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Wednesday, 25 August 2021
Page: 5259


Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaMinister for Families and Social Services, Minister for Women's Safety and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (16:50): I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Crimes Amendment (Remissions of Sentences) Bill repeals section 19AA of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), which automatically applies remissions or reductions granted under state or territory laws to federal sentences.

The Australian Government's most important responsibility is to keep Australians safe. This Bill supports this by addressing the significant risks to community safety as a result of the high numbers of remissions, known as emergency management days (EMDs), that Victoria has been granting to federal offenders since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most states and territories have abolished remissions. Victoria is the only jurisdiction with laws providing remissions or reductions that are resulting in significant discounts for federal offenders under section 19AA of the Crimes Act.

Under section 19AA of the Crimes Act, the Commonwealth has no discretion about the application of remissions and reductions to federal offenders. This situation is unacceptable, and means federal offenders are not serving the sentences handed down by the courts in recognition of their crimes.

Repealing section 19AA of the Crimes Act through this Bill is necessary to restore respect for the sentences which courts impose on federal offenders, including the careful balance struck by courts between the appropriate expiry of the non-parole period compared to the head sentence. Currently, if offenders are found suitable for release on parole after EMDs have been applied to reduce their head sentence, their rehabilitation and reintegration options may be limited or less effective during their shorter parole period, increasing the risk of reoffending. The removal of the unpredictable application of EMDs is critical to ensure community safety.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Victoria were generally granting less than 10 EMDs per federal prisoner for restrictions in circumstances like natural disasters and staffing shortages. But since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Victoria has been handing out much higher numbers of EMDs to federal offenders in their prisons.

As a result, many federal offenders incarcerated in Victoria, including terrorists, child sex offenders and drug traffickers, are receiving substantial discounts off the sentence expiry date set by the sentencing court.

The release of high risk federal offender Adam Brookman is an example of how problematic the application of EMDs can be. In June 2021, following his guilty plea, the Supreme Court of Victoria sentenced Mr Brookman to 6 years and 8 months' imprisonment for an offence against the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978. Specifically he undertook weapons training, reconnaissance and guard duty, and provided medical services, in support of groups engaged in hostile activity in Syria. Despite the court fixing a head sentence that did not expire for a further 9 months, Mr Brookman was released on the date of his sentencing, because Victoria had granted him more than 340 days off his sentence during the period he was on remand.

There are more people charged with terrorism offences on remand in Victoria, and as the pandemic continues, they are accruing hundreds of days off their sentences in the event they are convicted. In the interim, our agencies are using the options available to mitigate against the risks posed by the early release of high risk federal offenders like Mr Brookman, including control orders. Even this has become problematic under the current framework, as sentence expiry dates for terrorists incarcerated in Victoria keep changing unpredictably as EMDs are periodically accrued. This Bill will put an end to this unacceptable situation.

Fundamentally, the current framework compromises community safety, as it allows dangerous offenders to be released much earlier than the date set by the sentencing court. This includes, for example, a high risk child sex offender with an extensive prior criminal history in three states and a history of breaching multiple community based orders. Despite being sentenced to spend three years and one month in prison for his despicable crimes, the high risk child sex offender's sentence expired in August 2021 after Victoria granted him more than 300 days off his sentence. The Bill will prevent circumstances such as these occurring, and will ensure that federal offenders like this serve the sentence handed down by the court.

Further, the Bill is necessary to ensure that federal offenders are being treated more consistently across Australia. Under the existing laws, a federal offender incarcerated in Victoria may serve a significantly lower sentence than they would if they served their sentence in any other jurisdiction. In addition, where an offender has been sentenced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts have taken into account additional hardships and restrictions imposed on prisoners, so offenders are already receiving consideration of the impact of COVID-19 when being sentenced. The subsequent granting of EMDs by Victoria can lead to the impacts of COVID-19 being 'double-counted', with offenders effectively receiving two discounts off their sentence.

In the interests of community safety, remissions and reductions applied by states and territories before commencement of the Bill will be taken to have no effect. This does not apply to anyone released from prison prior to commencement of the Bill. This ensures that any offenders who are still in prison at the time the Bill commences will not receive hundreds of days off their sentences, and will instead serve the sentence that the court considered was appropriate for them.

Finally, the bill includes minor amendments to provisions relating to 'clean street time'. Existing section 19AA contains provisions relating to 'clean street time' which will also be repealed. 'Clean street time' recognition means that, where an offender's parole order is revoked, any time served on parole in compliance with conditions can be recognised as counting towards their sentence. Recognition of this time provides an incentive for offenders on parole to comply with their conditions in the community, including participating in rehabilitation programs and engaging with corrections authorities.

The Bill maintains the ability for courts to consider 'clean street time' when dealing for federal offenders for breaches of parole. However, it will remove a provision which automatically applies state and territory legislation in relation to 'clean street time'. This ensures federal offenders are subject to a consistent, Australia-wide framework for 'clean street time', which rightly places decision-making in the hands of the court.

Conclusion

This Bill addresses the significant risks to community safety as a result of the discounts that Victoria is handing out to its prisoners during the pandemic. The Bill enables the community to be satisfied that federal offenders will serve the sentence as handed down by the sentencing court regardless of the state or territory in which they are imprisoned.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of this bill be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.