07 June 2018
Mr PESUTTO (Hawthorn) (14:34:22) — I am very pleased to be able to rise today and speak on the 2018–19 budget. As shadow Attorney-General I will focus mainly on justice portfolio issues, but I will also talk about the treatment of my electorate of Hawthorn under this budget and the preceding three budgets of this government.
What I can say about this budget is it is an admission of failure in the justice space. The Premier has a responsibility to keep Victorians safe, but this budget is an admission that he has not done that. In fact this budget proves yet again that along with his soft sentencing policies, his weakening of bail laws, his weakening of police powers and his ignorance of the need to support victims, this government has failed to keep Victorians safe.
What I will go on to argue is that the Liberal-Nationals coalition under the Leader of the Opposition will present a real alternative for the Victorian people at the next election. When we approach the next election we will be offering Victorians a choice. You can have a choice under this government. Under the Premier the choice is a government that will put the rights of offenders first. Under the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal-Nationals what we commit to doing is putting the rights of victims and community safety first.
This budget, when we look at the output initiatives, is an admission that the government is desperate to try and play catch-up on a system it has run down. When you look at all of the indices of how well we are going over the last three and a half years, crime is up — we know that. Burglaries are up by over 60 per cent and assaults, up 31 per cent. The Premier has led a government that has put the rights of perpetrators first. Instead the Liberal-Nationals under the Leader of the Opposition will put your rights first and the rights of community safety and victims first.
If we look at some of the big-ticket items, for example, what it also shows is that the government has a split personality on justice issues. It always has. We know that the Minister for Police and the Attorney-General have often been at war over how to conduct justice policy. We know that. We are seeing it now. For all of the tough talk about how the government was going to crack down on violent offenders who assault first responders like paramedics and police — they were tough two weeks ago — only the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal-Nationals will produce policies that genuinely put paramedics and police officers first.
The Premier is going soft on legislation which he promised to put before this Parliament so that paramedics and police officers could be better protected. I want to say directly to paramedics and police officers: the Liberal-Nationals under the Leader of the Opposition will put you first.
When we look at the output initiatives, the key ones really bear this out. Support for victims: very modest support for victims, only around $10 million or less over the next two years. We know that our justice system under this government has let victims down. They are ignored in the trial process; they are treated sometimes disdainfully by people running trials, and I know that because I speak to many victims. Victims deserve to be put first.
But we need to spend a few moments looking at what the government has done in relation to prosecution services, where it has committed around $22 million over four years; and police prosecutors, where it is promising to spend around $90 million over those four years. Most of that money is back ended, so very little money flows in year one or two of the forward estimates. But why did it get to this stage? It is because the government has not planned. Not only has the government weakened the very system that it is trying to patch up, but it has not planned and is now promising to make a massive investment in prosecutors to try and beef up a system that it let run down.
We are not going to see any change for a long time. Our prosecution service does need to be toughened up. We know there have been very many public cases where victims and their families have been left traumatised by the trial process itself, where they have been ignored, where plea bargains have been done without any consultation with them. We have made a commitment that if we are elected we want to see a much tougher approach in our prosecution services.
We welcome the addition of resources, but those prosecutors and the investigators who support them need to understand that our justice system must put community safety and victims first. I do hope and trust that the new Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), whom we wish all the best, the new chief Crown prosecutor and Crown prosecutors who will be appointed are able to operate within that environment independently. I cannot emphasise enough how important independence is for the DPP and the prosecutors who are there to support her and the Office of Public Prosecutions, which is supposed to support her. I just want to emphasise that independence is very important. I encourage Crown prosecutors and I encourage the DPP and the chief Crown prosecutor to assert their independence and not be guided by any influences that seek in any way to qualify or fetter that very important independence. That is very important.
In terms of police prosecutors, we welcome those, but again it is too little too late. The system has been run down over four years. So in terms of output initiatives in the justice space, it is an admission that the government has not seen growth in volume before our courts, particularly the Magistrates Court, as needing urgent attention. We see that now. When we look at the output initiatives for courts we see an announcement that we welcome but criticise for being far too late: the addition of 18 magistrates, three for the bail and remand court and 15 for more general cases in the criminal division of the Magistrates Court; two extra County Court judges; and a Supreme Court judge. They are obviously necessary given growth in population and the skyrocketing crime rates we have seen over the last two to three years in particular. But what we really need to see with the addition of these resources is that delays are actually reduced in our court system.
The government has completely mismanaged volume in our system to the point where people are on remand for far longer than they should be. People are awaiting trials for far longer than they should be. All of those things can be fixed. They should have been fixed three years ago, and yet the government is coming into this place for this year’s budget saying, ‘Oh, we recognise the problem’. But what I say is that as much as we welcome these resources, they have to result in a reduction in delays in our court system.
We know that many people offend while on bail, and we have seen that. Under this government we have seen figures as high as 25 per cent of secondary bail-related offences in 2016 alone. That is an enormous number of offences sentenced in Victoria that involve people breaching some aspect of their bail. That has to be fixed, and those extra resources have to produce results.
So the government talks a big game, but we will actually need to see some results on all of that. Not only do we need to see reductions in delays; we need to see an improved performance in the system, and that is what the government has completely mismanaged.
When we look at crimes against the person, we even see in this year’s performance statement, in chapter 2 of budget paper 3, that the government will again fail to meet its target for crimes against the person per 100 000 population. It will do that. Perceptions of safety — the perception of the proportion of people satisfied with policing services — is down this year. In terms of those performance measures the government is failing, but it is also failing because when we look at other performance measures, and in particular the rate of return to prison within two years of discharge, that number is still higher than it was when the previous coalition government left office. Forty-two per cent of people leaving jail are reoffending within two years of being let out. We know that people on community correction orders and non-custodial orders are reoffending at much higher rates.
Nobody should be fooled by the change in accounting rules which has produced a reduction in the nominal figure on page 276 of budget paper 3 from 33 per cent to 16.1 per cent. The figure remains high. We know that anecdotally and also when we measure against past accounting rules. What I would say to the government is it is being very cute because it has maintained the figures for earlier years and only adopted the new accounting rules, which produce a convenient reduction in the nominal figure, for the current year and next year. They all need to be measured against the same accounting standards. It is a matter of great concern that for non-custodial offenders reoffending rates are going up and remain very high. We also know that for the completion of reparation orders and for the completion of supervised court orders the numbers of people breaching them are increasing. So on all performance measures the government is failing and failing badly.
This budget simply builds on three earlier failed budgets against a government that weakened sentencing, weakened bail and weakened police powers. So what will we do? I want to say and make it very clear today that a Liberal-Nationals government under the Leader of the Opposition will fix our justice system. We will toughen sentencing. We will make sure that sentences fit the crime, particularly for those who are most violent. We will introduce mandatory minimum sentencing for our worst offenders, and we will make sure that concurrent sentencing is scaled back so that people serve time for every crime that they commit. We will also make sure that drug dealers whose trafficking results in mass casualty events face the full force of the law.
In bail we will overhaul the system so it is not just a change in the law but a change in the culture. We are going to make sure that there is a real and genuine presumption of remand for our most violent people. We are going to make sure that we have a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy. If you breach your bail, you will not get it again. We will make sure that juveniles who breach the conditions of their bail will be committing an offence, unless they have got a good reason for not complying with their bail.
We will make sure that victims are treated well in our justice system for the first time. Under this government they have been ignored. We will make sure that victim impact statements can be a real testament for victims to express their anguish and grief over the crimes their loved ones or they themselves have felt. We will make sure that prosecutors and investigators properly consult with victims, and we will make sure that victims are able to adequately access compensation from those who cause such harm.
When it comes to police we will make sure that police are given powers, whether it is for violent protesters, who this government, under this Premier, has given a green light to, or whether it is for gangs. This government weakened anti-consorting laws, and we will put you first. We will make sure that those laws are toughened up, and we will make sure that police are properly resourced. We will also make sure that there is better respect in our courts so that those who appear before our judges and magistrates show respect. That is the justice system you deserve, that is the justice system you pay for and that is the justice system that the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal-Nationals will deliver for you if we are elected later this year.
In the minutes I have got left, I will talk about my own electorate of Hawthorn. My electorate over the last four budgets has received only $3.5 million for a school that we promised $11 million for. Not one new dollar has been allocated to my electorate of Hawthorn. Hawthorn West Primary School is in desperate need of refurbishment. Auburn High School has leaking roofs. Its buildings are falling apart, and it has got nothing. I say to the people of my electorate that the Andrews Labor government has let you down. I will be fighting for you and making sure that in future budgets you will get the support you need. Those schools that are being run down while other electorates get tens of millions of dollars deserve better than that, and we will deliver that.
I can also talk about sporting clubs and community groups that have received nothing. I could have had more time to talk about my electorate.
Honourable members interjecting.
Mr PESUTTO — I do not begrudge the schools in marginal Labor seats that get so much money. I do not begrudge that, but why do my schools get punished? Why do the people I represent get punished? They deserve support too, and the kids who go to those schools deserve to be supported as well, yet this government has completely betrayed them. We have got schools where — you have to understand — principals are trying to build enrolments. How do they build enrolments in their schools when their buildings are being run down, when taps do not work or when there are massive and growing cracks in buildings?
As I said, Acting Speaker Williams, I do not mind that your colleagues on your side of the house have schools that are properly funded — more power to you — but why does that mean that our schools have to suffer? Why are we discriminated against, simply because we represent them? Remember, your supporters go to these schools too. For my schools, my community and the leaders who are trying to do everything they can to support their own communities to receive nothing — absolutely nothing — apart from one small allocation to a school, which was welcome but far short of the $11 million I promised that school going in to the 2014 election, is a disgrace. So I say to the people of my electorate: you deserve better, and you will get better under us.