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Parliamentary committee backs ‘nation’s toughest parole laws’

A parliamentary committee has endorsed the passing of new laws that the Queensland Government has dubbed the “toughest parole laws in the nation”.

The parliamentary Legal Affairs and Safety Committee, in a report tabled yesterday, recommended the passing of legislation empowering the parole board to block child-killers and convicted multiple murders from applying for release indefinitely.

The proposed changes in the Police Powers and Responsibilities and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 will allow the president of the independently run Parole Board Queensland (PBQ) to have sole responsibility for deciding which of the state’s convicted child-killers should receive release bans of up to 10 years.

They will also place no limit on the number of times the PBQ president can make such a declaration, meaning that an individual prisoner could face multiple 10-year bans on obtaining parole.

The report acknowledges opposition to the proposed changes during last month’s public hearings by a myriad of stakeholders including Queensland Law Society, the Bar Association of Queensland, Prisoners’ Legal Service, LawRight, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service and Sisters Inside.

There was even dissent voiced by two of the committee’s six members – who described the changes as “little more than window dressing” to make communities safe.

The two LNP committee members, Committee Deputy Chair Laura Gerber and Andrew Powell, said the proposed amendments were a disparate collection of measures bundled together to give the appearance of a concerted response to curb crime.

The pair, in their signed ‘State of Reservation’, were also critical of proposed temporary changes which mandate PBQ hear parole applications within 180 days instead of the current 120 days.

The parole board hearing backlog crisis – which has resulted in applications for inmates being delayed for up to nine months – has recently become a serious issue for courts with a deluge of applications by prisoners for their cases to be resolved by judicial review in the Supreme Court.

“The Opposition regards this proposal as little more than an admission the Parole Board is unable to keep pace with current applications for parole,” Ms Gurber and Mr Powell said.

“It is a transparent attempt to paper over an administrative failure to comply (with the requirements) … applications for parole should be dealt with within 120 days.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests courts are discounting sentences in the expectation that the Parole Board will be unable to hear applications within the appropriate time.

“At the same time applications for judicial review are costing thousands of dollars and consuming valuable court time because the Board is unable to meet its obligations.

“Simply extending the time for the Board to consider applications will assist neither the applicants nor the community generally.”

When the proposed laws were introduced in Parliament on 16 September last year, Police and Corrective Services Minister Mark Ryan said the changes would be the nation’s toughest parole laws for people serving life sentences for the most “heinous crimes”.

“These reforms are aimed at protecting the victims’ families from the trauma of repeated and unnecessary parole applications,” Mr Ryan said. “This is about targeting those who commit the worst crimes with laws that protect the victims’ families from unnecessary trauma.”

Read the committee report.

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