Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Bill 2020
Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (15:04):
I rise to speak this afternoon on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Bill 2020. Listening to the contribution from the government benches, I will make it very clear and I will send a message to my family: if I get killed in some unknown situation at the hands of a male or female perpetrator, I give you my full permission to do and say what you need to do to grieve and heal. And I might just say that I also might reflect other people who may have the same view as that.
If you are dead, it is the survivors, it is the families, the grieving families who should have the choice to heal, to live and to say and the freedom to do so without having to go to court to do it.
This Bill is an omnibus Bill. I note that the Liberals and The Nationals, through Mr Ed O’Donohue, have put up two amendments that I just want to reiterate my full support for. There are several parts to this Bill, but notably the largest part is dealing with an area of the Attorney-General’s justice portfolio. Other parts of this Bill look at corrections, workplace safety and emergency services.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the victim-survivors and the families of the deceased victims who have gone through so much grief and trauma. I say that in a short sentence, but it is a lifetime of pain, of anguish, of not sleeping at night, of crying, of not feeling like who you really are anymore because your life has changed and moved—and it has not been in your hands, yet your hands are the ones that have to deal with it and move forward as much as possible.
Currently an adult victim-survivor must receive a court’s permission to be able to tell their story when criminal proceedings for the offence are pending or have concluded with the offender having been convicted. Child victim-survivors can only speak if proceedings are not pending, and if they are mature enough to understand the consequences of publicly identifying a victim-survivor of a sexual assault or offence. The Bill then enables adult and child victim-survivors to be able to legally publish their stories without court involvement, providing that they do not identify another victim in the process who may wish to maintain their anonymity.
There are, however, significant flaws in this Bill. We have heard very heartfelt and passionate stories from members in here and I acknowledge Ms Maxwell and Ms Lovell. Ms Maxwell, I hail strength to you in your ongoing dedication in this very important area of public legislation and commend you for your ongoing and lifelong commitment to victims.
On the major flaws, though, this Bill will prevent a deceased victim’s family from coming forward; it will gag them from speaking up. The trauma of knowing that they must be silent and remain gagged will add another layer of stress in an already stressful life.
Since this Bill passed the Legislative Assembly two weeks ago, the Tasmanian Australian of the Year, Ms Grace Tame, has come out very publicly and said that this Bill is disgusting, unbelievable and yet another example of how our society enables predators by silencing the victims, including the case of grieving relatives. The Bill will make it a crime to publish the name of any deceased sexual assault victim within Victoria.
As I said, grieving relatives will be prevented from ever freely speaking directly under media with their real names or writing and identifying the victim. Families will be gagged against their will, including parents who have campaigned on behalf of their now-dead children. We have seen very—I hasten to use the word ‘famous’, but unfortunately, they do not want to be famous for this—well known media names because of this. The law would also include social media and mainstream media. Grieving relatives could face harsh punishments of four months in jail and thousands of dollars in fines—further loss and pain—for sharing memories.
I am sure many of us in this house—and I know some were in very, very tragic circumstances—have lost a loved one. I lost my father 30 years ago. I find what consoles me—and it is no way the same depth of pain, but it is relative to my own experiences—is when it is his birthday or Father’s Day and I put up a photo of him on Facebook. It consoles me in the fact that I have lost him.
Magnify this by a thousand times. Now these parents will not be able to place on record their grief for their loved one, or that they miss them, and share with the world their pain. But also, it is a healing process being able to do this. The only way they can do this is to go back to court at their own expense, at a cost of up to $10 000, which is an undue financial burden on parents and grieving loved ones as part of this process.
A courageous lady by the name of Ashleigh Rae Cooper contacted me to tell her story. Ashleigh became an advocate for survivors not long after her case went through the courts in May this year. Ashleigh has a visual impairment and she had to make a choice between having surgery or paying the costs of enabling her voice to be heard and having her story told.
Ashleigh thought she was able to speak, but she was told, ‘No, you could go to jail if you do so’. So, she connected with Let Her Speak, a campaign run by an amazing person by the name of Nina Funnell. They helped Ashleigh go through the court process, and it was the most pain-free court process because Let Her Speak went above and beyond.
Ashleigh feels that the process as it currently stands is able to cherry pick the legacies that are left behind and I thank her for sharing her story. The proposed amendments concerning living survivors are needed and there is no reason why they should not apply to the families of deceased victims and their next of kin. They should not have to go through the courts to have their loved ones’ names out in public. Should this Bill go through, all of those high-profile cases will have to be removed and those families go through this court process.
I have said that Mr O’Donohue has put up some very important amendments to clause 3 of this Bill. The changes that come from these amendments will in effect reflect the input of a large number of stakeholders that have come to the coalition and spoken.
It has been very much noted that people have felt that the government has not listened to them. Again, one hallmark of this government is non-consultation when it does not want to hear. We have heard that across multiple areas. The amendments also take into account the County Court’s decision on Friday, which clarified that it is not currently illegal for the families of sexual assault victims to speak publicly about their deceased relatives.
In recent years we have heard of the most heinous crimes committed against Jill Meagher, Eurydice Dixon and Aiia Maasarwe, and their families have spoken about these events. I have also been contacted by many Victorians inside my constituency and outside.
One particular lady by the name of Tracie Oldham took the time to reach out to me about her story and the need for grieving people to tell their own story. She said:
“No-one has the right to tell victims’ families they cannot grieve publicly.”
In fact feel they feel so angry at the way they need to cope if this Bill goes through. With the lived experience of sexual assault and a horrendous time, Tracie has spent most of her adult life being a Voice for the Voiceless. Her support group has helped many, many survivors. I commend her. ‘Commend’ is not actually sufficient—I congratulate her from the bottom of my heart. Another incredible woman, as I mentioned before, is Nina Funnell, who leads Let Her Speak, an amazing organisation.
I think another lady needs to go on record and she has been spoken of before. This was the terrible situation of a young person at the age of eight being molested by her stepfather before he murdered the girl’s stepsister. It is important that we speak of these things when they are happy for us to do so, because it is unfair that they have to be gagged if this Bill goes through and people are not be able to speak about their loved ones.
Through my own electorate I just want to pay homage to some amazing not-for-profit organisations and to staff who work at the very coalface. Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault, GCASA is an amazing organisation and I commend CEO, Jane Barr, and all of her crew. I have had the absolute pleasure of working with them from time to time on global Denim Day, a day that says it is not all right and there is no excuse for sexual violence. I was also very pleased to be able to support them and I hope I can do that on an ongoing basis.
With the time I have left I just want to raise one more part in this, and it relates to the Forests Act 1958. Again, I feel like this part of the omnibus Bill is being added in there to fix up some oversights from the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Act 2019, which The Nationals certainly voted against and argued very strongly against.
I think we are starting to see some of the consequences of this—I will not say ‘unintended consequences’, because I think the government actually knew very well what would happen—in my Eastern Victoria electorate.
This particular part of this legislation looks at amending the Forests Act to provide that Forest Fire Management Victoria—so the firefighters as opposed to the CFA—can work within the Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) districts, districts that to my mind seem to be on a scale, creeping forward and forward into our regional electorates and into CFA territory.
Our amendment that Mr O’Donohue has placed on the table today seeks to provide some clarity around that and it is very important that if this part is going to go through, there is a greater consistency between forest fire management and FRV and there is clarity around those decisions. I really approve of that amendment.
Finally, it is very disappointing that unfortunately this government has dropped the ball in terms of fuel load management. We have heard time and time again across my electorate the fact that fuel reduction saves lives and there is a very strong campaign that I endorse in relation to that, but forest fire management’s annual report goes on to say that this government has slashed fuel reduction in Victoria.
In 2014–15, the last year of the previous Liberal-Nationals coalition government, $50 million was spent on direct fire management activities. Last year Daniel Andrews spent a paltry $18 million on direct fire management activities, representing a 64 per cent cut. But the last part to that is that of that $18 million that the government spent only 15 per cent of this amount was actually spent on fuel reduction activities, while the other 85 per cent was spent on planning and reporting.
I do not take umbrage at Forest Fire Management Victoria particularly; I do take umbrage at the government not providing that funding required to keep up a 5 per cent rolling target on fuel reduction burns.
With those few words, there are elements of this Bill that need to go through that are important and that are just, but there are some significant flaws in there. The Liberal-Nationals coalition’s amendments seek to address those, and I will be fulsomely supporting those, but in other ways this Bill is just too flawed for me to be able to support it.