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State Election 2018: Statement from Attorney-General Martin Pakula

State Election 2018: Statement from Attorney-General Martin Pakula

By Martin Pakula

Access to Justice 

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The Labor government is proud of achieving law reform, delivering much needed funding and making record investments in community safety.

I am proud of the Andrews Labor government’s achievements over the last four years in office. Since 2014, we have delivered significant legislative reform, equity and fairness.

Victoria – together with NSW – was the first state to sign up to the National Redress Scheme to give survivors of institutional child sexual abuse the recognition, respect and support they deserve. The national scheme commenced on 1 July 2018 and survivors are now able to seek redress in relation to Victorian government institutions and participating non-government institutions, with the government committing nearly $600 million over 10 years to fund redress payments to survivors.

We have led the way in reforming sexual offence laws in recent years. We abolished civil claim time limits to allow lawsuits to be lodged regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred, and we introduced an Australian-first "duty of care" for organisations exercising care, supervision or authority over children.

In November 2016 the Andrews Labor government introduced the Wrongs Amendment (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2017. This Act, which came into effect on 1 July 2017 creates a new statutory duty allowing organisations to be held liable for negligence for organisational child abuse committed by individuals associated with their organisation, unless the organisation can prove it took reasonable care.

We also passed the Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2018 to quash the Ellis defence, which had prevented some survivors from suing some organisations for their abuse.

In the wake of the Bourke Street tragedy, the government asked Justice Paul Coghlan to urgently review Victoria’s bail laws to ensure that they adequately protect Victorians. Stages one and two of our bail reforms have now commenced, implementing many of the review recommendations. Justice Coghlan found that our bail system is arguably the most onerous in Australia. Our reforms make it even stronger. The new specialised Bail and Remand Court, also based on Justice Coghlan’s recommendations, builds on our sweeping changes to bail laws.

By the end of this term the Andrews Labor government will have made more than 180 appointments to the courts and VCAT, including five new heads of jurisdiction. With the help of the re-established Magistrates’ Court and VCAT Appointments Advisory Panels, I have worked to ensure our appointments better reflect the diversity of the legal profession and the diversity of our community, appointing our first female Muslim magistrate, and our first Chinese-Australian magistrate. To ensure the criminal bench reflects the breadth of experience in criminal trial work, new judges and magistrates have been drawn from the ranks of both senior defenders and prosecutors.

In 2017, following two and a half years of extensive consultation and engagement with members of parliament, the community, health, palliative care and legal sectors, the Victorian parliament passed historic voluntary assisted dying laws that will give Victorians with a terminal illness a genuine choice at the end of their lives.

We have strengthened sentencing laws to ensure offenders receive consistent sentences that are more in line with community expectations. We replaced the former government’s baseline sentencing scheme that had been deemed unworkable by the Court of Appeal by introducing a standard sentencing scheme that increases sentences for 12 of the most serious crimes, including rape, murder and sexual offences against children.

The Andrews Labor government introduced new laws preventing courts from using community correction orders as a sentencing option for the most serious crimes, such as rape and murder.

The Andrews Labor government values the vital work that community legal centres play in providing access to justice to vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the Victorian community and we have provided unprecedented levels of financial support over the last four years. We also worked with the community legal sector to successfully pressure the Abbott/Turnbull government in Canberra to reverse their cuts to legal assistance in 2017. We will continue to support community legal centres to oppose any future funding cuts.

Labor has supported LGBTI Victorians through the equality agenda we outlined in 2010. We have enhanced the status of LGBTI relationships, enabled same-sex couples to adopt, removed discriminatory HIV clauses from the Crimes Act and delivered on the bipartisan commitment to introduce a scheme for the expungement of historical homosexual convictions.

Labor has worked closely with Indigenous Victorians to develop the fourth Aboriginal Justice Agreement. We have allocated $40.3 million as part of a five-year agreement – the largest commitment to implement the Aboriginal Justice Agreement in its history. The Agreement focuses on four key areas – strong and safe Aboriginal families and communities, fewer Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system, a more effective justice system with greater Aboriginal involvement and increased self-determination for Aboriginal people in the justice sector.

There is still more to do. We will continue the fight to resource the community legal sector, to enhance the rights of victims, to protect our community and to properly resource our justice system.


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