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Victorian justice portfolio – an interview with Penny Armytage

Current issues in the Victorian justice portfolio

What are the main justice and security issues in Victoria’s future? James Lavery, KPMG’s Victorian Government Justice and Courts Lead, talks with Penny Armytage, Special Adviser, KPMG, and former Secretary, Department of Justice Victoria to find out.

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James Lavery: The 2018 Victorian election is coming up in November and law and order issues are prominent. What are the top three critical issues from your perspective?

Penny Armytage: Law and order is always an issue. Already, we've seen attention given to policing and adequacy of police resources in response to youth crime, and events such as the brawl involving some 200 people outside a music venue in Collingwood1 in early September 2018. I expect this will continue. So too will the focus on the issue of youth offenders – in particular, offenders from different cultural backgrounds.

The focus on bail (and potentially sentencing) will also continue. I suggest that the focus should be on offences committed by somebody on bail or parole, particularly if the offence is of a violent or sexual nature.

JL: There has been much media commentary regarding judges and magistrates’ workloads, stress levels and mental health. Are increased leave and salaries the only solutions?

PA: I'm not in a position to talk about judicial workloads. However, the attention which has been given to stress in the judicial office, and the attention which needs to be given to mental health issues of judges, is extremely important. Sadly, it has received greater prominence as a result of the tragic deaths of two magistrates. Rob Hulls identified the difficulties and loneliness of judicial office in an article in The Age2 earlier this year.

The way in which the Victorian Government is responding, and the commentary around this, will hopefully ensure that protections are put in place to assist. This will help judicial officers to understand that they don’t have to attend to these matters on their own.

I have done work highlighting the important work that the Coroners’ Court, and in particular the Coroners' Prevention Unit, are doing to promote a public discourse about suicide.

Organisations such as beyondblue are also doing great work in this space. The #YouCanTalk campaign is a fantastic example of a collaborative effort between beyondblue, Black Dog Institute, Everymind, headspace, Lifeline, ReachOut and R U OK?, which aims to empower and increase confidence when it comes to talking about suicide.

JL: The Family Violence Royal Commission is unprecedented in Victoria. It is resulting in a new and different role for police – how do you think Victoria Police needs to adapt to its new role?

PA: Victoria Police is already adapting quickly. What is startling is the acknowledgement that approximately 60% of the time police vans are on the road, they are responding to domestic violence incidents. The same is true of police in other jurisdictions such as NSW. However, as Victoria Police itself acknowledges, recent tragedies have highlighted the need for ongoing vigilance, and ensuring at all times that police, and the community at large, are listening to the voice of the victim.

JL: What are the crucial ‘over the horizon’ justice matters that will occupy an incoming Victorian Government over the coming 4-year term?

PA: Maintaining performance and costs of the corrections system amid rising prisoner numbers is a real challenge. There is also an increasing re-offending rate around Australia – this will likely occupy an incoming government's mind. Interestingly, the youth re-offending rate in New South Wales is dropping (by around 30%), due to a NSW Government package, including extra bail assistance and other targeted initiatives. The NSW crime rate is also declining. So the Victorian Government may look to NSW for new initiatives in these respects.

The Victorian Government will also have a significant challenge in managing prison capacity. It will take at least 3 years to build a new prison facility, which is a serious issue.

Another emerging issue is the role of Court Services Victoria in determining the operating model for Victoria’s courts and tribunals. An incoming government may look to the work being done in New Zealand in this space.

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