December 22, 2011  |  Second Reading

Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Amendment Bill 2011

I am pleased to make a contribution to the debate on the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Amendment Bill 2011. I note that the Labor Party does not oppose the bill. In the first instance I want to touch on a report called Stopping the Cycle of Family Violence, which was commissioned by the member for Keilor and produced in August 2011. The report touches on a number of issues that relate to violence in the community and offences against the person, but I will particularly draw parallels with the legislation before the house. The report picks up on issues relating to sexual assault and other sexual offences, many of which, according to a range of studies, are committed within a family environment and within the home. Some of the work done for the member for Keilor’s report in relation to those matters makes for interesting reading.

It is disappointing that many issues in our community are often not discussed, debated or talked about in detail in terms of how they can be addressed, and that relates to the community’s concern about how to deal with serious sex offenders. A range of legislative improvements and changes were made by the previous government and are now being proposed by the current government, and these changes give us an opportunity to build on what has been done previously and give the community confidence that legislators and elected representatives are dealing with the matter of serious sex offenders. Research for the report was done in Keilor, and the report notes that issues for sexual assault victims and demands on counselling services are particularly significant. That goes back to the family environment, in which, unfortunately and sadly, many sexual offences are committed, and figures and statistics from our judicial system show that to be the case.

The bill that the government has put forward in the house picks up on some legislation that was initiated by the Labor government to try to address these matters and give the community greater confidence about how our authorities are dealing with monitoring serious sex offenders, particularly those who have completed their custodial sentences, and more broadly how we are going to deal with them in the community. In particular I will touch on some previous work that this legislation seeks to build on, one of which is the Serious Sex Offenders Monitoring Act 2005 under which, going back to 2008, the Secretary of the Department of Justice was able to apply to the County Court or Supreme Court for an extended supervision order when a sex offender was considered to be a serious risk to the community.

The Liberal Party supported that legislation at the time.

In particular the legislation was about moving towards dealing with electronic monitoring of and curfews on people after they had served custodial sentences for serious sexual offences. These extended supervision orders were to:

… apply to those who have committed sex crimes against adults and will have the power to confine offenders to a specific area or residence and/or prevent them from moving house or travelling interstate.

That was reported in the Age under the headline ‘New powers to monitor sex offenders’. These are the sorts of particular concerns that have probably driven public policy in these areas for some time.

I note that earlier than that the previous Labor government looked at further legislation to clarify how the authorities were able to house and deal with child sex offenders within the walls of prisons.

Those new laws that applied to offenders made them subject to extended supervision orders, which allowed for the post-sentence supervision of certain high-risk sex offenders. This goes back to some of the early work that has been done in this area. The Serious Sex Offenders Monitoring Act 2005 gave the Adult Parole Board of Victoria the power to place limits on where these people could live and work and the power to prohibit them from having contact with children. Some of the amendments at that time looked at how the adult parole board was then able to direct an offender to reside at a place that is located on prison property, whether inside or outside the prison wall, but does not form part of the prison.

Some of the changes that have been put forward in the current legislation require the government to outline to the house how it is going to further monitor and invest in implementing this legislation when it passes through the house.

We need to hear from the government about how it intends to deliver on promises around GPS monitoring of these groups of offenders. We are waiting to hear how those aspects, which were election commitments from the government, will be dealt with in this legislation. This has been a gradual process and has given the community confidence that legislators are seriously dealing with these issues and not just providing glib comments.

I note that in the past we have seen improvements and changes that have led to the adult parole board being able to set further conditions on offenders and these include restricting where the offender may reside and the type of employment an offender may engage in. The legislation prohibits an offender from having contact with children and also imposes curfews. We have talked a bit about how this legislation also looks to adapt, strengthen and monitor some of those aspects.

There is also a requirement that an offender subject himself to electronic monitoring, and we would like to hear more from the government on how it is going to roll out that program. I am aware that there has already been some debate on the bill with regard to pilot projects that are currently operating through the Department of Justice. It will be interesting to hear from government members speaking on this bill as to whether they can provide any information as to how those monitoring projects are rolling out, what the results have been and when they will be able to report on those.

In relation to the greater rollout of those programs that is the sort of reporting mechanism and detail that the community would like to have some confidence about. They would like to be able to see that GPS systems, bracelets and other electronic monitoring devices for sex offenders are going to be made available, because if they were made available, we would then be able to more closely monitor whether people had been abiding by those requirements, those curfews and those other sanctions that will be in place to monitor serious sex offenders and also to assess whether those sort of GPS systems are being adequately applied. Those are the sorts of aspects it would be useful to hear more about from the government, and I look forward to their further contributions to debate on the bill in relation to those matters.

I will also touch on a couple of other aspects of concern to us in relation to the detention legislation and supervision orders, which can be granted with the court’s leave, on the application of an offender or the Secretary of the Department of Justice, who is the applicant for such orders, or at any other juncture the court so orders. However, I note that in the second-reading speech, the minister outlined that the act provided for the court making a supervision order to be also responsible for controlling the conditions of the order. We are led to believe this will ensure that to the extent that an offender’s rights are limited by supervision order conditions, these are subject to the control and supervision of courts and the attendant court processes which afford offenders natural justice.

It is important that we make sure that we are able to communicate to local communities where these offenders will be located and how we will monitor the sanctions that are going to apply after their time in incarceration.

It is important to make sure that the community has confidence that those aspects around electronic monitoring that have been committed to by the government are delivered and that they will form the further packages that this government will outline in relation to the legislation. The legislation builds on some very strong foundations established in these areas by the previous Bracks and Brumby governments, which responded with investment, including in Corella Place in Ararat and in developing places where we have been able to house and monitor serious sex offenders.

This government has talked about what it is going to do in relation to serious sex offenders, and it needs to demonstrate on the ground where it is going to invest in electronic devices, who they are going to apply to, how the impact will be assessed and where that information will be reported to give the community confidence that these matters are being given more than just lip-service by the Liberal government.

Beyond those comments, we look forward to hearing further from the government on those matters, and I commend the bill to the house.