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 Shepparton Interfaith Network participated in one such 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.
Protection of the Community v. Personal Self Transformation (self-management, maturity)
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. Some convictions will never be spent – such as sexual offences, major crimes with long term sentences. However, what of persons who have not blotted their records for many years and have integrated themselves into the community, upholding values of society and culture? What can we do for those who have undergone rehabilitation and undertaken self-control, self-discipline, self respect, self-sacrifice?
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.
In Hinduism, there is a one of the goals of life, dharma, which translates to right conduct, righteousness, right behaviour, encapsulating an internal capacity or motivation to behave in a manner and fashion that upholds the values of society and culture. To give examples of this, we could borrow from Buddhism the noble eight-fold path:
So we have right speech, right view, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right intention, right concentration, right action. Many of you reading this can think of and recognise people who practice these values, these behaviours, these dimensions of righteousness, right conduct. There is a saying in Hinduism, if you uphold righteousness in life, in society and culture, in business and commerce, you will receive the protection of righteousness. It is like people you encounter who radiate such positive energy and cause you to behave like the same in their presence – simply because this energy, this value, this righteousness is within you and it is called forth.
The Spent Convictions proposal acknowledges that people can learn from experience; they can take up opportunities to transform and rehabilitiate 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.
Given that more and more employers – and community groups – are seeking the National Police Check, and that young people entering the workforce might expect to have many different employers, the opportunity to demonstrate to potential employers (and community service organisations) that they have reformed their person and are of reliable and sound character should be available to people who have managed to complete the crime-free periods as proposed in the legislation.
These people who successfully complete this crime-free period have demonstrated the capacity to manage the mind, manage their thoughts, align values with the community and express self-discipline through their choices and their behaviour. So expressing the right conduct as illustrated in the Buddhist noble eight-fold path above.
Such people should be given the chance they have earned with their personal self-transformation.
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