Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Motion: Emergency Services Workers Assault Legislation Loophole

Mr GRIMLEY: I think I might need a blood pressure monitor on me at the moment because my blood pressure is rising as I am sitting here just listening to these people talk. It just shows the massive divide between Parliament and the real world. It is unbelievable. I had better go by my notes; otherwise I will get distracted. I rise today to speak on the motion put forward by my colleague—I proudly rise to speak on this. I am so pleased to support the acknowledgement of the selfless dedication and commitment of the state’s emergency workers to ensure that we are all kept safe and protected. In particular on this motion I too join the chorus to call upon the government to pursue legislative changes within the Sentencing Act 1991 to close the loopholes that are being used all too often within our judicial system, allowing offenders who assault our emergency workers to escape mandatory sentences.

As you are all aware in this chamber, I was a police officer for many years before seeking a position in this Parliament. I have the credibility and personal experience of working as an emergency service worker and dealing with situations that only other emergency services workers know all too well. Obviously there are not too many in this chamber. Unless you have been in those shoes you would not understand the stresses and strains that come with being an emergency services worker. As I said in my maiden speech, being a police officer can often be rewarding, is often thankless and is always challenging. It places you in positions of vulnerability and danger, yet you put your head down and you do the best job you can to protect life and property. These positions will put you in situations whereby you are putting your life at risk of injury or worse. Such physical and emotional scars are happening far too often for our emergency services workers. I too have been assaulted many times whilst on the job. Most of these were not reported. The times that they were resulted in either diversions or withdrawals during a plea-bargaining process. Although these things happened some years ago, how we manage such assaults has thankfully come a long way.

This brings me to Ms Terpstra bringing up the fact that dementia patients and those with intellectual disabilities lashing out should not be subjected to a jail sentence. Like I said before, this just highlights the divide between Parliament and the real world. Speaking from experience, I have been assaulted by dementia patients and those with severe intellectual disabilities on more occasions than I can actually count. It was not only me but also hospital workers and ambulance workers. They get assaulted by those types of people all the time. On all those occasions no charges were laid against these people because, as Ms Terpstra or others in the chamber may or may not be aware, police have a thing called discretion. We do not have to charge anyone. To be sentenced for an assault on an emergency service worker, you first have to be charged.

Throughout my career in the legal system I have seen and felt the many disappointments and frustrations that come with the job and the feeling of hopelessness and loss of faith. This loss of faith runs deep within our community as unjust and insufficient sentences appear to come on a daily basis. The legal system is supposed to represent a strong and independent pillar of our society. However, the independence has become a slave to the defence and the judgements of the court are skewed against the innocent victims of crime. The pillars of justice are in a state of disrepair. Unfortunately I was not in the Parliament that passed the mandatory sentencing legislation—I should use that term carefully, I suppose—that meant that the more serious offences against emergency services workers attracted a statutory minimum term of imprisonment. Nor was I part of the Parliament that passed clauses within the legislation whereby that term of imprisonment could only be circumvented if the defendant could show that there were special reasons why imprisonment should not be imposed.

Under the Sentencing Act courts can currently make a finding of special reasons under several circumstances. Defences such as psychosocial immaturity at the time of the offence and impaired mental functioning can also be argued as reasons why the mandatory statutory minimum penalty should not apply. Further, drug and alcohol use and/or addiction can also be relied upon as part of an argument of impaired mental functioning. Like I said, I was not part of the passing of this legislation. If I had been, I would have spoken out about the inclusion of these special reasons and the associated open-ended definitions as complete and utter noddy land. Any legislator worth their weight in salt would have seen that these diluted definitions and loose reasons were gigantic holes within the spirit and intention of the law that scream out to magistrates to not impose mandatory sentences. It certainly would have put me in a predicament had I been part of this legislation, as the Sentencing Act certainly needed mandatory sentencing on emergency services workers. But why have it if it is so slack and open and plays into the hands of the offenders like the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card?

Recently in this place I raised a question about the review of the mandatory sentencing legislation. I noted that at around the time the legislation passed a media release was sent out from the office of the Premier that stated that under the new laws courts will have to impose a custodial sentence. It makes clear that offenders cannot rely on impaired mental function. The Premier stated that we will do everything we can to protect those who protect us. It sounds good in theory, but this legislation has failed in practice.

When the moment comes for sentencing in court following a guilty outcome from the court or the accused themselves, then come the circumstances surrounding the reasons behind the actions of the offending party. More often than not these include drug use, previous abuse of the accused by others in their younger years, their current domestic situation or the lack thereof and the current responsibilities that they have. This list is by no means exhaustive and is used in a way to explain their offending in the hope of a reduced sentence. Then comes the accused’s demeanour at the time of offending—for example, he or she was under the influence of drugs at the time, had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety or had been recently separated from their partner. Once again, the list continues. I would suggest that being under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the offending is an aggravating circumstance and not a mitigating one and should be treated as such when it comes to sentencing along the lines of being armed or in company.

The sentences handed out are another issue altogether and usually err on the side of minimum rather than maximum. Community corrections orders have been described to me by recidivist offenders as ‘Time to catch up with your mates on a day out’. During one of my many appearances in court as a police officer a magistrate stated during a sentencing remark that CCOs were a complete failure within the system. The sentences and orders imposed are a joke, with the crooks the only ones left laughing. This is all too common in our courts at present and needs to be addressed by placing protections or safeguards in place that protect our victims from further despair. We need to have processes in place to protect our victims just as much as the judicial system protects the accused.

Ms Patten raised the issue that mandatory sentencing does not make emergency services workers safer. This motion is not just about making emergency services workers safer. This is about justice. This is about sending a message to those who choose to bash our emergency services workers that it is not okay. I encourage anybody who opposes this motion moving forward to speak to the victims of crime. Speak to the ambulance officers that have been bashed. Speak to the police officers that have been bashed and shot at. Then you might get a difference of opinion. All too often we tend to disregard and discard victims of these crimes in favour of the rights of offenders.

I have said it before and I say it again: the lack of mandatory sentences handed down by the courts is a further slap in the face of our emergency services workers. As leaders within our communities we need to be leading by example by ensuring that legislation created in this place reflects the intention of the Parliament and that it is clear and concise in its wording. Formulating legislation is one of the most important instruments of government in protecting its citizens and facilitating an organised society. Legislation is also essential in protecting the protectors. It is about time we sent the message out to the community loud and clear that emergency services workers are not punching bags. I commend this motion to the house.


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