The Victorian Parliament Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee is currently conducting hearings into the proposed Spent Convictions legislation. A hearing was conducted at The Connection, Midland Highway, on Monday 15 July 2019. The Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District appeared before the hearing.
The current policy leaves young and indigenous Victorians particularly susceptible to discrimination. These groups are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, often for minor offences such as possession of cannabis, minor shop stealing, or using a concession Myki card without possessing a concession card – which is considered to be fraud.
There are other barriers put up before those with a criminal history. Obtaining housing is a critical issue, and prisoners finishing their sentences often end up homeless. If passed, this law will help prevent discrimination and remove obstacles which prevent some former offenders from seeking rehabilitation, gaining employment and participating in their communities. There are many examples of former drug addicts who have cleaned themselves up, completed various Certificate IV courses and passed, yet, are unable to contribute to the community because of their past criminal history. It is to be kept in mind that if the court finds a person guilty, issues a fine and orders that a conviction not be recorded, this non-conviction order will still appear in the criminal history.
Seeking a New Life in Australia
There is also the double jeopardy for those who migrate to Australia, or who are asylum seekers or on temporary protection visa/safe haven visa. With regard to citizenship, and people on visas, the Minister for Home Affairs may cancel a visa under section 501 of the Migration Act. Citizenship has also been cancelled in similar circumstances to those outlined below:
Section 501 of the Migration Act provides that a person does not pass the character test if they fall within any of the grounds specified in subsections 501(6)(a) to (d). These grounds can be grouped into five broad categories:
- substantial criminal record
- conviction for immigration detention offences
- association with persons suspected of engaging in criminal conduct
- past and present criminal or general conduct
- significant risk of particular types of future conduct.
Those who seek to have a new life in Australia have to be of good character; Christmas Island is known to hold people where the Minister has determined they do not have good character and are to be sent back to their country of origin. Principally, this scopes to people who have criminal records. The Spent Convictions proposal may not have effect for those who migrate, seek refuge or asylum in Australia. Any offending would have to be minor and patently summary. Any involvement with the criminal justice system resulting in a sentence longer than 12 months places a person – and family – in jeopardy of losing settlement and/or citizenship in Australia, no matter the circumstances. The legislation is definitive.
Subsection 501(6)(d)of the Migration Act provides that a person does not pass the character test if there is a significant risk that, while in Australia, the person would:
- engage in criminal conduct
- harass, molest, intimidate or stalk another person
- vilify a segment of the Australian community
- incite discord in the Australian community or in a segment of the community or
- represent a danger to the Australian community or to a segment of the community, whether by way of being liable to become involved in activities that are disruptive to, or in violence threatening harm to, that community or segment, or in any other way.
It is clear that those who seek a new life in Australia are urged to seek integration into the community in ways that strengthen and make Australia a better place to live.
The justice system seeks to enact the requirement that the government of the day offer protection to the community – and through many checks and balances, provide that protection through the courts and law enforcement. Where persons are found guilty, records are kept, and disclosed in police checks requested by employers and volunteer bodies in the community, in addition to certain specified employment.
For those who come from the Middle East, we keep in mind that going to court, being seen in the company of law enforcement officers is frequently a cause of shame and in Australia, incentive to stay on the right side of the law.
Matters that were raised before the Spent Convictions hearing included, (inter-alia)
- Conversation cafes conducted by Ethnic Council and Victoria Police
- Conversation cafes conducted by Ethnic Council and VicRoads
- Tours of the new court house for the CALD Community
- Interaction of the Australian-African Task Force and local community leaders
- Positive effect of the role of multicultural policing in Shepparton and District
- Strength of leadership in settlement communities and positive example set by community leaders
- Positive impact of female policing in multicultural commuities
- strength of Shepparton’s record in successful settlement and integration into Australian community
- Connections between local community leadership and community leadership in suburban Melbourne
Spent Convictions offers New Opportunity
What is being considered (in short) is to limit the effect of criminal convictions for relatively minor offences once the offender completes a period of crime-free behaviour. Once this period has passed, the conviction will be regarded as spent and should not form part of a person’s criminal history.
The Spent Convictions proposal acknowledges that people can learn from experience; they can take up opportunities to transform and rehabilitate themselves. They can engage in internal self-management such as self-control, self-discipline, self respect, self-sacrifice. The Spent Convictions proposal will affirm to society that no regard should be given to past convictions as people have demonstrated in thought, word and action through a specified crime-free period, that they have changed their character and reformed themselves, realigned their values with those who abide in the community in harmony and peace.
In terms of settlement in Australia, opportunities to understand the justice system in Australia and the requirements of settlement are offered in the Citizenship courses and similar information offered by the Department of Home Affairs.
The Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District is currently conducting courses for men and women seeking Australian Citizenship.