Sentencing Amendment

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is a pleasure to rise to speak on the Sentencing Amendment (Baseline Sentences) Bill 2014. The bill is very important because it changes our sentencing regime to reflect community sentiment. On many occasions we have heard from members of the Victorian community that they are outraged by a sentence that has been given where there has been an expectation but the reality has been quite different.

Even before coming into the Parliament I can recall a number of rallies on the steps of Parliament House where people were supporting these sorts of changes. We have seen it reflected on talkback radio and on the news. We have seen it from individuals and, most importantly, from victims of crime who have advocated very strongly for something to be done. The Attorney‑General has been very diligent in ensuring that our law reforms reflect a tough‑on‑crime attitude, which has been called for by Victorians. This bill demonstrates the importance of these measures.

The bill provides for baseline sentences for six serious crimes so as to require the courts to increase the length of sentences imposed for those offences. It amends the Sentencing Act 1991, the Crimes Act 1958 and the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 to establish baseline sentences for these offences. For murder the baseline sentence is 25 years; for incest with one’s or one’s de facto spouse’s child under the age of 18 years it is 10 years; for sexual penetration of a child under the age of 12 years it is 10 years; for persistent sexual abuse of a child under the age of 16 it is 10 years; for culpable driving causing death it is 9 years; and for trafficking a large commercial quantity of drugs it is 14 years.

Let us get this clear, because there has been a peddling of stories around the way baseline sentencing works. We are not taking powers away from judges, but we are saying that when it comes to something like the sexual penetration of a child under 12 years of age, where the maximum penalty is 25 years, families would advocate for the maximum penalty to be applied. In fact what has happened over the years is that the indicative median of sentencing for that crime — the average — has been 3.5 years. It has not been 20 years but 3.5 years, and I would suggest that families who have been involved in such situations, where a child in their family has been a victim of sexual abuse, where the offender has been proved guilty and where they would be expecting a maximum penalty of 25 years, or maybe 20 years, would be horrified to think that a judge would hand out a sentence of 3.5 years. It is absolutely appalling.

The bill requires a median or baseline sentence in that case of 10 years. That does not mean it would be 10 years in every instance, but on average it would be 10 years. In a most horrific case an offender might get 25 years, or they might get less than that, depending on the extent of the crime. I know that many judges, some of whom were appointed by a former Attorney‑General, are horrified and are jumping up and down about this change, but this is what the community wants and has advocated for, and it is what the government is doing. We are getting on with business, and we are ensuring that we deliver this important reform.

I will give an example. In 2009 a 19‑year‑old dared his younger mate $10 to bash a Chinese student. The panicked student ran into the path of a car and was fatally injured. Aaron Toal pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The judge said his behaviour was disgraceful and cowardly but did not send him to jail. He placed him under a community service order. That cruel and ironic situation meant that the person who was found guilty just got a slap on the wrist and was able to continue his schooling and get on with his life. Unfortunately the victim died as a result of what had happened.

There was another situation where a son nearly died from being king‑hit while waiting for a taxi after a barbecue on grand final day last year. There are people who have advocated very strongly against these situations where young people have been killed as a result of violent actions and the perpetrators have in the end received a minimum sentence — that is, no sentence, a reprimand, a slap on the wrist.

Paul McMurray was one of the individuals who stood up. His son, Richard, was violently bashed, and he will have those memories forever. He set up a group to advocate strongly for changes in terms of violence against violence. It was one of the groups that I said earlier had been on the steps of Parliament House advocating strongly for government to do something about violence. That is what we in this government are doing. We are ensuring that there is fair sentencing. We are ensuring that clear sentences are in step with community expectations. Most importantly, we are sending a very clear message that if you commit the crime, you do the time. There are no excuses. There will be no situations where people will read about these sorts of things in the paper and say, ‘Here’s another one who’s got off — it’s excusable to do this’. We need to ensure that we send a message to the community that this is not acceptable and that we will ensure that you will be punished if you do something wrong.

As I have already said, this is not something that government members have dreamt up. We went to the election in 2010 with this policy of setting baseline sentences. Sentencing reform was part of our broader law and order policy. We wanted to make sure that people felt safe walking the streets and getting on with their lives. We have ensured that it is not the victim who will end up being punished and the worse for wear. We have turned it around and said that we will punish those who offend. This is very important. We need to dispel the sorts of carry‑on that has been out there about baseline sentencing. I was speaking to someone from the legal fraternity only last week about this, and even he was misinformed about this situation. He had thought everything would revert to the minimum sentence and that there would be no flexibility in this proposal. That is not what this bill is about. It is about lifting the average and ensuring that the average reflects community sentiment.

Lots of work has been done on this. The Herald Sun, 3AW and a number of other media organisations have run surveys to allow members of the public to give their opinions about what they want. We are here as elected representatives to reflect the needs of society and do what society wants us to be doing. That is why we are implementing this very important reform, which is long overdue. It will change the way we do things in this state. This government is saying that if you have done something wrong, you must front up, take responsibility and ultimately take what is dished out to you. That is what we are doing. I commend the bill to the house.

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