Spent Convictions Bill 2020 - Legislation

17 February 2021

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to rise to speak in favour of the Spent Convictions Bill 2020. I do have to commend my colleagues on this side of the house for talking so passionately about why this is such an important bill and why it will make a world of difference in the lives of people in our community. As I go on to talk about the Spent Convictions Bill I cannot help but look around this chamber, and I see the member for Yuroke there and the members for Thomastown, Broadmeadows, Yan Yean, Melton—my great neighbour and friend there in Melton—and Ballarat. Upon listening to the member for Gembrook give what I thought was a great contribution on a very important bill and talk about his passion for youth and disengaged youth in the criminal justice system, I sat there and watched him and it filled me with hope that he shared a social conscience, as we all do on this side of the house.

And also there was the member for Caulfield. I want us to cast our memories back based on the member for Caulfield’s contribution—cast our memories and our reflections back to 2018 when those opposite ran an incredibly aggressive, divisive, fearmongering campaign around crime. This really matters. This goes to what this bill is about—giving people a second chance. It was not about crime prevention. It was not about any of the things that the member for Caulfield, the member for Lowan or the member for Gembrook talked about; it was not about any of those things. I think the mantra at the time was ‘tough on crime’, and the papers were reporting things like ‘Lock them up’. ‘Lock them up’ was talking about youth. It was talking about young people.

Now, young people in my community became the target of that campaign and that mantra. In fact in my community if your skin was not white and you were not born here, you suddenly found yourself being followed around—followed around in shopping centres and in stores by security guards and by police. You were followed around while doing your shopping. It was not a matter of whether you were going to pay for something. Based on the colour of your skin—and the campaign that those opposite were running and right-wing media—if your skin was not white, you became a target. The effects of this campaign have not gone away, because young people were bullied at school, harassed at school, intimidated at school because conversations of their peers at home were based around this gang crisis—‘African gang crisis’. People with any skin colour other than white were suddenly part of a gang and doing terrible things in our local community.

I am not standing here saying there was not some pretty awful stuff happening in my local community, but not every person who did not have white skin was engaging in that. Now, this kind of campaign did some serious damage to families in my community and to young people, particularly young people from migrant backgrounds and from refugee backgrounds, already incredibly vulnerable people—very vulnerable young people that the member for Gembrook was talking about from his previous line of work, when he saw them in court. He saw where they ended up and was trying to help them get onto the right path. I certainly commend him; I am sure he did a wonderful job in his previous line of work. But I say to the member for Gembrook that serious damage happened to communities and young people in my local patch. Those opposite stoked ethnic division in multicultural communities like mine. The pinnacle or I guess the icing on the cake for their campaign was when the federal Treasurer threw petrol on the fire and said that people felt unsafe to go out and have dinner in Tarneit. That was during, I think, an on-air radio conversation about crime here in Victoria—about gangs, about African gangs and about locking them up.

I agree with the member for Gembrook: young people think very differently. They do. I think regardless of what colour skin they have and where they grew up or whether they were born here or not, they do think differently. But you cannot stand here in this place maybe not lecturing but talking about having a social conscience. Maybe he did not think he was talking about having a social conscience. But in talking about things like engaging youth, getting them into pathways other than ending up in our prisons and youth justice, trying to find them employment opportunities and giving them education opportunities, what the member for Gembrook did not realise was that this side of the house, the government that I have been a part of for the past two-and-a-bit years, has been relentless in talking about all of the great things that this government is doing to try and re-engage youth and re-engage adults who have lost their work—they need to re-skill, they need to find an honest way to put food on the table and provide for their families. We have been talking about that for a very long time.

The member for Gembrook also talked about apprenticeships. I love apprenticeships—my brother did one as a cabinet-maker—and we most certainly need more opportunities for young people to do an apprenticeship, but this side of the house does not just come in and give a bit of lip-service to that. We have been really busy for the past six years not just creating jobs but also creating opportunities for kids to go into apprenticeships. As I sat there and I listened to the member for Gembrook, what struck me is that he stopped short. The reason I raise that now is because he stopped short of recognising that his party in Canberra, the federal government—

Mr Newbury: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, on relevance, the contribution that is being given now is in no way related to the bill. It is a direct attack, a political attack, with no great purpose other than pointing out how shallow the contribution is. I spoke about a constituent who was raped and deserves a principle-based system at law. To use this speech and to use this bill to make political, shallow attacks on their opponents is appalling and a poor reflection on the member.

Ms Spence: On the point of order, Acting Speaker, there is no point of order. This is a point of debate, not a point of order.

Mr Southwick: On the point of order, Acting Speaker, the member has drifted quite somewhat from the bill. When you are talking about federal members of Parliament in previous federal governments it goes a long way from actually talking about the very, very important bill that we are all talking about. People from both sides have made very important contributions, and I think it devalues the important contributions that many people have made in this chamber.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Edbrooke): I will rule on the point of order. I appreciate that there has been some conjecture about the range of the bill, but I do not think that mentioning the federal government once would tell us that the member has actually been diverting themselves from the actual content of the bill, so there is no point of order.

Ms CONNOLLY: Well, I expected those opposite to interject. These conversations and the response to the member for Gembrook go to the heart of what a bill like the Spent Convictions Bill is about. It is about crime prevention. You will not have people not committing crime in this state just because we allow them not to have to disclose their convictions as they go to get work. You also need to be able to invest in services, in policy, in areas that help lift people up out of their current living standards—because that is what goes to the heart of the crime. That is why people are committing crimes. They are not born that way. We are a government that believes in investing in education, in job opportunities, in equality—equality. We believe in apprenticeships. Governments need to do this. What I am pointing out to you and the member for Gembrook is that the federal government also needs to equally invest in these things when it comes to crime prevention and having this kind of discussion about crime prevention in this state. It is not just a one-sided argument.

This bill will change lives. It will give people the dignity of work. It is a really big deal. It is going to make a really big difference for people in my local community, and I commend the bill to the house.