I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Bail Amendment (Stage Two) Bill 2017.
As we know, this bill is part of a tranche of reforms that are being brought forward by the government to amend our bail laws.
The Coghlan report was released around May last year. I am pleased to say that during the course of their investigations members of the committee came to Shepparton and met with a range of defence lawyers, bail justices and other people — a number of them at my office because I was very keen for our local community to be able to make a contribution to what was an important piece of work, given what was happening. We are not immune to any of the problems that are being discussed and debated in this Parliament around these issues in our Shepparton-Mooroopna district in particular.
The bill itself is making a number of amendments following on from the previous ones. In this particular case this stage 2 bill will amend the Bail Act 1977 to reformulate and clarify how the tests for bail should be applied. It also introduces a system of police remand to enable police to remand an adult accused and then bring them before the court at the earliest possible time. I have had some concerns about that, given that in regional areas there could be some 36 hours possibly before you could bring a person before a court. We can only see how that will play out as time goes on. It will also require a person accused of serious offences, other than a child, Aboriginal person or vulnerable adult who is already on undertakings for indictable offences, to be brought before the court in relation to any bail decisions. It will provide an express power for a court to bail or remand a person appearing on summons, and it will make other minor and technical amendments.
One of the particular clauses that strikes me as being useful is the one where the bill is setting out in considerable detail what a magistrate or indeed someone who is in a position to grant bail must take into consideration. There is now quite a long list. One of the ones that is of some concern to me is the length of time an accused is likely to spend in custody if bail is refused.
That raises a number of issues for me. I recall that back around 2012–13 there were instances where the cells of the Shepparton police station were full all the time. There was great difficulty in getting people before the court in a sufficiently timely fashion. Trials were being delayed because it was not possible to get prisoners relayed from prisons throughout the state to the court on time. There were many things causing delays within the system which were of considerable concern. I believe a number of those concerns still exist today, although my understanding is that at the moment the cells in Shepparton have not had the extent of overcrowding that they may have previously had.
I would like to say something about what has happened over the summer and the political ramifications of it. I have to say I was really disappointed in the response of the federal government, and particularly the Prime Minister, roundly turning on the Victorian government and blaming it for African gang violence in Melbourne. I think this use for political purposes in an election year will not be lost on the people of Victoria. It is just so easy to point the finger. It is really important that the federal government is taken to task, and that applies particularly to its immigration policies.
The fact is that refugees from countries that have often been called failed nations — and a number of them are — have for many years been at war internally and are having really incredibly difficult times. People from those countries are brought to Australia. They have very little in the way of resources and support provided to them. They have observed violence at every level, with the destruction of the basic social fabric in their own countries: young boys were recruited as child soldiers; women and children were abused, mutilated and raped; and many have lived in camps for years. Children and their parents have had no opportunity to live in a peaceful way or in any way that really resembles Australian life. The federal government processes these people as refugees and places them in our communities, but there is little or no thought given to the notion of attaching funding to address the extraordinary dysfunction and trauma that those people have suffered. So here they are.
In relation to the African community that has been the subject of so much media attention, I think we have to face up to the fact that those young people have often been through extraordinary excesses of violence in their own countries and have little understanding of what we might require as an orderly way to live. Similarly, even if they were born here, that was the experience of their parents. So we have to address those sorts of problems at a very early stage.
In the absence of that support from the commonwealth, what are the states to do? Are they to increase penalties, lock more of them up, have even harsher bail requirements? Do they build more prisons? We need to look at what the solutions should be. I visited Parkville youth detention centre in March last year. I had visited it many times before on behalf of what is now Victoria Legal Aid in my early days as a lawyer. I was really struck by the number of young people who were black or Indigenous. I was surprised to learn that of the approximately 200 in detention at the time I visited about half were on remand, so they had not even been dealt with. Some of them were going to be there for up to 12 months before they were dealt with. We should think about the person facing these young people on a bail application knowing that if they refuse bail the young people may well be sitting in Parkville for up to 12 months before they get before a court. I am sure it is a factor that must weigh heavily on the mind of such a person, along with all the other things they have to consider, and which they will of course be considering in great detail when these amendments come in.
We know that the police have expressed great frustration at the way the system is working. They see the process as being like a revolving door — the same people going in, the same people coming out. Offences are committed, people are put on bail, and they continue to commit offences. It must lead them to feel extremely unhappy and anxious about the job they are doing, and we know it does.
I would like to point out that so many offenders in these cases are disadvantaged people. A report to come out shortly from the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office is looking into managing rehabilitation services in youth detention centres. Children and young people in detention are some of the most disadvantaged in the state and their needs are such that 45 per cent are subject to past child protection orders and 19 per cent are subject to a current order. Sixty-three per cent are victims of abuse, trauma and neglect. Trauma experienced by children, we know, can harm their brain development and impair cognitive growth, creating long-term problems. Twenty-four per cent have intellectual impairments, and 30 per cent have mental health issues. They mostly have low educational attainment, aspiration and outcomes. I see that as being absolutely a focus of what this Parliament should be looking at. It is all about early childhood. It is about giving young children and young people the opportunity to avoid those sorts of situations.
One other issue I want to refer to before my time is up relates to the Auditor-General’s report of February 2017, Managing Community Correction Orders. We do have a problem in that there seem to be no consequences very often for young children. Aside from the 200 young people who might be sitting in the Parkville centre at any time, we know that community correction officers are not able to do the work that they need to do. The changes in 2012 triggered an increase in the number of offenders on community correction orders, doubling from 5800 in 2013 to nearly 12 000 in 2016. Those figures are worrying.