In Parliament

Bill Debate - Spent Convictions Bill 2020

BILL DEBATE.

‘SPENT CONVICTIONS BILL 2020’.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (15:37):

I rise to make a brief contribution on the Spent Convictions Bill 2020.

Our justice system is designed to deliver the law righteously. It is a system that has been codified in black letter law but is underpinned in morality and values. That underpinning is comprised of weight of evidence, impartiality and swift force.

Our system also acknowledges that we as a broader community value redemption. We expect justice to be served proportionately, but we also recognise that redemption through rehabilitation is possible and should be encouraged. We want all people to make a valuable contribution to the community.

A spent convictions scheme codifies that principle of redemption. It is a legal acknowledgement that rehabilitation is possible—not that it is an embedded right but rather that rehabilitation can be proven, that it can be earned and, after being earned, lead to the State redeeming an offender’s legal record, which undoubtedly would have a positive effect on an individual’s character and confidence.

Those are the principles that the Government should have embedded in this Bill, because there are people for whom redemption is warranted and deserved, and I would like to speak about one of them today.

Before my election to Parliament, an elderly Brighton resident handwrote to me. To respect her privacy, I will refer to her as Joan and her son as John. Joan wrote to me about her now adult son John. As a young boy, John was sexually abused and raped by a layman of the Catholic Church. For decades the crime remained undetected. In his early 20s John approached his abuser. John sought to blackmail him for $5,000 to keep the abuse quiet. The paedophile went to the police, did not reveal the motivation for the blackmail, and John was charged and convicted of blackmail.

As part of the court process, John revealed the nature of the initial crime and the identity of the paedophile. John was the first person to make an allegation against the paedophile. John’s brave statement exposed a web of other children who had all been abused by the same man, but unfortunately the paedophile claimed illness and delayed his trial. As such, the childhood crimes did not form part of John’s trial process nor his later appeal. The paedophile was later convicted and spent three years in jail.

Since John’s conviction for blackmailing the paedophile he has had an
unblemished record. He has run a small business and now has an adult child of
his own. However, the conviction has caused him difficulty throughout his life,
in seeking employment, in attempting to travel overseas and as a permanent and
recurring reminder of the vile trauma he suffered as a boy.

Perhaps Joan best described the impact of the conviction and the depth of his family’s need for state-acknowledged redemption, and I quote:

… the conviction stands as a constant reminder of the psychological, emotional and mental trauma he endured as a little boy and I, as his mother, could be given peace of mind, freed from some guilt of not being able to protect my son …

from this paedophile.

John was twice a victim: a victim of a paedophile and a victim of the rules which stopped his mitigating circumstances being recognised. John deserves redemption, both legally and for his own peace.

Tragically we know that crimes of this nature too often break victims’ spirits.

Often the trauma is too great to bear. I will always remember a notable New South Welshman, with a loving family of his own, who took his own life in 2017 because of the toll of similar abuse, and the heartbreaking comments of his wife who said, and I quote:

… he wore out and it was time for him to be free. He was so handsome on the outside and broken inside, now his body is so broken and his spirit is free.

That is why I strongly support enshrining the value of redemption in law. We as a Parliament should support a formalised, principle-based system. Both as a candidate and Member of Parliament, publicly and privately, I have advocated for the introduction of state atonement laws, through a spent convictions scheme, but this Bill does not enshrine those values.

This bill does not adequately recognise the need for rehabilitation. A principle-based spent convictions scheme should get the balance right: a balance between the right to proportionate punishment, justice for victims of crime and general community safety, and on the other hand the rights of historic offenders who have demonstrated their reform and future contribution to the community.

By contrast this Bill provides certain automatic rights to a spent conviction. No balance scheme should provide an automatic right to a murder conviction being spent. For offending children under the age of 15, that is what this Bill does.

It is not the first time a flawed Bill has been put to this chamber, where the drafting undermines the principal purpose. We all saw the Let Us Speak campaign, which drew attention to the poorly drafted laws which would have prevented survivors from speaking to media using their real names.

Those laws, like these, were flawed. These drafted laws do not align with the altruistic principles this Parliament wants to support. I say to the Government: reconsider the drafted Bill and ensure that the final Bill enshrines a balance scheme for spent convictions, a Bill that gets the balance right, because our community values redemption and wants to see it enshrined in law, but not where it is an automatic right.

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