Open Courts and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2018

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) (17:07:27) — I am pleased to have the opportunity this evening to speak on the Open Courts and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2018. Can I take the opportunity to echo many of the comments made by the fantastic, hardworking member for Eltham. I could not agree more, member for Eltham, that every government, any government, should be focused on building our community, our society up and not tearing it down. Every government, any government, should be focused on empowering people, supporting people and investing in our community to ensure that people have access to high-quality health care and high-quality education and to ensure that people have each and every opportunity in life.

This government, the Andrews Labor government, stands for a modern, responsive and effective court system. We know that due to things like population growth and the increasing complexity of crime our courts are constantly under pressure to deliver outcomes that are in line with community expectations. This legislation before the house this evening implements a range of reforms that a number of honourable members have spoken about this evening. These are of course the result of a great deal of work done by the Honourable Frank Vincent, AO, QC, who of course conducted a review of the Open Courts Act 2013 (OCA).

Before I discuss a number of the recommendations contained in the review, I did listen to the member for Hawthorn in his contribution, and it proved exactly what is wrong with those opposite: rather than focus on facts, they choose fear. Rather than focus on stats, they choose fear. At each and every chance they determine to undermine the fabric of impartiality. The things that make our democracy work, that allow the separation of powers to occur, that strengthen our democracy are the fairness and justice within a system that supports all communities right across the state.

We on this side of the house know that a one-size-fits-all model simply does not work in the judicial system. We know from research and evidence that models that work toward an individual are of course models that work. I want to take this opportunity to make the point that any law — any piece of legislation, any bill that comes before the house — should be backed up not by guesswork but by actual research, evidence, science and all of those things that underpin a quality piece of legislation. It needs to be referenced. It needs to be in accordance with research. That is of course holistically how you get a better system of government, how you get a better system of democracy and how you get a better, safer and stronger community.

We know this bill will reform Victoria’s laws relating to open justice to improve openness and transparency in the legal system. The bill will do a number of things. It will amend the Open Courts Act 2013 and other acts to implement in full or in part seven of the 18 recommendations of the Open Courts Act review that I mentioned earlier. This will improve the suppression order regime in Victoria.

There are a number of amendments which members have discussed this evening in the house. They include an emphasis on the importance of the open justice system to prevent suppression orders being made under the OCA where provisions under other legislation apply, and I will come back to that later on in my contribution. The bill requires reasons to be given for suppression orders made under the OCA. It enables suppression orders to continue until the determination of an appeal or unless varied or revoked; enables a disclosure by a court of relevant juvenile convictions where a person continues to seriously offend as an adult, subject to certain safeguards; and enables adult victims of sexual and family violence offences to speak more openly about their experiences. Members have also referenced that point in their contributions. The bill will also amend the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 so that the publication of particulars of children is not unduly restricted where this would not lead to the identification of the child.

I discussed the importance of quality research in any review, any study or work, that is done to bring a piece of legislation before the house. This is critically important, and I want to take the opportunity to commend the work of the Honourable Frank Vincent, a former justice of the Supreme Court, who took on the job of conducting the review. We know that the final report was released in March 2018, and it really is the genesis, the basis, of the legislation that is before the house this evening.

The government has given support in full or in principle to all but one of the 18 recommendations of the review. One will require further consideration. The bill represents stage 1 of the government’s legislative response to the review. We know that there was extensive consultation through this process, both through a public submission process and through consultation with stakeholders as well as key bodies — the Office of Public Prosecutions, Victoria Legal Aid, Victoria Police, the victims of crime commissioner and the Commission for Children and Young People.

The bill implements recommendations 1 and 2 of the review to reinforce the importance of open justice and make clear that suppression orders under the Open Courts Act are only to be made as exceptions to the principle of open justice where necessary. This will ensure that courts do not make suppression orders too easily, by applying a mere presumption in favour of openness, which a number of members have also discussed this evening.

We know that transparency, accountability and openness within our courts are fundamentally important to the workings of our democracy. The Andrews Labor government is focused on improving the lives of all Victorians, no matter where they live. Accountability and transparency and a court and legal system that works to maintain balance, impartiality, openness and accountability — that is what we stand for. That is why this piece of legislation is important. It is based, of course, on the evidence and the recommendations contained in a review by somebody who brings a whole suite of life experiences and professional experience to the task of conducting such a review — a significant piece of work that certainly has formed the basis of the legislation that is before the house this evening.

It is fundamentally important that all members of Parliament, all governments, are focused on improving the lives of each and every person that we in this place represent, that we stand for those values of transparency and accountability and that we make sure that the court system and the legal system are underpinned by values that encourage the most important elements and traits — impartiality, openness and accountability. I believe, and this government believes, that this bill works to improve the system and works to improve our courts. Given that, this legislation is based on the sound principle of impartiality, ensuring that we collectively get a stronger system, a fairer system, that works for all involved. I think that should be the aim of all members of Parliament.

I would like to acknowledge the work of the Attorney-General, his office and his department along with the work of Frank Vincent. I commend the bill to the house.