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Wind back the bail laws? – No, keep the community safe!

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Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (17:50): It is some time since I rose to speak on a matter of public importance. In fact if the truth is known, it is probably some years since I rose to speak on a matter of public importance, but I could not help wanting to contribute to this one because, when you look at a couple of points just in the text of the MPI itself, it has:

… the tough on crime politics of the Andrews Labor government …

Tough on crime? The Andrews government tough on crime? The reality is the Andrews government is not tough on crime, has never been tough on crime and will never be tough on crime. So there is certainly an issue with that assertion.

The second assertion that I take issue with is on the second and third lines of that paragraph:

… produced bail laws that systematically imprison women, children and First Nations people for low-level offending …

You may as well say ‘for stealing a loaf of bread’.

The suggestion that any law passed by this Parliament is going to systematically imprison a particular class of people is just plain ridiculous.

The law does not say bail should not be granted to females. The law does not say bail must not be granted to children. The law does not say bail must not be granted to any Aboriginal person.

A law like that would not only not pass this Parliament, I would be very surprised—and we are the 59th Victorian Parliament—if a law like that had passed the first Victorian Parliament. It is just a completely ridiculous assertion.

Such a law would not only be absolutely unacceptable; it would be reprehensible. It simply would not be passed. It is an unsubstantiated and totally false claim, and it is complete and absolute nonsense.

On the second point I wanted to make, again speaking of unsubstantiated claims, let us have a look at some of the figures in this matter of public importance:

from 2010 to 2020, imprisonment of women rose 174 per cent …

Well, the latest figures that I have access to are the published Corrections Victoria figures up to 30 June 2020, and they seem to be the numbers that the author of this motion was referring to.

According to those figures, on 30 June 2010 there were 313 female prisoners; on 30 June 2020, there were 404 female prisoners. That is an increase of 29 per cent, yet this alleged matter of public importance—I do not dismiss the issue; it is an issue that is worthy of discussion, but for goodness sake let us get the facts right: 29 per cent is not 174 per cent.

The second point is:

more than half the women now in prison have not been sentenced …

On 30 June 2010: unsentenced female prisoners, 22 per cent of the total number; 30 June 2020, 43.1 per cent. Now, it is a big increase—it is almost doubled—but it is not more than 50 per cent, not more than half. It is not as bad an error as the first one, but it is still totally wrong.

When we move to the stats on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners, the assertion is that:

from 2015 to 2020—

and I do not know why we did not go back to 2010 or why the author of this matter did not go back to 2010—

the number of Aboriginal people put behind bars—

and I love the emotional language in this, ‘put behind bars’—

rose by 70 per cent …

In 2015 there were 480 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners, according to Corrections Victoria, and on 30 June last year there were 718, a 49.6 per cent increase. Again, it is not 70 per cent, it is 49 per cent.

Is it an awful figure? Yes, it is. I do not argue that for a second. But if we are going to have these debates, and these are important issues—and from what I have heard of the debate this afternoon, people have generally taken the issue pretty seriously—let us for goodness sake get the facts right to start with.

We have seen enough people working on alternate facts, alternate truths. We have published figures. Let us just at least confine the discussion to that.

The central assertion of this matter essentially seems to be that bail laws are the problem and that if you take that sentiment to its logical conclusion and bail everyone, prison numbers would be lower—and yes, they would.

According to those figures, again, they would be lower by almost 2500 prisoners—2418.

Of course it is a balancing act. You need to keep the community safe, and you need to be sensible in the approach to bail. But you do not solve the problem by pretending it does not exist.

You do not solve the problem by pretending it will go away if everyone gets bail. After all, let us not forget what prompted the latest round of changes—Bourke Street. Five people dead, 30 people injured, God knows how much trauma.

How many people are still trying to get over those events by someone who should not have been on bail? So let us not forget why the changes were made. You do not solve a problem, as I said, by pretending the problem does not exist.

Now, if the number of Aboriginal people in prison, the imprisonment rate, is rising, and it is, and it is rising steeply as I said, and if you look at the numbers per hundred thousand, which are probably more comparable—1540.8 in June 2015, 1837.7 in June 2020—if that is what is happening, then you need to do something about the underlying issue. You need to find out why it is happening.

We need to be tough on the causes of crime. We need to get to the root of the problem and fix it, and if we have got an increase in the imprisonment rate of that level, we need to find out why.

With regard to female prisoners, the unsentenced number has almost doubled, as I mentioned a few minutes ago. It has almost doubled. Clearly the courts are not keeping up with the pressure of business. We need to find out why that is happening and get the problem solved.

We should not have almost 44 per cent of female prisoners in prison and unsentenced. It just should not happen. But the fact is that it is. We need to find out why we have such a huge backlog, and we need to do something about it.

But pretending this is not a problem and by pretending simply granting bail to everyone is going to solve the problem is not going to do a thing. It is simply going to place members of the community who should not be in danger potentially in danger, and that is not acceptable, I am sure, to anyone in this Parliament.

I just want to briefly comment in the time remaining on the final and fourth point, the calls from the community to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years.

We know the attorneys-general have a national working group looking at this issue. It is an issue that must be taken seriously.

The Chief Commissioner of Police put his points fairly forcefully on 3AW a couple of months ago about the police view. I personally have great sympathy for that view but let us not try to solve the problem here. Let us leave it to the experts, the attorneys-general, and see what they come up with when they put their heads together.