthened response within our justice system to the evidence and impacts of coercive control. Each of these individuals was in their own way subjected to horrendous violent offences involving someone in a position of intimate trust. Michelle Skewes’ husband was convicted of nine charges of rape against her during their marriage. Jay was subject to repeated violent attacks throughout her marriage, often in the presence of her children. Lee Little lost her daughter who attempted to leave her relationship in circumstances that were treated as murder until the charges were plea-bargained down to a driving offence.

Having gone back over Hansard from the debate, the government in speaking to my motion indicated that coercive and controlling behaviour can already constitute an offence in Victoria. Hansard shows Ms Terpstra saying all these forms of abuse or control can interact and all form part of coercive control or be singular offences in and of themselves. I think it is important to note that there is not a stand-alone offence of family violence but that charges arise under contravention of a family violence intervention order or some other offence like assault or stalking. With regard to coercive control, it is the experience of many victims I have spoken with that coercive control was given very little consideration in hearings relating to their intervention order applications, nor was it given much consideration when they faced court on charges of physical violence.

So there is a range of things to consider in this review, and I am very grateful for the productive dealings that I have had with the minister’s office to date on these important issues and also very encouraged from the support across the Legislative Council.

The individuals who attended Parliament last week, along with others, have experienced coercive control and are very keen to invite the minister to meet with them and discuss when and how the review will occur. I think this will give a great opportunity to take the next steps with victims and victim-survivors, to include them in these discussions and to empower them in the process. I would also like to say—and unfortunately he has left the chamber—that these victims of crime felt so honoured that (my Northern Victoria colleague) Mr (Mark) Gepp MP actually went out and spoke to them and listened to their stories, and they were extremely appreciative and very grateful for his time.