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Shadow AG stands by prison plan


Cite as: March 2015 89 (3) LIJ, p.12

Shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto was a successful workplace relations lawyer but he is happy to describe himself as a three-time loser in the tough game of politics.

Mr Pesutto was beaten in three federal Liberal pre-selection battles before he got the chance to represent the blue ribbon state seat of Hawthorn, vacated by former premier Ted Baillieu.

“I’ve lost more times than I’ve won”, he says of his political career, despite winning the Hawthorn seat by a comfortable majority.

The state party is undertaking a root and branch review of why it lost power after just one term but Mr Pesutto, who was Denis Napthine’s legal counsel, says that its justice policies played little part in the outcome.

“Most of our justice reforms got through without any real opposition. We had a proud record in reforming sentencing, parole and bail and making other changes in the law and order area,” he says.

Bureau of Statistics figures show Victoria’s prison population grew by 40 per cent to more than 6000 under the Coalition government but he says it was anticipated tougher sentencing and bail changes would lead to more prisoners.

“We did have a plan for that and we were building not only for the increased prisoner numbers but to make up for the shortfall identified in three Auditor-General reports.”

Mr Pesutto, 44, says the Napthine government, in its public/private partnership agreement for the new Ravenhall Prison, built in strong incentives for the private consortium running the jail to build programs that will help reduce reoffending rates.

Raised in Traralgon, Mr Pesutto started his legal career in 1994 in the local firm of Littleton Hackford before becoming a staffer for federal MP Russell Broadbent. After a year in Canberra he joined Henty, Jepson & Kelly in Melbourne and nine years later moved to DLA Phillips Fox.

“I loved practising and I do miss it. I’ve got the small town, small firm experience. I worked at a small city firm then a large international firm. I know the challenges faced by lawyers in trying to meet the demands and expectations of clients locally but also the demands of their international alliance partners or associates.”

The father of three says he will urge the new government not to wind back the Coalition’s law and order agenda but to supplement it with a public information campaign and measures to cut recidivism.

He will encourage the government to cooperate with other states to tackle organised crime and to put money into addressing juvenile crime and family violence.

A priority for him in the civil and commercial jurisdictions will be to talk to firms to find the best way of improving access to justice and value for clients.


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