Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023 – Second Reading Debate

Juliana ADDISON (Wendouree) (12:33): I too rise to contribute on the Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023, a bill that has been carefully considered and with issues that have been worked through to make our justice system better for the families and friends of victims of the most serious crimes.

Today we remember Natalie Russell, Elizabeth Stevens and Debbie Fream, and we keep them at the front of our minds. They were young women whose lives were taken by an evil and violent killer in June and July 1993. It is the advocacy of the families that have shaped this bill that will prevent Paul Charles Denyer from being released from prison on parole until he is incapable of posing a threat to anyone and also provide more certainty to other victims of serious crimes. Like other members, I will not speak his name again.

I want to thank the Attorney-General and the Minister for Corrections for their leadership and stewardship of this bill. I would also like to recognise Mr Limbrick for his advocacy and his pain. I want to acknowledge the work of the ministerial office and the Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS), particularly because the subject matter of this bill is so confronting. The acts that were committed monstrous and the details are sickening. This is challenging work, and the reforms being introduced are important, so I thank you. I found reading about these extreme acts of violence against women very difficult and upsetting, as I am sure everyone else who has been involved in this legislation and this debate has.

I want to acknowledge the member for Frankston and thank him for his contribution and his efforts to bring this bill to the Parliament, as well as the member for Carrum, who have met with family members impacted by these abominable crimes. As representatives of the local communities impacted by these abhorrent crimes, the members for Frankston and Carrum have been determined and compassionate advocates for the legislative reforms we are debating today. I thank them for their tireless work and powerful advocacy. They are exemplary local members.

I would also like to thank the member for Pakenham for her powerful contribution reflecting on what it was like to grow up in Frankston at the time and the impact it had on the community.

In preparing for my contribution I have reflected a lot on what I was doing 30 years ago, in 1993. In 1993 I was 18 years old, and I had commenced first-year uni at Monash. I was the same age as Elizabeth Stevens, who had left Tasmania to study at Frankston TAFE. I was only four years younger than Debbie Fream, who had just had a baby, and a year older than Natalie Russell, who was still at school. I did not own a car, and I relied on public transport to get me to Monash from Ballarat and to get around Melbourne to go out and enjoy all the city had to offer.

Like so many at that age, I was carefree and enjoying the freedoms of being a young adult. I remember spending time around the peninsula that summer, catching the train to Frankston station and catching the bus to go to the beach with my friends – the same area in which these brutal murders occurred six months later. I had my life ahead of me, and so should have Elizabeth Stevens, Debbie Fream and Natalie Russell. However, his horrific acts took their lives and took their future.

Thirty years on it is still difficult to comprehend the heinous nature of the attack on Elizabeth Stevens on Friday 11 June 1993 in Langwarrin. After getting off a bus after being at TAFE, only 250 metres from home, she was murdered at the age of 18. Less than a month later, on Thursday 8 July in Seaford, 22-year-old Debbie Fream, who had left her 12-day-old son Jake at home with a friend to buy some milk, was violently and savagely murdered. On 30 July 1993, 17-year-old schoolgirl Natalie Russell was murdered after being attacked in Frankston North while walking home from John Paul College.

I was moved by Natalie’s best friend Karen’s words that were read by the member for Frankston and thank her for sharing them with us. I wish to express the deep sadness I feel for the families and friends of Natalie, Elizabeth and Debbie, who continue to grieve for them and miss them dearly, and I recognise that their lives have been devastated by what happened at this time and ever since. The deep and long-lasting impact of these egregious attacks is immeasurable on those who knew and loved these women. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the families, who have shared their lived experience so that others can benefit from these important reforms.

The changes being introduced in this bill will ensure that he who was sentenced by the Supreme Court of Victoria on 20 December 1993 to three sentences of life imprisonment for three counts of murder is ineligible for parole until he is either close to death or permanently incapacitated. Making this law will prevent the risk posed to the community by his release and also ensure that the families of his victims do not have to go through the re-traumatising and stressful experience of the parole process. Furthermore, it will keep our community safe, as he is a continued and persistent risk of harm to our community.

The bill will create new section 74AC in the Corrections Act 1986. The section mirrors section 74AA and 74AB, which restrict parole for the person who was responsible for murdering seven people during the Hoddle Street massacre and for the Russell Street bomber. The High Court has previously upheld such legislative provisions as constitutionally valid. Section 74AC will prevent his release unless he is in imminent danger of death or seriously incapacitated and as a result lacks the capacity to harm anyone.

Importantly, the amendments proposed by this bill do not interfere with the sentence imposed by the judge. The High Court of Australia has repeatedly confirmed that setting a non-parole period exhausts the judicial function of sentencing. Therefore it becomes a matter for the executive whether the remainder of a sentence is custodial and/or an order of parole in the community.

The bill also introduces a new section that establishes a no-return period, which will minimise the unnecessary distress experienced by victims and their loved ones and provide them with a level of peace and certainty for a specific time if it is in the public interest. Under current legislation there is no restriction in place. When someone has been refused bail, they can apply again. By introducing the no-return period, the Adult Parole Board of Victoria has the power to select an appropriate time frame in which it does not consider a prisoner should be able to apply for bail. The maximum time for the no-return period is five years but can be shorter if an individual demonstrates more positive rehabilitation prospects.

The bill also proposes allowing the victims register in the DJCS to inform registered victims about a decision of no return set by the adult parole board.

The bill includes a restricted prisoner declaration scheme that gives the adult parole board the power to make a restricted prisoner declaration for certain serious offenders, which will prevent them from being able to receive parole for a specific period if it is in the public interest. I note that a similar reform was introduced in Queensland in 2021.

Restricted prisoners will include prisoners serving a life sentence for multiple murders, the murder of a child or a single murder where a serious sexual offence was committed against the same victim. The Minister for Corrections has identified about 31 individuals in prison currently who have committed offences serious enough to be considered for the category of ‘restricted prisoner’, citing examples of Jill Meagher’s killer and the Bourke Street killer.

In closing I want to say that I strongly support the amendments proposed with the Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill, which will strictly limit the circumstances in which he will be able to receive parole. I hope this provides comfort to the Russell, Stevens and Fream families and their friends. I commend the bill to the house.


You can take a look at more of my speeches to Parliament here.