Kim O’KEEFFE (Shepparton) (12:25): I rise today to speak on the Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023. This bill before the house is in order to ensure that Paul Denyer is never released from prison. As we know, Paul Denyer was convicted of the brutal and horrific murders of Natalie Russell, Elizabeth Stevens and Debbie Fream in 1993, 30 years ago. Today we have members of their families in the gallery, and I acknowledge them and my thoughts and prayers are with them all. I also acknowledge Mr Limbrick. I really feel the pressure of the gallery today, and I thank everyone that has made a contribution. As a mother of two daughters and a young mother back then I can only imagine the horrific circumstances that you have had to endure, and 30 years later with two adult daughters I cannot imagine my life without one of them. I acknowledge the member for Frankston and the Frankston community. The member for Frankston shared some words from Natalie’s family and friends on the pain, trauma and life sentence that they have endured. Thank you for sharing that. I also wish to acknowledge the member for Berwick, the member for Lowan and the member for Mornington, who have also been in contact with the victims’ families over a substantial period of time and have advocated strongly on their behalf. Member for Berwick, I thank you for sharing your relationship with Jake and the support that I am sure he will continue to need, not only from this place but from afar.
I remember this case very well and the fear it instilled in many. We know the families of victims have been waiting for this legislation, and it is, as I have said, such a difficult time. Paul Denyer will be in this legislation in order to ensure that the victims’ families and the wider community know, as we said, that he can never be released from prison unless he is terminally ill or incapacitated.
The Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023 is a bill that provides greater certainty for victims of serious crimes. To minimise trauma associated with the parole process and to protect the community from the risk posed by someone like Paul Denyer is something we are achieving today. Specifically, the Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023 will limit the circumstances in which the Adult Parole Board of Victoria may order the release of Paul Denyer on parole; require the adult parole board to impose a no-return period after refusing parole to a person serving a life sentence – and the person cannot receive parole within that period except if they are dying, as we said, or incapacitated; and empower the adult parole board to make a restricted prisoner declaration, preventing a person serving a life sentence for a particularly serious crime from receiving parole whilst the declaration is in force, except if they are dying or incapacitated. In addition, the bill will allow the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Community Safety to share information about a non-return period and a restricted prisoner declaration with registered victims and, if it is in the public interest, the adult parole board to share this information with other members of the public.
The Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023 will be worded in the same terms used to keep Hoddle Street killer Julian Knight and Russell Street bomber Craig Minogue in jail. Furthermore, the bill will further protect families of other victims of serious and violent crimes by giving the adult parole board the power to declare restricted prisoners, meaning that prisoners will be unable to be released within five and 10 years after serving the non-parole period for their sentence. On the other hand, prisoners who are serving a life sentence will also be restricted from reapplying for their parole after their application has been rejected.
In June this year we as an opposition, the Victorian Liberals and Nationals, worked alongside the families of the victims and a member for South-Eastern Metropolitan Region in the other place to introduce a bill into Parliament to ensure Paul Denyer would be ineligible for parole and remain in prison for the remainder of his life. In addition, the bill at the time would have also prevented Paul Denyer from making further applications for release, sparing the families of his victims the uncertainty and trauma of periodic parole hearings. This bill is the same that was presented back then, and I am pleased that finally this bill is before the house.
The Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023 will further restrict parole for prisoners convicted of murder, killing children and serious sexual offences. The bill before the house makes amendments to the Corrections Act 1986 in relation to conditions for making a parole order for the prisoner Paul Denyer, requires the adult parole board in certain circumstances to specify a period during which a prisoner is not eligible for parole, further requires the adult parole board in certain circumstances to consider making and empowers the board to make a declaration specifying a period during which a prisoner is not eligible for parole and makes further provision for the sharing of certain information by the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Community Safety and the adult parole board.
One of the main provisions in the bill is preventing Mr Denyer from receiving parole. In doing so the Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023 introduces a new section, section 74AC, into the Corrections Act 1986, which will prevent Mr Denyer from being released on parole unless he is in imminent danger of death or seriously incapacitated and as a result has a reduced capacity to harm anyone. This amendment to the Corrections Act mirrors the same restrictions on parole for Julian Knight, as we have said, and Craig Minogue in sections 74AA and 74AB.
Mr Denyer’s crimes were horrific, evil and vile. The Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023 will ensure that the wider Victorian community is protected and both the community and the families of Mr Denyer’s victims can have faith and confidence in the state’s justice system that he will never be released from prison until he can do no harm. The new section, section 74AC, includes subsections providing that the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 does not apply to this provision and that those override declarations do not need to be re-enacted every five years as is required ordinarily under section 31(7) of the charter. Consequently the charter will have no application to this provision. In this exceptional case the charter is being overridden to ensure that the community is protected from Mr Denyer and the significant risk he poses to community safety. This is concurrent with the existing provisions that apply to Mr Knight and Mr Minogue, which include a charter overriding.
Further the bill will see the introduction to other reforms to minimise the unnecessary trauma that is experienced by other victims of serious crimes during the parole process. Another important provision in the Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023 is the no-return period. Currently if the adult parole board refuses to grant a person parole, there is no legislation restriction on when a person can apply for parole again. Whilst the board will often direct people in prison not to apply for parole again for a specific time frame, this is not currently a requirement and the time frame is not communicated to victims. As a result of this it can be extremely distressing and difficult for victims and their families, as we have seen, who hold the uncertainty of not knowing when the person could apply for parole again and be released into the community.
The Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Bill 2023 will introduce a further addition, new section 74AAD, that will require the adult parole board to impose a no-return period of up to five years if it refuses to grant parole to a person serving a life sentence. During the no-return period the person would be unable to receive parole unless they are dying or incapacitated and lack the capacity to harm another person. There no-return period will instead be used as a guiding tool for the board to select an appropriate time frame within which it does not consider a prisoner should be able to reapply for parole. This will be informed by the evidence that the board considers as part of a parole hearing. In addition the no-return period will see a maximum period of five years, and this period can be tailored according to a person’s rehabilitation prospects and other factors. But most importantly, community safety will continue to be the major consideration in making parole decisions and when setting a no-return period.
Lastly I just again want to acknowledge the family in the gallery and Mr Limbrick. On both sides of the house this is a very important bill, and I am so pleased to see that it has finally come to the house. As I said, my thoughts and prayers are with the families and Mr Limbrick today.