Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Sentencing Amendment (Emergency Worker Harm) Bill 2020

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (21:10): I would like to speak briefly to the government’s Sentencing Amendment (Emergency Worker Harm) Bill 2020. This is a very important bill which aims to enshrine public respect for our emergency services workers. Of course this is a follow-up bill to the initial sentencing amendment legislation, the Sentencing Amendment (Sentencing Standards) Bill 2017, which was passed in the last term of Parliament. That initial legislation was not employed by Victoria’s legal system in a way in which the Parliament intended. The loopholes were so great and many in that initial legislation that the government has had to go back to the drawing board, and I am glad that they have.

In introducing this bill the government is finally acknowledging the need for strengthening of various provisions of their so-called statutory minimum sentencing scheme. Through this bill the government is rightly providing greater clarity in order to ensure that members of the judiciary must not overlook the clear intention of the Parliament that six-month minimum jail terms should almost always be imposed on those who assault emergency service workers. In particular the proposed transfer of these cases from the Magistrates Court to the County Court and on to the Supreme Court will likely increase the number of successful prosecutions, and most importantly this proposed legislation makes it much harder for people to avoid minimum sentences where they participate in a group assault against emergency service workers.
Now, this is not some bandwagon issue which Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has just become aware of. Since the initial passage of this legislation I have been mindful of the way that mandatory sentencing has not been adequately imposed. Indeed Ms Maxwell introduced a motion last October which sought the support of the government in strengthening these laws. I remember the contribution made by the government backbenchers at the time, and how my blood pressure was rising, about how we should not be locking up people with Alzheimer’s and so forth or those with mental health issues, and I made a comment at the time that I have been assaulted many times as a police officer, as I am sure the Acting President, Mr Bourman, could attest to as well, as probably the most recent Victoria Police officer in this chamber. The amount of times that people were charged compared to the amount of times that I was assaulted was very, very negligible, because the fact of the matter is that we have discretion as police officers and we choose not to charge everybody who assault us who has specific mental health issues or who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other elderly debilitating diseases. It just makes no common sense, and it just goes to show the lack of life experience that some people in this chamber have in relation to the making of legislation. After all, like I said, police officers can choose
not to pursue charges if they feel they have been assaulted by someone who is not of sound mind. Unlike some in this chamber, I have faith that Victoria Police are empathetic and capable enough to make those honest decisions.

To those in this place who voted against strengthening the laws to protect our police and our paramedics from the continuing barrage, onslaught, of assaults that continue, your vote sent a clear message that day to all those police and paramedics who serve our community without fear or favour, and that message was certainly not supportive. Additionally, during debate on the motion Ms Maxwell stated at the time that in the case of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party we want to send the unequivocal message to the state emergency workers and want it to be heard far and wide that we salute your bravery, your courage and your selflessness in looking after Victorians every day that you are at work. Those words still ring true today, which is why we both look forward to supporting this legislation. While I support this bill, I do worry that it still may not go far enough in protecting our frontline workers. Firstly, the special reasons clause still exists in the bill, and therefore the proposed changes can be viewed as minimal. Secondly, after the bill’s passage these laws will be even more complicated in their structure and design. If you want our laws to be employed in a way that Parliament intends, they should be easy to understand and not span over various different acts. While these shortfalls
within the legislation do not mean that the bill should not pass, they are worthy of noting. Someone recently commented on one of my Facebook posts, asking me whether or not Australians value their emergency services workers differently to the way other countries do, and I believe we do.

We saw in the United Kingdom widespread applause from people’s houses in dedication to employees of the National Health Service. Unfortunately we see our emergency service workers subjected to the same public sector wage cap which all Victorian government employees fall under. This wage cap fails to take into account the dangerous nature of the work of our firefighters, paramedics and police officers in what they undertake, and this is simply not good enough. Australians are not by nature people who sit back and reflect on how great we are. We can be our own harshest critics, but if recent events have proven anything, it is that we are far different to Europe and America. Compared to the police in the USA, Victorian police are trained differently—entirely differently. Victoria Police are resourced differently; our command operates differently. We do not
have the same trigger-happy police force here like some other countries. We do not have a ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ approach to policing. Our emergency services take great pride in liaising with new migrant communities. Our health workers get out into the regions to gain a broader understanding of the issues which face our First Australians. It was proven recently that our frontline services, whether they are paramedics, police or SES, do not believe that they know it all. When it is in the public interest, operations can be altered, as in the case of William Callahan. Thomas the Tank Engine music was played loud and the aroma of cooking foods was spread—all to save the life of a boy from the mountain. It was selfless work which led to an amazing outcome. Thanks to all of the generous community support in finding that little boy. This in fact is probably an appropriate time for me to ask whether my amendments may be circulated.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party amendments circulated by Mr GRIMLEY pursuant to standing

Mr GRIMLEY: Now, I would like to speak briefly to the amendments standing in my name. As with all bills, good and bad, it is always easy to propose amendments. Ms Maxwell and I were cautious not to amend the functionality of this legislation, because we want to see it pass swiftly; however, as has been the case with government mandatory sentencing legislation in the past, there are often unintended shortfalls within a bill. This bill will hopefully see those who assault emergency services workers locked up for a minimum of six months. But regardless of how this legislation operates once it is passed, the Attorney-General should provide an update to the Parliament.

My amendment is simple. It requires that the minister must cause a review to be undertaken of the operation and effectiveness of the amendments made by the Sentencing Amendment (Emergency Worker Harm) Bill 2020 as soon as practicable after the 12-month period after the day on which the act comes into operation. It is an unobtrusive amendment, and it is not partisan or politically motivated; it simply complements the role of the house of review—this is what we are here for. While there are still concerns that the updated legislation does not go far enough to address mandatory sentencing requirements, this amendment gives the government an opportunity to update the Parliament on the effectiveness of the legislation. When voting on legislation this important, it is perfectly reasonable to ask this of the government. In summing up, I would like to reinforce my support for the legislation. The government has shown leadership in being prepared to redraft and amend existing legislation. I also note that the Labor Party does not usually support mandatory sentencing, but in this case it is undoubtedly needed. To all of our emergency services workers out there: know that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party fully supports you and all that you do and thanks you very much for keeping all of us safe 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And so those in this chamber remember, tonight when you are home at 3 o’clock in the morning, fast asleep, nice and warm and tucked up in bed, there are emergency services workers out there keeping you all safe and sound and protected. They are the ones doing the hard yards, and us in this chamber should be doing all that we can to protect them. Thank you

Mr GRIMLEY: I would just like to speak briefly to my amendments. My proposed amendments acknowledge the importance of this bill and the way it broadens the circumstances in which those who assault emergency service workers face a mandatory term of imprisonment. As I noted in my second reading speech, this amendment is very simple. It requires that the minister must cause a review to be undertaken of the operation and effectiveness of the amendments made by the Sentencing Amendment (Emergency Worker Harm) Act 2020 as soon as practicable after the period of 12 months after the day on which the act came into operation.
Given the history of this legislation, which has resulted in a second bill, it is my hope that any deficiencies within the amended legislation will be identified and formally reported back to the Parliament. I have purposely included in the sentence ‘as soon as practicable’ in order to give the government a degree of flexibility in regard to the timing of the report in case in 12 months time this legislation has not seen too many people charged. This is perfectly reasonable and I urge all members to support this amendment. From my initial discussions with everyone I believe that I may have the full support of the whole crossbench, which is quite an achievement in itself. So thank you, crossbench, and also thank you to the opposition and government.

Finally, I would like to express my gratitude towards the government in supporting this amendment. I and my office have been in frequent communication with the Attorney-General’s office, and they have been very open-minded. It is no easy task for a minor party to propose an amendment to a government bill and see it supported, but as Ms Patten noted yesterday, we are not here as crossbenchers to seek power; we are elected with a mandate to pursue a handful of core policies, not for the sake of power but because we believe that it is important. I can assure you that protecting our emergency service workers is a primary focus for those of us in Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party and, I am pleased to say, for everybody else here in this chamber tonight. The swift inclusion of this amendment as part of the broader bill is a great outcome for ensuring transparency about the way this legislation operates once it is legislated.


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