Photo: Diego Fedele/AAP
Daniel Andrews has rejected an ultimatum from the Greens to review the state’s bail laws within three months, ruling out reinstating the presumption in favor of bail for all Victorians charged with a crime.
When parliament resumed on Tuesday, the Greens introduced a bill to review the state’s bail laws, stating they would put it to a vote if the government doesn’t make its own reforms in the next three months.
With four Green MPs in the upper house – up from one in the previous parliament – and the opposition expressing interest in pursuing penal reform during this term, it is possible that the bill will pass the upper house, although unlikely is that the law will then be passed. legislative assembly.
Related: ‘Complete, unmitigated disaster’: Inquiry into Veronica Nelson’s death urges review of ‘discriminatory’ Victorian bail laws
Brunswick MP Tim Read, acting justice spokesman for the Greens, said the party was keen to work with all parties to push through “urgent” bail reform.
“What we are looking for is meaningful bail reform, which will lead to a significant drop in the number of people in prison without conviction,” he told Guardian Australia.
“The government should be able to introduce a bill to parliament within three months that can do just that.”
Andrews said the government was working on a bill but would not give a timeline for when it will be introduced.
“It has to be done right. Trying to do it on an unrealistic time frame doesn’t benefit anyone,” he said. “Giving the government ultimatums will get you nowhere.”
The Bail Act, tightened in the aftermath of the 2017 Bourke Street massacre to keep repeat violent offenders out of the community, has led to a significant rise in the number of unconvicted prisons in the state.
This is due to the “reverse onus” tests, introduced in 2018, which impose a presumption of bail for a wide range of crimes, including repeated, minor offences. Under the amendment, instead of requiring police to show a reason why bail is denied, the suspect must demonstrate why it should be granted.
First Nations people, women and children have been disproportionately affected, with many taken into custody for minor offenses that would not normally warrant jail time.
They include First Nations woman Veronica Nelson, who died in custody after being arrested on suspicion of shoplifting and denied bail.
The coroner who investigated her death last week made damning findings, describing the changes to the bail law as a “complete and unmitigated disaster”, and recommending urgent reform.
Nelson’s long-term partner, Uncle Percy Lovett, was in the gallery of the House of Commons when Read informed the Prime Minister of the matter.
Andrews said he was “not in a position and I never will be” to remove the presumption of bail for all crimes.
He said the government’s bail reform would better differentiate between violent offenses and non-violent offences.
Lovett said he hoped the government would completely overhaul bail laws.
“The prime minister has to change the bail laws, he just has to. They can’t just make small changes and then do nothing else. Everyone should be presumed innocent, they should be entitled to bail,” he told Guardian Australia.
“Veronica shouldn’t have been in jail, she should have been at home. Without the bail laws, Veronica wouldn’t have been in jail, she would still be alive.”
“I want to make sure no one else goes through what Veronica went through.”
The Greens’ bill is largely unchanged from a bill the party introduced in the upper house in 2021, which expired before November’s state election.
It does away with the “reverse burden of proof” test and replaces it with a simplified process that would require the prosecution to determine that an accused posed an unacceptable risk to the community to refuse bail.
The bill also adds other additional factors to consider when determining bail, including any parental responsibilities the accused may have; the likelihood of a custodial sentence if found guilty of the crime they are accused of; and all relevant human rights under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
Related: Unconvicted prisoners make up a third of Australia’s prison population as bail refusals skyrocket
The Greens need the support of 17 MPs to pass the bill through the upper house. Other detractors, including Liberal Democrat MP David Limbrick and Animal Rights MP Georgie Purcell, have expressed support for reforms that would prevent people accused of minor offenses from being taken into custody.