I rise to make a contribution on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Bill 2020. This legislation is making changes to a number of acts of Parliament. It introduces measures to include reforms to further the rights of victims and their ability to speak of their experiences. It really strengthens victims of crime legislation as well. In addition to this, it amends the Defamation Act 2005 and the Limitation of Actions Act 1958 in relation to the implementation of the model national code. There are amendments to the Corrections Act 1986, the Forest Acts 1958 and various workplace legislation. A significant part of the bill does go to the issue of supporting victims of crime. More particularly it relates to those victims of sexual assault crimes and their ability to tell of their experiences should they wish to do so.
We have been told by the Attorney-General in her second-reading speech that the government heard from many victim-survivors and their advocates as well as other stakeholders. This is a particularly sensitive area and difficult for many to speak of. There are many victim-survivors who are adamant that they want to speak of their experiences, and similarly there are others who fiercely want to protect their right to privacy. Sexual assault victims have suffered extreme trauma, and so often they are haunted by the experiences that come with them for the rest of their lives. I pay my respects to all of those who have suffered in this way and acknowledge their right to speak. It is an important part of their journey, but it also contributes to society’s better understanding of what is so often gender-based violent crime.
I am advised that further work will be conducted in terms of wider consultations in the months ahead, recognising that this can be such a complex area to legislate in. There are many differing views, and we have heard a lot of those this week. I think it is really important that we take into account the range of views, and I understand that the government is going to move on with even further consultation because it is so important that we get this right. I would say to the Attorney-General: in doing this please remember our regional areas. We too have all these issues. We have a centre against sexual assault in Shepparton which does important work along with our courts, lawyers, legal aid—all these organisations often work with and are very close to victims of crime as they go through their processes.
I have noted the reasoned amendment and the house amendments put forward by the member for Caulfield, and I will not be supporting those. I think it is important that we get on with it, even though there is more to be done. While this process perhaps could have been better managed—it seems to have hit some hurdles this week and caused some upset and controversy generally in the community—I do trust that moving forward we can come to a solution that will give people some better ways of resolving these issues.
One of the complaints I have heard just on radio is that the need to go to court can be prohibitive in terms of the costs of lawyering up, in a sense. I do think that this is an area where a victim’s right to go to court should be publicly funded. Now, we do have legal aid and we do have victims of crime services. If that is not the case, I think it is one area where this is not a case of means-testing people. It is a case of people who have suffered greatly who are going to have to go through the trauma and who need support and assistance—and often legal assistance—to do that. I think we should look hard at providing a fund to enable that to happen as part of any further amendments going forward.
I want to make a few comments in relation to the Forests Act 1958. This current bill will enable the secretary to enter into agreements with Fire Rescue Victoria relating to land which falls within the zones that the fire services will manage. Risks of bushfires remain with us and will always be us. The devastating bushfires of the last Christmas period are still really fresh in our memories even though they have been overtaken by so many other things during the course of the year. I want to raise concerns about areas between Shepparton and Mooroopna that are currently at high fire risk. We have had a wonderful season in terms of rainfall across northern Victoria in many parts. We have got fabulous crops growing. The fruit season is looking promising despite the fact that we are struggling to find the workers we will need to pick those crops. But there are many areas—roadsides, public lands, even private properties—that have incredibly tall grass that is currently drying off. It will not be long until we have over 40-degree days in our region, and it will be too late then to do anything about removing, slashing, doing safe burning—these sorts of things.
Now, in between Shepparton and Mooroopna we have part of the Lower Goulburn National Park. It is forest land. I walk there with my dogs on a very regular basis—and very carefully these days because of the risk of snakes. But I have observed for myself and just last year took a trip with some of our CFA officers to observe what was happening there. The tracks need to be looked at—they need to be in a good state of repair so that fire trucks can get in—but more importantly there is a window now to do something about clearing away tall grass.
There are huge areas of young saplings that should not be there anyway, because they impede the natural side of the forest, so there is work that needs to be done, and I would ask the government to, in considering this, put in their minds future works that are needed near regional areas. We only have to see what happened in California—town after town after town burnt to the ground—and even here in Victoria and New South Wales with towns and many houses in towns decimated. We are having fires like never before, and we need to be prepared for them. Along the Goulburn River there are houses and suburbs effectively just on the other side of the river where there is very overgrown forest. Gemmill Swamp backs onto—about from here to that wall, say 50 metres—a whole row of houses. It would just go up like a bomb. It is so overgrown and so in need of some form of forest management.
We have just seen the release yesterday of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements. The report was presented to the Governor-General just yesterday. It is otherwise known as the bushfires royal commission—the one conducted by the federal government. I do hope we will see the results of that soon, because one of the big issues where there is contention is about this issue of slow burning, whether it be Indigenous burns or by forest or fire services. There needs to be clarity about that. We do not need to just continue to have arguments about it and do nothing. There needs to be a resolution.
Another issue I would just like to mention is that at the moment the Shepparton police station is completely being rebuilt. It has relocated; it is a new fire station. Shepparton’s is one of the few stations that has had an integrated capacity between CFA and Fire Services Victoria, and they will soon be moving into the new fire station. But people have contacted me about the fact that it was intended always that the CFA volunteers would have a four-berth shed built on that same property where the new fire station is currently being built. This has not happened. It is getting near completion, and I am hearing from members of our community who have shown a lot of good faith in coming together to give us an integrated fire service that they are worried it will not happen. And so I raise that just as something that does need to be looked at. Somewhere in head office someone is not paying attention. It needs to be attended to, and I would ask that the goodwill of people who have come together in the Shepparton region to provide our fire services is taken into account. Issues of trust are very important, and I regard that as being a very important issue in our community as well. So on that note I would say that I support the bill.