Speeches | February 06, 2018

Justice Legislation Amendment (Victims) Bill 2017

Victorian Parliament - 6 February 2018 - Ms KEALY — It is a great privilege to rise today to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Victims) Bill 2017. Again in this place we are speaking of important changes to legislation, particularly looking at how we can improve the legislative framework to protect younger people who are victims of sexual abuse.

It is always difficult to talk about the instances that lead to the need to change legislation, and at this point I would like to acknowledge the parliamentarians who were part of the Betrayal of Trust inquiry, which took place in the last Liberal and Nationals government and led to so many recommendations which will improve the legislative framework and security for our younger people, particularly around child abuse and particularly within institutions.

I would like to acknowledge the good work of my parliamentary colleagues Georgie Crozier in the other place, former Nationals representative for Western Victoria Region David O’Brien and the member for Ferntree Gully, who was in the chamber only a couple of minutes ago — he is coming back to speak on this bill, I understand. I have spoken extensively to these MPs about the harrowing stories they heard during the Betrayal of Trust inquiry. It is certainly shocking, I think, at any level to think that this type of abuse has been happening within Victoria, within our communities, but we know that it has been happening. Unfortunately it will continue to occur, but through legislation such as this we hope that there will be a tighter framework and that there will be sufficient safeguards to ensure that we pick it up quickly if it does occur but mostly to ensure that it does not occur and that young people’s lives are not permanently destroyed through the actions of older people, sometimes in positions of authority, who prey on some of the most vulnerable people within our community.

I also would like to acknowledge the Victorian Law Reform Commission and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse for their extensive work to provide recommendations which will provide a safer Victoria for younger people and ensure that they are not sexually abused.

This bill will amend the Crimes Act 1958 in relation to sexual offences and the destruction of fingerprints and DNA samples from children. It also amends the Sentencing Act 1991 in relation to child sexual offences, the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 to provide ground rules hearings and to provide for intermediaries and the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 to remove the two‑year limitation period for childhood victims of sexual and violent offences to make an application.

There are very strong provisions in this bill, but we also have some concerns around the wording of the clauses, which could be interpreted as being too loose and may require a stronger position or definition to ensure that we can efficiently protect younger people who have been sexually abused. We also would like some elements in the legislation to go further, and I would like to take the opportunity to go into detail around that.

The main area of concern with this legislation is within clause 4, which is in relation to determining the effect of intoxication on reasonable belief, specifically in relation to the medicinal cannabis legislation which was taken through Parliament last year. We want to make sure that there is absolutely no leeway and ability for people to falsely use as a defence that they have self‑induced intoxication due to the use of medicinal cannabis. I think we need to make sure that this is really, really tight, because we will have a number of people who we assume will be able to access medicinal cannabis in the state of Victoria in the near future.

There is not a clear link that would put prescribed medicinal cannabis in the same line as other pharmaceutically prescribed drugs. For example, there is no requirement for an individual to have proved that they have taken an authorised medicine — being medicinal cannabis — in accordance with the pharmaceutical recommendations; for example, that they took the correct dose in the correct regime, which therefore would show that they are within a recommended level of influence of cannabis. That needs to be tightened up because I would hate to think that we have somebody who has been accused of and charged with a sexual offence who then can use self‑induced intoxication of medicinal cannabis to get out of that charge or to perhaps reduce their sentence if they are found guilty.

This is a very important element of the bill. It is important that we do get this right because if somebody did, for example, use this defence which resulted in them not being charged, that obviously would be a devastating result for the victim in that instance.

We do strongly support elements of this bill. Obviously looking at the stories of victims in some instances, we do find that victims do want to keep their confidentiality and privacy, and for their name not to be in the public arena. However, in some instances, victims want to be able to tell their story in a step towards their own wellness and to help ensure that other people who are in a similar situation may see the signs and have confidence to be able to follow a pathway that would break that. This is in relation to, as I said, clause 24, which will allow adult victims or alleged victims of crimes committed to children to share their stories and remove the current restriction on the publication of a report likely to identify a victim. Restrictions on identifying details of accused children will be maintained. This is quite reasonable and fair.

I also strongly support clause 33, which prohibits the court when sentencing an offender to carnal historical child sexual offences from having regard to previous good character or lack of previous convictions. Somebody who preys on children for their sexual gratification cannot possibly say that they are a good person and have been a good person in the community. It is the lowest of the low acts to think that, for your own sexual pleasure, you are willing to put at risk a young person’s future. We know sexual assault of young people can create enormous psychological trauma that they sometimes will carry throughout their life and limits their ability to live their life. I cannot by any means at all think that anybody should be judged to have good character just because they have never committed an offence or have never been caught committing a child sexual offence before. I strongly support clause 33.

In relation to clause 37, I do support clause 37 in relation to victims of physical or sexual abuse occurring when the victim was under the age of 18 years and that they may make an application to the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 at any time after the occurrence of the act of violence, thereby removing the two‑year limitation period. We know that so many times we have heard the story that somebody was not willing to come forward or had blocked out the memories of child sexual abuse until later years. I think it is quite reasonable that that two‑year limitation period be removed, as was clearly outlined by the member for Hawthorn, who made an earlier contribution and quite articulately outlined the Liberal and Nationals’ position.

This does not go as far as we would like. However, it is pleasing that there has been some step towards removing that limitation and making it fairer for younger people and people who have been sexually abused to access victims of crime assistance. In summary, we do support elements of the bill and we are taking a not‑opposed position because we would like the government to take the opportunity to listen to our feedback and tighten up some of those key elements of the bill to ensure that younger people are better protected from sexual assault and violence into the future.


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