Media Releases

03
Sep
2014

SENTENCING AMENDMENT (COWARD’S PUNCH MANSLAUGHTER AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2014

It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Sentencing Amendment (Coward’s Punch Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill 2014. This bill defines certain acts as dangerous for the purposes of the law relating to manslaughter and will amend the Sentencing Act 1991 to provide statutory minimum non‑parole periods of 10 years for manslaughter committed in certain circumstances.

It was just over 10 years ago that we had a situation on our streets that many will remember. David Hookes had gone out to celebrate with a drink after a successful season. On his way out of a venue he was hit. He then hit the ground with his head, and his life was over. The repercussions of that incident were of course devastating for his family. His estranged wife Robyn and other family members and friends all have to live with that very unfortunate situation.

Since then we have looked at ways to have the laws in place to ensure that those who inflict this sort of damage are targeted and given the correct punishment. This legislation is before the house to ensure that we have very strong one‑punch laws. We have had many examples recalled in this house tonight of situations in which people have been hit, in many instances because the person throwing the punch had partaken of liquor or other substances. That person felt bullet‑proof, punched somebody and that punch lead to an unforeseen death. What we are doing here is sending a very clear signal, particularly to our young people as a part of an education process, that it is absolutely not acceptable to be promoting any sort of violence.

Many people have been affected by this sort of behaviour. An organisation called STOP. One Punch Can Kill has been advocating very strongly for this minimum 10‑year sentence. Its website lists some one‑punch examples, such as a 16‑year‑old who received a good behaviour bond with no conviction after killing somebody. The killer of 17‑year‑old Cameron Lowe received a six‑year sentence, but the Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to three years in the youth justice system. Another killer, 18 years of age, received four years, which is now being appealed in New South Wales. Another killer, this time of a 30‑year‑old father of two, received six years and three months imprisonment. There are many situations like those. If you visit the organisation’s Facebook page, which has some 10 000 likes advocating for this 10‑year sentence, you will find countless examples of someone being hit with a coward’s punch, falling to the ground and dying, affecting the lives of those around them.

The government has implemented a whole lot of crime prevention strategies. The Minister for Crime Prevention is dedicated to looking at programs that target those violent individuals and ensure that proper education programs exist for this sort of issue. One such program, Championship Moves, aimed to engage 18 to 25‑year‑old men to talk about alcohol‑related street violence and embrace behavioural change. It was all about getting young people to take responsibility for their actions by posting innovative and creative messaging that actually talked to that cohort of individuals about the responsibility they have when they go out and have a drink with their mates. We had a number of ambassadors for this program, including the former Melbourne Heart Football Club. I launched that particular sponsorship deal in which the club took a leadership role to show that those sorts of things are completely unacceptable. This is alongside a number of grants and alcohol‑related violence programs such as Wingman.

We have also put more police on the beat, including putting protective services officers at train stations to ensure that people get home safely. Along with education and crime prevention measures, we also need to ensure that we have the legislation that sends a very clear message. That is what we have sadly been missing for some time, and that is what this bill does — it makes a person think twice before they throw that first punch. We are not talking about a punch as a defensive measure when you are being accosted but rather a situation where you may be in front of your mates and you take it into your own hands, and rather than walking away you throw a punch that may end someone’s life. That is what this bill seeks to address.

As I have said, a number of advocates, such as the people behind the STOP. One Punch Can Kill Facebook group, have been pushing strongly for the changes contained in this legislation. I commend them for the work they have done. The Facebook page is about ‘stopping senseless brutal acts of violence’. They put a petition together using Facebook, Instagram and other social media. When people have done the wrong thing, the people behind this Facebook page have named and shamed them. They have promoted campaigns such as those the Victorian government has been running. They have also been informing people through a kind of news service on the Facebook page. Most importantly, they have given a voice and a place to people who have been affected by alcohol‑fuelled violence. They have given these people the opportunity to discuss this issue.

This legislation introduces a very important measure, which the community has welcomed. I commend this very important bill to the house.

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