Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023 Second Reading

16 Nov 2023

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Parliament

 I rise to speak on the Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023, and in doing so can I just start off by recognising the victims and their families, some of whom are in the gallery today – Elizabeth Stevens, Debbie Fream and Natalie Russell. I also acknowledge the strength that the families have shown for many years.

I speak on behalf of the Greens but also as someone who grew up on the Mornington Peninsula and in Frankston as well – I spent over half my life there. I still remember the day Denyer was arrested. I must have been in grade 5 or 6 at the time, but I still remember seeing it on the news with crystal clarity. He terrorised our community. He took the lives of young women. In addition to that, he admitted to stalking women for years prior. Of course he abducted Roszsa Toth as well. He would cruise the streets, looking for women to kill. At the time, my mum was a teacher at a local high school. On one rainy day, with another teacher, they took some students out for a run, a group of girls, down at Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve. One of the teachers saw a car in the car park with someone in it, alerted police and they later contacted him and confirmed that yes, it was his car. On that rainy day he later killed Nat Russell, who was walking home from school. It is chilling, awful, awful stuff. He preyed on women. Women no longer felt safe and were afraid to go out alone. The crimes he committed left deep wounds – deep wounds in our community and our collective psyche.

The families of his victims have been through unimaginable grief, unimaginable pain and suffering, and the original sentence of course handed down was a life sentence without parole, but that was overturned on appeal to a 30-year non-parole period. Whilst it can be said with a fair degree of confidence that even without this bill the likelihood of parole being granted was extremely low or next to zero – quite appropriate given the nature of these crimes – it is totally understandable just how difficult the experiences of the families were through the parole process, and the uncertainty and the retraumatisation that comes not just in the lead-up to the initial decision but also around subsequent decisions. This bill is more comprehensive than what was previously brought before Parliament. There is updated legal advice from the solicitor-general that suggests it would hold up if tested in court. In addition to changes specifically for Denyer, it also gives the Adult Parole Board of Victoria powers over a person who is deemed a restricted prisoner, resulting in far less ability for them to apply for parole.

There are also changes to transparency. As my colleague Kat Copsey in the other place has raised, there is certainly merit to arguments that the parole board has acted as a bit of a black box in the past, with little information available and with the release of information – what it can and cannot release – being covered by very strict legislation. There was certainly scope to see how changes in the public interest could be made so more information could be provided to people on the victims register. This bill does include some changes in terms of information and transparency. It will empower the adult parole board to disclose details of a no-return period or a restricted declaration to the public, including the media, if it is in the public interest to do so to keep the public informed and to dispel any misinformation that might arise. Previously the Greens have allowed to pass, with reservations, similar legislation for Julian Knight and Craig Minogue, and we do feel that it is important that when Parliament passes legislation like this, we do flag concerns, and that importantly Parliament does respect the separation of powers between Parliament and the judiciary. That is a core tenet of the rule of law – that decisions on parole should be made by bodies independent of Parliament and should remain in the hands of impartial independent bodies. While this bill obviously deals with a very small cohort of prisoners, we do hope and we do warn against further wholesale changes to parole.

Again I just make the point, and not in relation to Denyer, who we all agree is a risk to the community and a risk to women, that it can be in the interests of community safety that a prisoner serves parole with all the conditions and controls that come with that before their sentence is up, following which there is no control and no oversight, so we should be very hesitant before restricting parole on a broader scheme. But ultimately this bill is very much about the victims and their families, and I understand that it has been designed in consultation with victims’ families. I acknowledge all the MPs who were involved in that process. It will relieve the families of the burden of having to make further submissions to parole hearings and further uncertainty. Our thoughts are with you, and we really hope that this can give you, can give women and can give the community a measure of comfort.

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