I rise to make a brief contribution on the Judicial Proceedings Reports Amendment Bill 2021. The bill will amend the primary act to provide that the publication prohibition in section 4, which makes it an offence to publish details likely to identify a person as a victim of a sexual assault or sexual offence or even of an alleged offence, ceases upon the death of that person. This means that families of deceased victims and others, including media, will be able to legally publish details that identify the deceased person as a victim of sexual offending.
The bill also creates a new pathway to allow people who are close to a deceased sexual offence victim, such as a family member, to apply for a court order restricting or prohibiting the publication of identifying details about the deceased victim, and this will be known as a victim privacy order. These amendments recognise that there are those in the community who feel very strongly about these issues, and it is important to publicly talk about the sexual offences committed against loved ones, especially when they have died. For some families, sharing their stories can be part of the healing process, it can assist with their ability to grieve and it honours the memory of the loved one who has experienced profound trauma and violence. On the other hand, there are those who consider the protection of the victim’s privacy to be the paramount consideration and that it should be absolute, and these people would totally oppose any publication of the details of their loved one’s offence. So we have got two very strongly held views on these issues.
The bill, which came before this house last November, proceeded with amendments that made it easier for victim-survivors to speak publicly about their experience and control when and how their stories were published by others. However, to deal with the publication and identification of deceased victims remained problematic, and the government was very clear that it needed to do more work and consultation with advocacy groups and families before bringing forward the final amendments which are here today. And in the meantime it proposed that there had to be an application to the court to be able to allow that publication to occur. When I spoke on this bill last November, I acknowledged the fact that this is a very sensitive area and that there are very strongly held views about the issues at play. I paid my respects to all of those who have suffered from the extreme trauma of sexual assault and of course to the families of deceased victims. I know of families in my own electorate who have been devastated by circumstances such as this. I am pleased that this bill has been brought back in circumstances where more consultation has taken place and there has been more consideration of the issues. I specifically asked the Attorney-General when I spoke on this bill last November not to forget our regional areas in that consultation process, and as difficult as it has been with the many lockdowns we have had since last November, I am pleased to say that I am assured that quite broad consultation has taken place. And I know that it has locally in Shepparton and that indeed the Goulburn Valley Centre Against Sexual Assault were engaged along with a number of Aboriginal organisations in the broader community.
We are living in a time where women are standing up for themselves and each other against sexual assault and harassment, and this legislation is really timely. While there will always be divergent views, we are in a time when the public interest calls for openness and accountability, and this bill is one way of providing for it. In my 35 years as a practising family lawyer in the Shepparton region, many of those were as an independent children’s lawyer, and it is fair to say that you never become hardened to the stories of sexual assault that occur not only within the broader community but also within families. Family law was one of the places where that was so often highlighted, along with the Children’s Court in this state, where often some of the most horrendous stories are indeed told. I would like to just say that the Goulburn Valley Centre Against Sexual Assault has been there in Shepparton through all those years of my practising as a lawyer. They are still there, and they provide a remarkable service to the community and to victims. Often they are the hidden people. You do not know who goes through those doors, you do not know what stories are being told—but I do. I know what work they do to counsel and assist and help people through the court processes as they are going on and then to heal as they move onto that next stage. Organisations like this are just so essential, and I am pleased to see that there are now more and more organisations engaged with helping victims work through these really unbelievable times that they do suffer.
There is no doubt that times change. I seem to recall when the Goulburn Valley Centre Against Sexual Assault was first established it was like an amazing thing. Even the name itself seemed like, ‘Gosh, what a thing, to have an organisation like that’, but here we are. We know and we now acknowledge the horrendous behaviour that does occur in society and the terrible crimes that have been committed against women and children. This bill facilitates a way forward for people to help them deal with the issues that they face at that time, and accordingly I commend the bill to the house.