Thursday, 30 November 2017
Statutes Amendment (Attorney General’s Portfolio No 3) Bill
The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I have just a few remarks on behalf of the Dignity Party, particularly in regard to the spent convictions parts of this bill. The intention of the principal act is to issue a spent conviction in some cases—and I stress in some cases—where the accused person had an otherwise blameless record and has only committed a minor offence. In its current form, in the opinion of the Dignity Party, and indeed on the advice we have received, the bill casts too wide a net and could potentially and perhaps unintentionally capture people in a way that prejudices their current and future employment prospects.
The Dignity Party feels that this is not in the spirit of the main act, nor in the spirit of the Attorney-General’s changes to the Spent Convictions Act, stating an intention to protect vulnerable people. So I have filed amendments to provide that young people who have committed a first time and/or minor offence can apply to a magistrate to have information about such a conviction excluded from disclosure. It is up to the magistrate to uphold the spirit of the bill in terms of protecting vulnerable people, particularly children, elderly or disabled people from employees whose conviction history they may otherwise have not known about. It would be up to that magistrate to decide whether an offence is relevant or not relevant to a particular type of employment.
As an example of this, my office is aware of a story of someone who was a young girl at the time and who we will refer to as Hannah. Hannah went to a music festival one year some years ago and was caught by police in her car taking drugs with her friends. All the young people were terrified and decided for various reasons not to tell their parents, and because of the situation with the other girls’ families Hannah stepped up and took the wrap solely by herself.
She was given a spent conviction by the judge. This whole process had the intention of and indeed had the impact of leaving a scar on Hannah due to which she reflected on how doing recreational drugs was not worth it, if it resulted in serious consequences and penalties such as these. Hannah went on to work in the performing arts and in hospitality, often teaching and mentoring other young people. She has been very successful and also performed overseas and around Australia. If her spent conviction information was readily available to current and prospective employers, who knows what kind of working future Hannah may or may not have had?
The justice system has to have fairness built in, and it is our job to uphold this as lawmakers in this chamber today. I believe that in order to do that we need to restrict this spent convictions disclosure clause somewhat to ensure that it captures people who have only committed a one-time or a minor offence and where the magistrate is satisfied that the nature and circumstances and seriousness of the relevant offence was not great and whether the relevant offence involved a child or children or a vulnerable person or persons, because obviously we do not want people who have committed offences that are serious and involve vulnerable people, including children, not to have that against their file, if you like.
Under my amendment, the magistrate will also have to consider whether the applicant has a history of offending and whether the applicant appears to have rehabilitated and to be of good character and, lastly, whether or not making the order would have an unduly negative effect on the applicant’s career or employment prospects.
Again, we are not talking about people who have committed very serious offences of abuse or taking advantage of vulnerable people, including children. We are talking about people like Hannah, who at one point in their young lives made a mistake and have not done so since, and have gone on to be, to use a somewhat clichéd term, upstanding members of our community. I do not think that they should continue to have that one-off mistake that they made, which was minor in the scheme of things, continue to impact their employment opportunities far into their future.
That is the spirit with which the Dignity Party has introduced that amendment. I have just explained it now so that I do not have to go into too much length at committee stage. But it is also important to remember that these spent convictions provisions only apply to people up to and under the age of 25 years. That is what the bill defines as a young person, much to my personal offence but that is not a matter for today. I think that there may well be some room to broaden the scope to include people over the age of 25, particularly as we learn more through developments in neuroscience and other fields that chronological age is not necessarily the same as developmental age.
Having said that, given the shortage of time before us, this is a good start which paves the way for a future parliament to review this and decide if this kind of oversight is effective. We feel that offenders under 25 still have their professional and personal lives ahead of them and, for those who may have made a mistake at one point in their lives, this amendment seeks to offer them a second chance and a fair go at seeking and keeping a job.
A job can be a lifeline in terms of not becoming further on the fringes of society and anything that we can do to protect deserving people to stay in employment is important. Having said that, measures to continue to protect vulnerable people in this state are vital, and that is exactly why there are those caveats in the amendment that I put forward. With those words, I lend the Dignity Party’s support for the second reading of the bill and thank the government and other members of the crossbench for their support of this amendment.