I rise to make a contribution on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Parole Reform and Other Matters) Bill 2016, and in doing so I would like to speak firstly about the parole reform in relation to the murder of a police officer.
I think it is really important to note the policy reasons for this bill and for many of our existing laws.
The Supreme Court has indicated in murder trials that the murder of a police officer deserves the harshest sentence, and of course that sentence is life imprisonment. Such an act is considered an attack on the very foundations of our society. Our society takes the view that a safe and functioning society depends upon its police force and that an attack on a police officer is an attack on society itself. It is for this reason that in sentencing in such cases judges take a much harsher approach than in relation to other murders.
To date there have been 159 members of Victoria Police who have been killed in the line of duty. Thirty were murdered. The earliest recorded murder in Victoria was that of Constable Matthew Tomkin, who was shot by an escaped convict in the western area of Melbourne in December 1837. Following the formation of the Victorian police force there were controversial shootings of Sergeant Michael Kennedy and constables Lonigan and Scanlon by the Kelly gang at Stringybark Creek.
While none of these murders is any less significant than any other, any murder in our society really rocks us. When a policeman is murdered, it has an additional impact on our community, especially when those police officers are doing their job. We have a lot of legislation around people in emergency services and other areas who have that added protection and where penalties are greater for those offenders who attack a worker in the course of their duty and while they are undertaking a serious public service or emergency service.
One such crime is the Walsh Street murders, when constables Stephen Tynan and Damian Eyre, a 20-year-old Shepparton man, were gunned down in what police believe was just a random police killing. Investigations showed that Constable Tynan was killed by a shotgun blast as he investigated what appeared to be an abandoned stolen car. While Constable Eyre, who had graduated from the academy just six months earlier, was shot in the back, he began to fight his attacker. He was then shot in the head with his own gun by a second attacker and again in the back in what investigators say was simply an ambush of police.
Four people stood trial for killing those young police officers, and all were acquitted in 1991. In 2011 the Baillieu government revised the double jeopardy laws, allowing a person to be tried twice for the same crime. At that time the then Assistant Commissioner of Police, Graham Ashton, said that reopening the investigation into the Walsh Street murders was a priority. He said there was new evidence about the killings that could warrant a retrial of the four men who had been acquitted a decade earlier. However, it turned out that the trial could not proceed because sufficient evidence had not been found to enable it to take place. That decision was made in February 2013.
In July this year Constable Damian Eyre was posthumously awarded a National Police Service Medal. This award recognises those officers who have met high ethical standards and served their communities but who were unable to do so for the minimum period of 15 years. Damian’s father, Frank Eyre, who is a long-term police officer in Shepparton and a stalwart of the Shepparton community, told ABC at the time that being a policeman was all Damian wanted. He said:
… that’s all he wanted to do. He wasn’t interested in anything else …
He would have made a ripper [policeman].
The cold-blooded killing of these two young men in the line of duty really incensed the community. A 2008 Sydney Morning Herald analysis of the event described it as not an attack on police but on the rule of law. As such a group of businessmen donated $50 000 towards equipment to set up a police task force that especially investigated that murder.
The Walsh Street murders also lead to the formation of the Blue Ribbon Foundation, now led by Bill Noonan, the father of one of the government’s ministers. He has been in that job for a very long time. The Blue Ribbon Foundation raised $125 000 for the Goulburn Valley emergency department, which is now proudly known as the Eyre-Tynan emergency department. It was unveiled in 2007 and is a tribute from our community to our fallen police officer.
The passing of this bill will not only take away the right of parole for a police killer, but it will also drive home a stance that we in Victoria respect our police and the role they play in our community, so I feel compelled to support the bill for this reason. We acknowledge each day that police put their lives on the line to protect our safety. In accepting his son’s National Police Service Medal this year Frank Eyre said:
You’ve got two members of the police force gone to work, and not come home. There’s got to be a reason, and there’s got to be an answer somewhere.
Should anyone ever be jailed for that murder, this legislation will ensure that those killers would never be paroled. I think the community outcry following the death of these young men shows that there is a general consensus for this.
I acknowledge that Angela Taylor’s parents are here today. I particularly talked about the Shepparton policeman, but having Angela’s parents here today is, I think, a reflection of the fact that these situations live on, that the pain for everyone lives on and that probably the word ‘closure’ is never the right word because really you just have to go on. I doubt whether there is ever closure.
I note that a lot of the conversation, certainly in my case, has been about the Walsh Street murders, but the Russell Street bombings also really shook our state. The legislation states that a prisoner will not be eligible for parole unless they are in imminent danger of dying or seriously incapacitated, and as a result the prisoner no longer has the physical ability to do harm to anyone. Stanley Taylor, who was one of the convicted persons in the Russell Street bombings, died in October this year, in custody, at the age of 79. He was seriously ill. Under the law as it stood, perhaps he could have applied for parole.
I will just quote what one of the witnesses in Stanley Taylor’s trial said. Julie Hetzel was a witness for the prosecution. She talked about Taylor’s resentment for the police, and said:
Stan said if he ever found out he had a terminal illness he would load himself up with explosives and walk into Russell Street and blow himself and as many cops as he could to hell …
That is the mentality of the man; that is the mentality of someone who had been in jail for a very long time and who you could not trust to release. That denial of parole, even though Stanley Taylor was ill, is I think very important. It is good to see it now being legislated for. Despite Stanley Taylor fulfilling that exception of being exceptionally ill and therefore maybe getting out, he could probably still have done something like that, so I am very pleased to see this legislation before the house today.
The second part of the bill contains the no body, no parole provisions. I believe there are currently eight prisoners serving custodial sentences in Victoria for murder to which these provisions would relate. It is important that this legislation is passed for a lot of the same reasons I have stated before. So often the remains of victims are not found. Most of us here can only imagine the pain and suffering experienced by those persons connected to a victim when there is an inability to find their remains. At the present time there is no real incentive for a convicted person to disclose that information. Hopefully this legislation will in some way provide some incentive, and may also provide a prisoner with an opportunity for an early release.
We wonder whether Leslie Alfred Camilleri will be prompted to identify the location of the Bega schoolgirl, Prue Bird, who was murdered in 1992 as a 13-year-old. In preparing this speech I read about Lyle Allan, who spoke of his brother Keith who was murdered in 2000. He was a solicitor murdered by three men, and they were sentenced to lengthy jail terms in 2007. However, they will not tell. His brother would like to give him a decent burial. South Australia’s legislation was passed last year, and politicians there were hopeful that that legislation might have persuaded Bradley John Murdoch to reveal the whereabouts of the body of British tourist Peter Falconio.
While I support this legislation, I would like to say just a few things about law and order in this state. Fortunately as an Independent I do not need to enter into the debacle that has been going on all year really — the claiming of being so strong on it, with the others being accused of not being on it. I would just like to say that I do believe our community is concerned and that more police visibility and action is required.