The Victorian Greens will today second-read their ‘bail bill’ in Parliament, which would simplify the state’s strict bail laws and reduce the disproportionate number of First Nations people imprisoned for minor crimes.
The Bail Amendment (Reducing Pre-trial Imprisonment of Women, Aboriginal, and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2021 would create a system that grants offenders bail unless they pose an unacceptable risk to the community.
In 2017 and 2018 the Andrews Government tightened our bail laws significantly, so that bail was denied to many people accused of minor offences. This decision was made after a hasty review and has led to countless disadvantaged people being locked up for minor offences before they are sentenced.
This expansion of the reverse onus tests to capture low level offences explains why the incarceration of vulnerable groups such as women and Aboriginal Victorians has risen in recent years at a much higher rate than other groups.
People on remand (unsentenced) currently account for a record 44 per cent of all Victorian prisoners, up from 24 per cent five years ago. And there are currently more unsentenced than sentenced women in Victorian prisons.
The Greens’ bill would get rid of the ‘reverse onus’ tests and instead reinstate a simplified test in which the prosecution would need to show an accused person was an unacceptable risk to the community and shouldn’t be bailed.
Victorian Greens health spokesperson, Dr Tim Read, said Victoria’s ‘tough on crime’ politics had been toughest on the poorest and most vulnerable, who were often imprisoned for very minor offences.
He added that if the government was serious about ending the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal communities, it needed to address the role it has played in the problem.
Djab Wurrung, Gunnai and Gunditjmara Senator for Victoria, Lidia Thorpe, said the reform was about fairness, and that the over-incarceration of First Nations people leads to deaths in custody on remand, for alleged offences like shoplifting that won’t even lead to a prison sentence.
As stated by Victorian Greens health spokesperson, Dr Tim Read:
“Victoria’s bail laws are punishing disadvantaged Victorians, especially First Nations people.
“The thing is, we know what needs to be done to reduce the imprisonment rates of First Nations and other disadvantaged people in Victoria, this government just hasn’t had the political will to do it.
“Under our bill, instead of forcing low-level offenders to justify why they should receive bail, they’ll be entitled to it unless they pose an unacceptable risk to the community.”
As stated by Djab Wurrung, Gunnai and Gunditjmara Senator for Victoria, Lidia Thorpe:
“This bill is about fairness. If a person hasn’t even been convicted of a crime, they shouldn’t be in jail.
“The over-incarceration of First Nations people leads to deaths in custody.
“Current bail laws punish people for being poor. Instead of putting billions into new prisons, the Andrews Government should be expanding public housing and stopping black deaths in custody.”