Spent Convictions Bill 2020: Second Reading Debate
Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (16:31): I welcome the opportunity to speak in favour of the Spent Convictions Bill 2020 and welcome the government’s introduction of this significant and overdue bill.
It is always a pleasure to follow on from my good friend the member for Ringwood. His contributions are always so well considered. Also, it was great to hear from the member for Sunbury and the member for Oakleigh, who are people who put social justice at the heart of all that they do. So I am very proud to stand.
I think it was the member for Footscray yesterday who said you need to look out for the company you keep—well, I am keeping very good company with the Oakleigh, Sunbury and Ringwood members. I also keep very good company when it comes to the former Attorney-General, the member for Altona, who introduced this bill to the house last year before stepping back from the role. The member for Altona is a champion of law reform and positive change. She will be recorded in history as a reforming Attorney who transformed the lives of many Victorians and also saved lives—an incredible legacy and one that she should be very proud of.
I strongly endorse the changes to be introduced because I believe that a short custodial sentence in a corrections facility should not be a life sentence that limits and impacts an individual’s future. This bill is to establish a scheme for eligible convictions to become spent in Victoria and non-disclosable on a person’s criminal record unless in specific circumstances, to consequentially amend the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and for other purposes.
As always, when we do introduce new bills like this consultation with key stakeholders is so important. We want to bring stakeholders with us when we are making reforms to legislation, and I am really pleased that the Commission for Children and Young People have been involved. Liberty Victoria, the Victims of Crime Commissioner and the Law Institute of Victoria have all contributed to the development of this bill.
Very importantly, with the over-representation of the Aboriginal community in our criminal justice system, I am pleased that the Victorian Aboriginal community, the Aboriginal Justice Caucus and the Aboriginal-led Woor-Dungin criminal record discrimination project were involved also in the development of this important bill.
This bill is particularly important because it brings Victoria into line with other jurisdictions in Australia. The Spent Convictions Bill 2020 will create a Victorian spent convictions scheme, bringing the state into line with the rest of the country. Victoria is the only jurisdiction in Australia without spent convictions laws. Although Victoria Police has had an administrative policy similar to a spent convictions scheme, it does not provide the comprehensive protections of a legislated framework.
This bill is well overdue. It is regrettable that it was not introduced earlier. This delay will have had a negative consequence on individuals’ housing and employment options, as well as impacting on their broader wellbeing. I am so pleased that we have agreement from the opposition, who also support this important bill.
The origins of this bill come from recommendations of a parliamentary committee, and I wish to thank the Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee for the work they completed to get us to this point of introducing this important legislation. It was in early 2019 our government asked the committee to consider the need for a spent convictions scheme in Victoria and make recommendations about its design. The Legal and Social Issues Committee tabled its report in August 2019. The government’s response, tabled in February this year, accepted all of the committee’s recommendations in full or in principle.
But what will this ban do? Eligible convictions are those where a sentence of less than 30 months was imposed and importantly—this is very significant—the convictions were not for a sexual or serious violent offence. The legislation allows for eligible convictions to be spent for a crime committed more than a decade earlier for adults or five years earlier for juvenile offenders. Convictions with a sentence of less than 30 months can and do restrict the choices of an individual’s life path due to this black mark on their record.
I have recently been appointed to the role of chair of the Women’s Correctional Services Advisory Committee, and I note that the Deputy Speaker has also held that role, so I am very, very proud to follow not only in her steps but also in the steps of Ingrid Stitt in this important role. It is a role that gives us an opportunity to advise the Minister for Corrections on policy, programs and services for women in the Victorian corrections facilities.
I know that this bill will have positive outcomes for all people with eligible convictions, but particularly women, who often are convicted for sentences shorter than 30 months and often for non-sexual and non-violent crimes. Therefore I support the move to ensure that individuals will no longer be required to disclose these historic convictions.
The impact of a conviction cannot always be measured, but we know this important legislation will give many Victorians with a criminal record a fresh start, a chance to start over and be freed from the mistakes of the past, a chance to build a better future.
When applying for a job, your past can significantly impact your future. Getting a job can be and often is transformative. Secure work can break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage. With more and more employers seeking criminal record checks on potential employees, a conviction is a significant barrier for many disadvantaged jobseekers to gaining sustainable employment. Also it is important to note that some employers cannot employ people with certain criminal records, thus a prior conviction is a barrier to employment in these sectors.
This legislation will mean that many people will now not have to worry about a criminal record check, because these spent convictions laws allow for eligible historic convictions to be hidden from a person’s criminal record if they do not reoffend for a set waiting period, and that is a good outcome. The changes we are introducing will be particularly important for Aboriginal people, who are over-represented in the criminal justice system, and for young people, whose decisions at an early age can affect their offending trajectory for a lifetime.
I strongly believe that we can reduce the recidivism in our communities with this legislation, because a criminal record that may be decades old puts a burden on a person’s life and makes it very difficult sometimes to escape their past. Having a criminal record can prevent people from accessing employment, training, housing and caring opportunities. That is why I am so pleased that the Spent Convictions Bill 2020 will change the laws to allow for eligible historic convictions to be hidden.
What this bill does allow for is that eligible convictions will automatically be hidden from a person’s criminal record if they do not reoffend for 10 years. For juvenile convictions, it is less; the waiting period is five years. Furthermore, minor offences do not restart the waiting period. As previously stated, eligible convictions are those where a sentence of less than 30 months was imposed and it was not for a sexual or serious violent offence. Some convictions are spent straightaway, such as convictions of young children or where a court orders that no conviction be recorded. Some people with convictions that are not eligible to be spent automatically can apply for spent conviction orders from the Magistrates Court. This is really important. I am very pleased to say that people with a spent conviction will no longer be disqualified even from running for this Parliament, which is very important.
I am aware—and I will just finish off with this—that there will be some community safety concerns about this legislation. I want to reassure our concerned citizens that full criminal records, including spent convictions, will be available to agencies such as law enforcement, courts, professional regulators, accreditation bodies and for working with children checks and so on. The integrity of government processes will not be compromised by this bill.
Further, this bill will enable individuals to move away from crime, as people with prior convictions will have greater access to housing and employment, thus improving public safety. This bill will reduce barriers that have kept individuals stuck in precarious work because their prior conviction limits their job opportunities. This bill will help people move from temporary employment—that may be poorly paid, insecure, unprotected and unable to support a household—to secure, regulated work.
I recommend this bill to the house.