Well, it must be deja vu that we are back here again, and it would be comical that we are seeing virtually the same bill for the third time if it were not for the countless victims of crime who have been dragged through court process after court process to get to where we are. I cannot even comprehend the pain that survivors such as Ashleigh Rae Cooper, Chrissie Foster, Jaime-lee Paige and Nicole Lee have had to go through over the last 12 months or so. They were able to use money from GoFundMe to fund their cases to name themselves and their loved ones. It currently sits at around $89 000 raised by over 2000 donors, which is fantastic. Need I say that that is 2000 people who have dug deep, no less during a pandemic, because of a mistake by the government, which is deeply upsetting. But first, before I get into the crux of the bill itself, I think it is necessary to reflect on why this bill is before us again. In February 2020 we debated a bill that unbeknownst to everyone in this place would stop victim-survivors from being able to identify themselves at all, including before and at the conclusion of proceedings. A few months later in April a journalist raised concerns with the then Attorney-General’s office that the bill that they had amended had unintended consequences, but their call fell on deaf ears. In June 2020 the #LetUsSpeak campaign, headed by Nina Funnell and using the story of Jamie-lee Paige, took the fight up in Victoria after the government refused to acknowledge these unintended consequences. Some time later the government announced that they planned to introduce a new bill to fix the issue. Last November we debated another judicial proceedings reports amendments bill to fix the issue of victims not being able to name themselves, but we hit another roadblock: the government wanted to silence victims’ families from speaking out. You may recall the week before the debate Jaime-lee Page’s case hit the County Court—so she could name herself and her deceased sister, who we now know as Carol. Judge McInerney decided that Jaime could name herself and her sister and that she did not need the court’s permission to do so. The Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Bill 2020 then passed with house amendments and much controversy. Jill Meagher’s, Aiia Maasarwe’s and Eurydice Dixon’s families were going to have to seek court orders to name their loved ones otherwise. The government pledged that this time, with a sunset clause, they would have this fixed by 1 September this year, in fact just a few weeks from now. Whilst I acknowledge that they have honoured this pledge, it did not stop Chrissie Foster from having to use the #LetUsSpeak funds through Marque Lawyers to fund her campaign to name her deceased daughter Emma. This is despite campaigning for Emma’s legacy for decades prior. And here we are now in September debating the Judicial Proceedings Reports Amendment Bill 2021, and I am pleased to say that after consultation with survivors, deceased victims’ families and other stakeholders the government has introduced a new bill fixing the mistakes made in the bill from November last year. The bill is not entirely perfect in our view, but we understand that with many varied perspectives on sharing experiences of sexual assaults, even after death, the bill was probably never going to please everyone. We hold concerns about reports that the bill was not drafted up until three weeks before it was introduced in the other place, but given the sunset clause, the government did not leave itself much other choice. However, on the whole we are generally happy with where the government landed. I will say, though, Ms Maxwell, we may have some committee-of-the-whole questions on behalf of our party later. So to the bill, which has two main things: it removes the mandate for victims’ families to need to go to court in order to name their loved ones, and secondly it establishes a new scheme for victim privacy orders or VPOs. VPOs are intended to be a straightforward process where a person with sufficient interest can suppress the name of a person in the context of being a victim of sexual assault. We do not know how the courts will interpret someone ‘with sufficient interest’ or how they will prioritise family members or people who have contrasting sufficient interests, but the act allows for that interpretation. We absolutely agree with the notion that no perpetrator or person on behalf of a perpetrator should have access to making a VPO application. The courts must balance the suppressing of information, such as a victim’s identity, with the principle of open justice, or, in the words of the Attorney-General herself, issuing a VPO must outweigh:
… the strong public interest in freedom of expression, free media reporting and open justice. Similar to the Open Courts Act 2013, the VPO must only be in place for five years before needing to be reviewed, and media must be notified about all orders. I do not want to be a cynic, but given News Corp have only been notified of 21 out of 200 suppression orders this year, I wonder whether this notification system, despite being the law, will really eventuate. Further, we know Victorian courts frequently give out suppression orders that last much longer than five years, and without reason. Again, this is despite it being in contravention of the Open Courts Act. On top of this, interim VPOs can be given without reason. So there is the possibility of these being exploited or certainly going under the radar. On the issue of notification this bill has one particular major flaw in the opinion of our party. Notification of an application for a VPO to family of the deceased person is not mandated. This means if a cleaner or a friend from primary school—if they can provide a case for having sufficient interest— makes an application, the family would not be mandatorily notified. We understand that the cleaner or the primary school friend in this instance must provide all material facts, such as if they know the family would object to a VPO—but shouldn’t they be notified? They may decide that the primary school friend has a justified right to make such an application, but if not, they should have the opportunity to dispute it. Moving on to what offences VPOs can be made in respect of, it is clear that any sexual offence or alleged sexual offence is one such category of offences. However, other applicable offences will potentially be prescribed through regulation. This could essentially mean that the government could gazette a raft of new offences over time through regulation. Whilst we do not necessarily object to certain offences being added, we believe that there is little scrutiny of such offences, only essentially needing to be ticked off by the minister. Probably the biggest issue we have found with this bill though is the lack of autonomy that a victim has over their own wishes. The courts must take the victim’s wishes into account if known before their death. However, as we will be mentioning further, these views of the deceased person are not necessarily the paramount consideration in issuing an order. The victim’s views only need to be taken into account rather than prevail over other submissions. The bill introduces penalties for contravening a VPO, including imprisonment for four months or 20 penalty units for an individual or 50 penalty units for a body corporate. This is limited to where a person knows that the VPO or interim victim privacy order is in force, including where they have been sent an electronic copy, which is important given my earlier comments about notification. There is a limitation on the VPO where an active VPO does not apply to prevent disclosure of information to certain people or bodies in order for them to perform statutory functions. I anticipate in practice that this refers to information sharing from VicPol to departments and similar, especially in instances where the sexual assault has taken place at the time the victim died. Lastly, in relation to the commencement period, there is a two-month commencement period for VPOs to be put in place, should people with sufficient interest want to do so. The start date when someone can apply for a VPO is 15 October 2021. The November 2020 bill’s amendments regarding anonymity of deceased sexual assault victims will be removed two months later. I hope that the funding pool that the Attorney-General referred to when this bill was announced is adequate for any family who wants to apply for a VPO, and I sincerely hope the process for application through the courts is less arduous than it has been for survivors and victims to date. In conclusion, it is hard to believe that we are here debating the same issues, for the third time, about how we report on sexual assaults. There is no denying that there have been some significant blunders in this legislation, but I do commend the government for persisting to finally get it right. I hope that deceased victims’ families feel that they have been listened to through this process and are happy with this outcome. We need to share the stories of sexual assault wherever possible to destigmatise these crimes and encourage other survivors to come forward. I commend the bill to the house.