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Opposition welcomes debate on old minor offences

Opposition welcomes debate on old minor offences

By Karin Derkley

Criminal Procedure Sentencing Young Persons 

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Support for the Spent Convictions Bill is growing, with the LIV, the Victorian Bar and former shadow attorney-general John Pesutto coming out in favour of the scheme which would wipe clean the criminal record of those with minor convictions after 10 years, or five years for minors.

Meanwhile, opposition attorney-general Edward O'Donahue says the Liberal Nationals Coalition has yet to adopt a formal position on the Bill, but welcomes the debate, including the “thoughtful contribution from Mr Pesutto”.

“In formulating our position, we will seek to balance the rights of victims of crime, prospective employers and others on one hand, with the rights of historic offenders who have demonstrated they have reformed and lived a life free of crime and have contributed to the community, on the other,” Mr O’Donahue says.

Victoria is the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not have a scheme to remove old minor criminal convictions from the records of past offenders. Queensland introduced such a scheme in 1986 under the Joh Bjelke-Petersen government, Western Australia in 1988, the Commonwealth in 1989, and New South Wales in 1991. South Australia was the last to bring in spent convictions legislation in 2009.

The Labor Party made a commitment to the “examine the merits” of such a scheme before the 2014 election, but has so far failed to do so. The Reason Party’s Fiona Patten introduced the legislation to the Upper House in early February.

In an opinion piece in the Sunday Age on 17 February Mr Pesutto said eligible low level offenders deserved a second chance “to clear their past offending history to rebuild their lives”.

Mr Pesutto told of a friend whose efforts to move into a career in public life had been hampered by his record of minor offences committed many years previously, despite his record of unblemished behaviour since.

There are times when “incentives to encourage good behaviour by offenders have the redemptive power to reduce rates of offending and secure the best opportunity to pursue a more fulfilling life, livelihood and career,” he wrote.

The LIV has urged parliament to support the Bill, saying it would remove the stigma of spent convictions. LIV president Stuart Webb says the current policy leaves young and Indigenous Victorians particularly susceptible to discrimination.

“These groups are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, often for minor offences such as possession of cannabis, minor shop stealing, or using a concession Myki card without possessing a concession card – which is considered to be fraud.”

“We urge parliament to support this Bill,” he said.

“If passed, this law will help prevent discrimination and remove obstacles which prevent some former offenders from seeking rehabilitation, gaining employment and participating in their communities,” he said.

The Victorian Bar has also added its support to the Bill, with president Dr Matt Collins QC saying that: “Spent convictions legislation would provide an incentive for good behaviour by past offenders, allowing them to clear their names and increase their opportunities to find work and contribute to our society.”

Mr O’Donahue says the Coalition is concerned about the possibility the scheme may “delegate too much decision making power about which offences can be spent (including sex and violent offences) to the regulations, reducing parliamentary oversight”.

The scheme applies to minor convictions, defined as an offence the offender is discharged without penalty, a fine of no more than $500, probation or a youth supervision order.

 


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