Bail Laws – Matter of Public Importance
Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (17:20): I rise to contribute to today’s matter of public importance discussion and talk about issues pertaining to women and Aboriginal Victorians in our justice system and corrections system.
I am very pleased to see that we have a former Minister for Corrections, the member for Niddrie, sitting at the table, who did very, very good work in terms of the first year and a bit of this government. I really want to thank the minister for the great work and the leadership he showed in this sector in terms of crime prevention, in terms of corrections and in terms of all that he did. You were a very, very good minister, so thank you very much for that.
It is also great to be able to stand with my Labor parliamentary colleagues and friends the member for Sunbury, the member for Tarneit and the member for Mount Waverley to talk about this issue and to really explain what the Andrews Labor government is doing in these important areas of public safety and crime prevention and also in our justice system. The member for Tarneit gave a cracking analysis of the member for Caulfield’s contribution, and I would like to say that her analysis was that their not defending what they did and not actually talking about what they would do seems to be the playbook, because the member for Evelyn did the exact same thing. She got up and she talked about a whole lot of things, and I would just really like to clarify—she talked about ‘skyrocketing crime rates’.
To skyrocket, just in case we are unclear—and I hope the member for Evelyn is tuning in in her office—is to ‘shoot up abruptly’. She talked about the figure of 411 women being incarcerated in the two Victorian prisons, and she said that rates had skyrocketed. Well, actually it is down 4 per cent, so I do not think being down 4 per cent really indicates anything shooting up abruptly.
So when I start to think about that stat that I know off the top of my head, I really start to question a whole lot of her stats and her credibility. Certainly in my former role as a schoolteacher when people decided to just throw around points that were not actually based in fact, they certainly did not get marked very well. So I am very concerned that something is ‘skyrocketing’, yet it is down 4 per cent.
But look, I want to talk about what we do, because we are a great government. We are a great government across the board and we are doing a lot of things to boost community safety, to prevent crime, to invest in diversion programs and to improve the welfare of those who find themselves in custody. I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the Minister for Corrections, Minister for Crime Prevention, Minister for Youth and Minister for Victim Support and the important work that she is doing in the portfolio.
Recently we had planned a fantastic crime prevention event in Ballarat and the minister was going to come up. We had a whole lot of people lined up to be involved—young people, people from the LGBTIQ+ community, members of our multicultural communities—and we were all going to meet together and talk about it. Sadly COVID prevented us from doing that face-to-face but we had a great online day really talking about the issues that matter—where we feel safe in Ballarat, where we do not feel safe in Ballarat—and the minister wanted to really get to the bottom of it.
It was a really important exercise of allowing community members to speak and to be heard, and we have got some really great graphics that I have got up on my Facebook summarising the key issues about what we need to do to give youth other options, to give them entertainment of an evening and to be able to light up places and put CCTV in. So we have got some really good suggestions and I really thank the minister for her commitment to my community, the electorate of Wendouree and the broader Ballarat community.
This issue is really important to me when it comes to crime prevention and community safety and also corrections, and I am honoured to chair the Victorian government’s Women’s Correctional Services Advisory Committee. I thank the Minister for Corrections for appointing me, and I would like to acknowledge the deputy chair, who is a former WCSAC chair, and thank her for the work that she did in the role.
It is a very, very important committee that does good work and has the opportunity to work with stakeholders, and I will talk a bit more about those. Feedback to the minister is another example of how we listen, how we really talk to experts, that we look at the data, that we look at the research, so it is good.
It is an area that I am very interested in—I did study sociology when I was at Monash—because there are issues of vulnerability, there are issues of disadvantage, there are issues of homelessness, there are issues of family violence, disability, mental health, abuse, alcohol and drug dependency and racism. They are often interconnecting factors that lead to women’s incarceration. These are issues that our government is working hard to address across our state to make things better and fairer for all Victorians, and by doing so we are making our communities safer and preventing crime.
I am proud that we are focusing on health and education and housing and mental health and racism and the prevention of family violence and alcohol and drug services and the disability sector, because all of these factors contribute to disadvantage, and for some this leads them into the criminal justice system.
The WCSAC advisory committee was actually established under the Bracks Labor government in 2003. The advisory committee provides independent advice to the Minister for Corrections to inform gender-responsive approaches to policies, programs and services for women in the corrections system.
Interestingly, the committee replaced the Victorian Women’s Prisons Council, which was established in 1953 by Dame Phyllis Frost, who chaired the committee. Our women-only maximum-security prison in Ravenhall, the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, is named after her in recognition of her great works helping women prisoners. It has been said that Dame Phyllis was passionate about the causes she believed in and that they were not popular causes. She would try to put wrongs right by speaking up for people who had no voice and was a champion for the underdog.
As I was reading about that, I was actually thinking about the great work that our minister is doing in this space. They are very much values that the Minister for Corrections lives every day herself in terms of speaking up for the underdog, being a champion for those who do not have a voice. I thought there was a really lovely synergy between Dame Phyllis Frost and our minister.
WCSAC comprises key stakeholders with diverse backgrounds who have considerable working knowledge and experience of the complexities and challenges faced by women offenders. Due to COVID the committee has been meeting online, and I was very disappointed that our July meeting, which was scheduled to happen at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, could not proceed due to COVID restrictions.
I would really like to quickly acknowledge the members of WCSAC who bring such a depth of understanding to the committee. They are Dr Kathryn Daley, senior lecturer and program manager, youth work and youth studies at RMIT; Nerita Waight, CEO, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service; Michal Morris, CEO, inTouch Multicultural Centre against Family Violence; Julie Kun, CEO of the Women’s Information and Referral Exchange—WIRE; Melissa Hardham, director of policy and community at Westjustice; Serina McDuff, CEO, Federation of Community Legal Centres, Victoria; Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare; Jill Prior, principal legal officer, Law and Advocacy Centre for Women; Rita Butera, CEO of Safe Steps; Claire Seppings, project coordinator, Deakin University; and Dianne Hill, CEO of Women’s Health Victoria.
It is an extraordinary line-up of people coming around a table—women who understand the sector that are providing advice and feedback in terms of women in prisons and in the justice system. I would also like to mention and thank Tracey Jones, who is the general manager of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, as well as Scott Hoctor-Turner, the general manager of Tarrengower prison in Maldon—in your electorate, I believe, Deputy Speaker, of Bendigo West.
It has been a particularly challenging time over the last 18 months for our justice system and our prisons. COVID-safe restrictions have been strongly enforced to keep our prisons COVID free, and our corrections department has done an excellent job. I thank the staff for their efforts and the work that they do. This has particularly impacted on the movement in and out of our prisons, and it has restricted visitor access for family and friends. However, I was pleased to hear that by pivoting to new ways of online communication, the women in custody have been able to remain connected with their loved ones during the pandemic.
In June this year 411 women were in Victorian prisons—4 per cent less, as I mentioned earlier, than the previous years. Women make up 22 per cent of offenders in Victoria and women who enter the criminal justice system are more often victims of crime themselves, with their time in prison following years of trauma, including family violence— (Time expired)