Open Courts and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2018

Open Courts and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2018

Second reading

19 September 2018

Mr PESUTTO (Hawthorn) (12:36:09) — I am pleased to be able to rise this afternoon to speak on the Open Courts and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2018. It is a bill that, as the house has been advised by the lead speaker on behalf of the opposition parties, we will not oppose and are happy to support. We wish the bill had gone further to entrench more effectively the principle of open justice, but as far as it goes it is something we are quite prepared to support. I should say at the outset that I do look at the scheduling of this bill for the second-last sitting day of this house in this term and wonder why this bill was not brought in with greater urgency many months ago when it could and should have been addressed.

The level of suppression orders in Victoria has been a matter of increasing concern for some years now. In fact it is why the Open Courts Act 2013 was brought in by the previous coalition government, with the bill led by the then Attorney-General, the honourable member for Box Hill. As he said at the time, the intention of the bill, among other things, was to improve public scrutiny of what goes on in our courts as a factor that promotes open justice. But it is something to be lamented that Victoria has led the way in the number of suppression orders ever since. It is hard to understand why that is the case. The bill and the supporting materials to that bill in 2013 which culminated in the Open Courts Act were very clear about what was intended. Suppression orders were not to be used to this extent. It was never contemplated that they would become so normalised in the system. I speak to many practitioners, victims and parties to matters before the courts who cannot understand why matters are subject to suppression orders.

There are of course very good reasons why suppression orders are used. There are times when you have to protect the identity of victims or parties to proceedings that might be at risk of serious harm if you do not suppress matters before the courts. But I have to confess, from what I have been told by many practitioners across the system, that I do wonder whether suppression orders are being granted more to shield court processes from property scrutiny than to serve those purposes, which we would all agree lie at the heart of suppression orders when they are genuinely needed.

It has become so bad that in 2017, as I understand it, Victorian courts issued 450 suppression orders in that year. The next highest jurisdiction was South Australia, and South Australia only issued 117 suppression orders. That is a massive disparity between Victoria and other jurisdictions.

It ought to tell us that there is a problem — a problem that has been exacerbated by the advent in the last two to three years under this government of high-harm crimes that the Victorian people are not readily familiar with, particularly violent youth crime, gang crime, carjackings and home invasions, which members on this side have tried repeatedly to raise in this house on behalf of many Victorians who have been affected directly by these high-harm crimes but also the many thousands, indeed millions, of Victorians who are affected indirectly.

We encounter many occasions when the identities of very violent offenders and the offences for which either they have previously been found guilty, whether on conviction or otherwise, or they are facing serious charges are matters that are denied to the Victorian public. We think that is wrong as a general principle. As a general principle the system should be open and transparent, and it may well be that a member of the bench may feel that the list of charges or previous convictions in the case, say, of a repeat violent juvenile or adult offender should be concealed from the Victorian people for fear that it might damage the longer term prospects of that person’s possible rehabilitation. I do not think that is good enough. I think the Victorian people deserve to know, particularly when such grave matters are before the courts.

So this having been a problem for a while, the government did commission the very respected jurist and former Court of Appeal judge, the Honourable Frank Vincent, to conduct a review in late 2016. He produced his report, and the government sat on it. The government sat on it for many, many months. He made a number of very sound recommendations in that report which will go a great deal of the way towards remedying the current problems that we face, and yet the government sat on it — sat on it to the point where here we are on the second last day of this parliamentary term addressing this bill. The sad thing is that it will not pass. It will pass this house, but it will not pass the Parliament.

It is a bill we support. It is like the emergency workers bill, a bill that the government promised back in May to introduce with some urgency. I remember the Premier, one or more of his ministers flanking his side, in the presence of highly respected paramedics, police officers and other first responders saying that he was going to fix the problem. Whilst we might not have agreed on how far the government’s bill was likely to go, we were always going to support anything which toughened up the law, and yet that bill is only now being addressed in the upper house. I think we are expecting it back in this house momentarily. So why did the government sit on this bill for so long? It is because the government cannot manage and has not been able to manage its legislative program.

It has botched its legislative program, and it does not really have a strategy or a plan for dealing with issues in justice — whether it is sentencing reforms, which took them over two years to bring before this house; whether it is trying to walk back the changes the government made to bail initially; or whether it is walking back the changes to anti-consorting laws, which it completely botched in 2015, or the move-on laws, which it had to address but, in order to save face, did so through the Control of Weapons Act 1990 as if that would conceal the humiliation of having to walk back changes it made in 2015. It completely messed up the program. So here we are with a bill that is not going to pass this Parliament. It needs to be done, and if we are elected in November, we will certainly deal with this and we will deal with it with alacrity, because we understand how urgent it is.

We end this term of the Parliament with the Victorian people seriously doubting the credibility of this government and the ability of this government to manage justice issues. Whether the government would like to concede it or not, justice is a mess under this government — an absolute mess under this government. I have already mentioned that they fluffed anti-consorting laws, they fluffed move-on laws and they fluffed, completely, bail laws. Sentencing has taken forever for them to address, and even the measures they brought in run the risk that they will not lead to the change that is needed.

I say to everybody who will read about this debate and is following it online that this government cannot be trusted for another four years to oversee our justice system. The Premier and his faltering government should not be trusted with another four years. And to those watching, to those who will read about this debate, I urge you to consider this: let this government go; do not give this government another four years.

Look at what this government, under this bumbling Premier, did in just four long years. Look at the damage it wrought on our justice system. Look at the lowest level of public confidence in the justice system that our state has ever seen, and ask yourself: are you Victorians safer today than you were four years ago? Do you think our justice system under the Premier is being managed better today than it was four years ago? Do you think bail is better than it was four years ago? No, it is not. Is sentencing tougher? No. Do police have the powers they had four years ago? No, they do not have the powers they had four years ago. This government has messed up justice. This government does not deserve another four years after four long years of chaos, of indecision and of rampant ideology that has led to Victorian communities being exposed to violence and harm. Vote for a change. Vote for the Liberal-Nationals.

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