Speech: Justice Legislation Amendment (Trial by Judge Alone and Other Matters) Bill 2022

I rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Trial by Judge Alone and Other Matters) Bill 2022.

Now, this is a bill that proposes to extend by 12 months, while the pandemic orders are still in place, the capacity for an indictable offence to be heard by a judge alone and for special hearings relating to mental health impairment to be heard by judge alone.

It also does a couple of other things, such as extending by 12 months the default requirement for an adult in custody to attend the Magistrates Court to have a contested hearing or committal hearing by audiovisual link, and it also allows for youth under certain circumstances to be able to also use audiovisual links for safety reasons.

There is another provision, which I will expand on as well, in the bill which relates to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.

But as for trial by judge alone, in principle we do not oppose this 12-month extension, but very much
as long as it is tied to the pandemic orders. It should be a temporary provision, as mentioned just then
by the member for Carrum. Being temporary is the issue here.

This is not a green light to do away with juries, because they are so important to our justice system. A feature of it being fair is the right of a person to have a trial by jury, which I think is a long-held value of our system.

But as a result of the COVID period we have seen in Victoria, the state that has had the longest lockdown and the harshest restrictions, certainly a very large backlog in the court system which does need to be dealt with, so this measure does go somewhat towards doing that, but it probably is not doing enough.

I would suggest that when you look at the productivity report, a report that is a government services
report that was produced a couple of months ago, it actually highlights that the Magistrates Court, for
example, in Victoria is so far behind compared to all the other courts in Australia.

Victoria, like with so many other horrible accolades that we now hold, has the worst backlog of any state. If you look at the Magistrates Court, we have a backlog of over 12 months—19.3, I think it was, cases will have an over 12-month wait, and that is against what it is in New South Wales, which I think is about 5 per cent.

So these are not things we should be proud of, like our hospital waiting lists—we have a very
long waiting list for people—and we have got other things we are hearing about, like the worst funded
health system in any state of this nation. So the courts are no different. It is an absolute failure by this
government, and it is shocking to see people being denied justice.

I spoke to a lawyer from my electorate just this morning who wanted me to highlight that this is a
problem right out into the regions.

In South-West Coast we are having lots of issues with this backlog, because it affects people in our region. Now, I do need to state that the magistrate in Warrnambool, Mark Stratman, has made comment as well that it is causing a lot of problems.

But I do want to point out that it is not the magistrates that are causing these issues—they are doing everything in their power; it is resources that the government are not putting forward to deal with this that is the issue.

That is the problem, and that has been stated by Mark in his comments and by other visiting magistrates to the Warrnambool court circuit of Portland and Hamilton. So this local lawyer talked to me this morning about cases being adjourned off for up to seven months. Just in the last two weeks he said cases in March were being adjourned off until October.

Justice delayed is justice denied. He actually really brought it home when he talked about the domestic
violence cases—where you are living in a small town like Portland, Heywood, Warrnambool or
Hawkesdale and you have got a domestic violence situation where your partner who is violent to you
has been bailed.

The case cannot be heard for up to 12 months—seven months to 12 months—and that is only when it starts. It might be 12 months before it has finished, so you are living in fear, and as he mentioned it is often the case that these people are very clever to avoid their bail conditions being breached.

They often have sociopath behaviours of intimidating the women, and that is a really concerning situation.

I am really, really concerned to hear from that local lawyer that this is happening in our part of the world, because justice delayed is justice denied.

I think the government can do a lot more. These little changes really do not go far enough, and when
you look at the VCAT system—it was set up to help people who have not got lots of money, to help
with disputes such as neighbours’ disputes or tenancy problems for the landlord or for the tenant who
is renting—there is such a backlog that people cannot even get their disputes settled within a two-year

We are seeing that in south-west Victoria constantly. But we are also seeing—with my Shadow
Minister for Consumer Affairs hat on—that last year there were over 3000 reports to consumer affairs
about lemon cars.

It is so important that the government looks at ways to make VCAT, for example, more accessible or
develops other systems that help people get affordable, accessible and timely alternatives to dispute

People who have bought second-hand cars for $10 000, $20 000 or $30 000—or new cars
even—are not getting the justice they deserve. It is not as if these people—and that is why VCAT was
designed—have lots of money so they can put aside that car that was going to get them to and from
work and say, ‘Oh, well, I can’t get a resolution through VCAT. Consumer affairs aren’t going to do
anything more than that. Why isn’t the government helping? Because I don’t have $10 000, $20 000
or $30 000 to go out and replace that car’.

That is what consumer laws are supposed to do. So the government has the opportunity to do far more than they are currently doing to help our community with this situation.

I will now get to the last point that is very concerning in this bill, and I will note that this is not a justice
matter. It has been thrown in this bill as what feels like an afterthought, which we are seeing so many
times from this government.

It is actually the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 that it affects. This bill extends this provision in the pandemic orders by six months, and it means that a pandemic order or a COVID-related public health direction can be deemed an immediate risk to public health.

What this means is that WorkSafe Victoria inspectors will be given extraordinary powers under the
Occupational Health and Safety Act, and under section 112 of the OHS act they can issue a prohibition
notice and effectively shut down a workplace or a business for a very minor incident. It does not have
any gradation process or any proportionality. A minor breach will be deemed an immediate risk to
public health.

To play that out so you can understand what that means, I walked into a service station the other day
and there was a worker with a mask under his nose. Now, I am sure he did not mean any harm. From
my perspective as a consumer, there was perspex between him and I, and I do not have to wear a mask
under these laws—which from an infection control perspective does not actually make any logical
sense to me.

But if a WorkSafe inspector had walked into that workplace, that minor breach of not wearing a mask properly could have effectively shut down that workplace. The government says, ‘Oh, well, I’m sure the WorkSafe inspectors won’t do that’. Now, we hope that people will not do that, but we have already been hearing from people where businesses have been shut down through the last two years of the pandemic when they have been doing their best to abide by the laws and have had the QR code up and have checked all their staff for vaccination certificates but actually have not collected the vaccination certificates and had them there to present to the inspector—because who knew what we were allowed to do from a privacy perspective? It has been very, very hard for business.

On this provision in the bill, the Housing Industry Association, who we spoke to about this and who,
I might add, did not know about it, said: In the absence of evidence that further extension is necessary, there is no case for this section to be extended for another six months and clause 10 should be removed from the bill.

So we will be taking action in the other place to try and have that removed. Businesses have had enough
uncertainty. Businesses have had enough confusion. We need to recover this state from this pandemic.
We need to rebuild, and business will play a really big part in that. Let us get behind business. They
have had enough of the uncertainty. We need to support them. The government will not do that.