Correctional Services (Parole) Amendment Bill
Thursday 30 July, 2015
I rise today on behalf of the opposition to speak to the Correctional Services (Parole) Amendment Bill transmitted to this place and read a first time on 18 June. I indicate that the opposition will be supporting this bill, but I do want to make a brief contribution for the benefit of the chamber. I will start with one of the more significant and controversial aspects of this bill, and that is the section which seeks to remove the power of the executive to prevent those serving life sentences from being paroled. When we talk of the executive here, we mean the Governor in Council, who of course acts almost exclusively on the advice of his ministers. The power of the Governor dates back a long time in the history of this province and is not necessarily controversial if used sparingly and in the right circumstances. However, in recent times the tendency to use the prole of convicted serious offenders as a political plaything in law and order debates, especially in election years, is manifest. This has been particularly true of the current Labor government, in particular under the tutelage of His Excellency the Hon. Mike Rann. I welcome this change from the government and, in a rare moment of magnanimity, the Attorney-General has heeded the calls of the judicial arm of government and has ceded some power. The new process for dealing with the parole of those serving life sentences is established by this bill. Under the provisions of this bill, a parole administrative review commissioner (PARC) will be established. The commissioner will undertake a review of the Parole Board's decision to refuse or grant parole of a prisoner if a review is sought by the following: the Attorney-General, the Commissioner of Police and/or the Commissioner for Victims' Rights. Once the review has been completed, the PARC will then uphold the decision of the Parole Board, make a decision of their own or send the matter back to the Parole Board with directions or recommendations. In this sense, the PARC has inherited the powers once reserved for the Governor in Council. The opposition believes this to be a very reasonable change. On one hand, we welcome removing what is essentially judicial responsibility from the responsibility of the executive, whilst technically the commission will be a statutory body. Those eligible to be appointed as the PARC will exclusively be former court judges, making it judicial in character. It is worth noting that the change from Governor veto is welcomed by the Presiding Member of the Parole Board, the diligent and passionate Frances Nelson QC, the Law Society and the Commissioner for Victims' Rights. A further change to those granted parole whilst serving life sentences will now be subject to monitoring and parole conditions for the remainder of their life. The current provisions are a parole period lasting between six months and the remainder of the parolee's natural life. Naturally, the Commissioner for Victims' Rights welcomes this change, as does the opposition, and this has the effect that life sentences now actually mean life in every sense. I should note that the conditions imposed on parolees are set and can be altered by the Parole Board and that the aim of this legislation should not be to undermine their good work and the trust that the government and the parliament place in that body. Therefore, the Parole Board can and should be trusted to make a call on those conditions and on how tough or lenient they are. The easing of these conditions over time, providing the parolee is showing genuine reform in their behaviour, should be the purpose of our parole system. The concerns of those who feel that a prisoner who has done their time and therefore should be free to pursue a new life are noted, but I believe that the Parole Board should be trusted in this area. A final point on the significant aspects of this bill are on the 'No body, no parole' provisions. 'No body, no parole' is the flashy campaign name given to the policy of refusing parole to those convicted of murder who refuse to cooperate with authorities on the whereabouts of their victims. As the very good member for Morialta noted, this policy would be better known as 'no cooperation, no parole' but of course that would hardly look as good on a DL flyer—but then enough of the cynicism. The opposition welcomes these provisions as they attempt to give the families of victims peace of mind in their being able to lay their loved ones to rest. Often our criminal justice system has copped criticism for not doing enough for victims, and perhaps these changes will go some way to rectifying that disconnect. The effect of the changes are such that the Commissioner of Police will provide a report to the Parole Board indicating the level of the prisoner's cooperation with the investigation for which the Parole Board will make a determination. I wish to thank the honourable member for Morialta from another place for his work on formulating our party's position on this bill and for his assistance to me and my office on these issues. As I indicated earlier, the opposition will be supporting the bill. I look forward to hearing the contributions and perspectives of other honourable members. I commend the bill to the council.