24 June 2022

VALS opposes the creation of the new indictable offence of “grossly offensive public conduct” as the need for the proposed offence has not been sufficiently demonstrated. The Government should not be prioritising the creation of more criminal offences, when it continues to ignore much needed reforms that will have far greater impacts.

There is no “gap” to fill as existing offences adequately and appropriately cover the conduct that would be captured by the new offence. We know that public order offences are used to disproportionality criminalise people who are already over-represented in the criminal legal system, including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. There is a clear risk that Aboriginal people will also be disproportionality affected by this offence.

Whilst the Government focuses on responding to one discrete incident, reforms that are urgently needed to prevent Aboriginal deaths are left languishing for years.

In June 2022, the Victorian Coroners Court heard compelling and condemning evidence in relation to the death of Veronica Marie Nelson, a proud Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman, who passed away in custody on 2 January 2019. Three years have passed and the laws and policies that contributed to her death have not been changed.

Instead of expanding and reinforcing criminal responses, the Government should be urgently reforming the punitive bail system, raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years and providing culturally safe healthcare in prisons.

The priority being given to this legislative reform also represents a broader trend of criminalisation and punitive responses. The Victorian Government should stop investing in police, building new prisons and expanding police powers and criminal offences. Instead, they should be investing in measures to support people to stay out of the criminal legal system.

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of VALS

The Government should not be spending resources creating more criminal offences, when it continues to ignore much needed reforms that will have far greater impacts, particularly on marginalised and racialised people.

Instead of focusing on criminal responses, the Government should be urgently reforming the punitive bail system, raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years and providing culturally safe, equitable healthcare in prisons.