Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Questions without notice

Bail laws


Bail laws

Tim READ (Brunswick) (14:44): My question is for the Premier, asked on behalf of Uncle Percy Lovett – the partner of Veronica Nelson – who is in the Parliament today. Uncle Percy believes no-one should be in the position that Veronica was on that New Year’s Eve when she died in 2019. So he wants the key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, that imprisonment only be used as a last resort, to finally be implemented, especially for those who have not been found guilty of any criminal offence. Premier, will you commit today to remove any presumption against bail, to repeal offences against the Bail Act and to amend the Bail Act to ensure that no-one is ever remanded when charged with an offence that is unlikely to result in a sentence of imprisonment?

Daniel ANDREWS (Mulgrave – Premier) (14:45): I thank the member for Brunswick for his question. First and foremost, let me add to some comments I made outside this place in the wake of the coroner’s findings in relation to the tragic death of Veronica Nelson. It is a tragedy. It is a catalogue of errors that are unacceptable to all fair-minded Victorians and unacceptable to me as the leader of the government and the leader of the state. In Veronica Nelson’s memory, and in support of other vulnerable Victorians and all Victorians who may for one reason or another find themselves in the criminal justice system, we will act to not only make appropriate reform to the Bail Act but also ensure that regardless of the circumstances in which a person comes to be in custody, if and when they need health support and care they are taken seriously, they are respected, they are valued and they are given care. I think it would be wrong for us to see this simply as a matter of bail, as important as that is. There are bigger and broader issues that go to fundamental and catastrophic failures in the provision of services and in the protection of the human rights of both Veronica Nelson and potentially others. This is a bigger issue than just bail reform, as critically important as that is.

Turning to that element of the member’s question, I am not today going to provide guarantees other than this: the government has already well begun the process of drafting changes to the Bail Act to better reflect the fact that there are key differences between violent offenders – alleged – and those who are alleged to have committed non-violent crimes. The point that the honourable member makes in relation to the unsustainability and the fundamentally flawed nature of a system that removes all judicial discretion in effect and sees a person in custody awaiting the establishment of their innocence or otherwise for an offence that, if proven, would almost certainly not involve a custodial sentence is a point well made, and we will seek to address that imbalance and the fact that there is a clear imperative to reform and change.

I was asked, though, to provide a guarantee that there would be no presumptions against bail. I am not in a position, and nor will I ever be in a position, to say that there would never, ever be for some categories of offending – alleged – no presumptions against bail. We need a system, we need a framework and we do need to make sure that keeping the community safe guides that framework. A better balance and a better recognition in our law that there are key differences between violent offenders and offences and those who are not accused of or charged with violent offences – we need that better recognition. That is exactly what the government is working to deliver, and we will soon have more to say, I think in the first instance in terms of principles. Then beyond that a bill will be introduced into this place, and we would look forward to working with any and all members of Parliament who want to engage with us in order to get the best possible legislative framework. Hopefully we can have a situation where the Parliament, acting at its best, can come up with a new set of laws that do properly strike that balance.

Nothing I say can take away the pain that those who loved Veronica Nelson carry with them every day. What we can do and what we must do is make the necessary change in statute and in practice to ensure that it does not happen again.