Victims Rights and Support Bill 2013


Victims Rights and Support Bill debate, 29/30 May 2013

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY (Leader of the Opposition) [12.42 a.m.]: I believe I will be the last speaker in this debate from the non-Government parties. I followed the debate intently in my office this evening. I have listened to all of the contributions. It is unfortunate that, to date, no member of the Government has spoken in this debate to put a case for the Victims Rights and Support Bill 2013. I note that tonight there has been much talk of rights; numerous speakers have made the point that the title of this bill is Orwellian in that it is a bill that, in our view, strips rights from the victims of crime yet is titled, in part, "victims rights". There has been much talk about rights.

I want to introduce a new word, and that is dignity. For all the talk of human rights, I think the roots of human rights are to be found in the dignity that belongs to every human being, the dignity that is inherent in human life and equal in every person. I am sure Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile would agree with me that that human dignity has been given by God; and that human dignity, having been given by God and wounded by sin, was taken and redeemed by Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.

The dignity of every person before God is the basis of the dignity of man before other men. That is a view of humanity and people's dignity that Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, the Hon. Paul Green and I share. So there are many of us who understand that, for all the abstract talk of rights, human rights derive from human dignity and the proper dignity of every human being. And only that recognition of human dignity can make possible the common and the personal growth of all human beings. I have always believed that to stimulate the kind of personal growth that I have talked about, it is necessary in particular to help the least. Pope Paul VI taught us that, as did many other Popes.

It is often fashionable in the Labor movement to characterise people from the conservative parties as heartless, as lacking in compassion, as drawing some satisfaction or enjoyment from trampling on the downtrodden. I just think that is wrong. I think the overwhelming majority of people who enter public life, who enter Parliament, do so because they want to advance the welfare of the community and the welfare of people. Really, I think it is trite to say that people from right-wing parties get their kicks from trampling on the downtrodden. We have to look beyond those sorts of clichés and consider people, people's motivations, parties' motivations and governments' motivations far more seriously than that. I know the Hon. Greg Smith to be a compassionate person. I know him to be a good person. I do not know how he can bring himself to introduce this bill. I disagree with what he has done in introducing this bill to the Parliament. I do not believe it is because he is some vicious, heartless person.

I think that the last people you would engage to create a bill that responds to people's physical and psychological scarring, a loss of their human dignity as victims of crime, would be a bunch of accounts and auditors. Earlier this week I met with a group of people from the Homicide Victims Support Group. One of the great things about being a member of Parliament is that so often we meet people and groups that teach us so much. I learned things in that meeting on Monday with Martha Jabour and the people she brought in. One of the things they taught me is that it is not just about rights; it is about the dignity of people, and the loss of human dignity. There is obviously a loss of life when someone is murdered; but their family members, their loved ones, are victims of that crime, too. When I say they are victims, I am not talking about their rights in the first instance; I am talking about their dignity and what it does to them as the spouse, child or parent of someone who is murdered.

In attempting to deal with that assault on their dignity legislatures have to recognise their needs are not just financial; they have emotional needs. People are scarred for years and decades after the murder of a loved one. They have financial needs and they need money to keep them going in their lives. People can often barely get out of bed because of the scarring the assault on their dignity that crime has caused. The crime has not only taken the life of a family member, but it has also affected them as a loved one of that murder victim. There is a loss of dignity. There is so much talk about rights in politics, but let us start with the concept of equal dignity for all human beings. I think about Martha Jabour and retired Assistant Commissioner John Laycock and the work they do assisting the loved ones of homicide victims. These people are secular saints. What they are doing is reaching down to tend and bind the wounds and extend a hand to the most damaged and scarred members of our community.

Homicide does not discriminate. It has no boundaries or limits, it does not make exceptions and it cuts across social, religious, class and ethnic boundaries. Homicide can be so random. It cannot be right that a government, through whatever tortuous mechanisms, finds itself in a position that large tax concessions are given to the clubs industry, that very significant cuts are made to the fees paid by thousands of private jetty owners and, at the same time, that very large cuts are made to victims' rights and the financial payments to the victims of crime. These people have suffered an assault on their dignity as human beings. I do not think we have got there because members of the Liberal Party and The Nationals are cruel, heartless, Tory bastards. I do not think that at all.

I understand that individual decisions are taken at different times and budgets are put together, but I ask Government members to just step back: It cannot be right that thousands of private jetty owners receive a 36 per cent cut in the fees they pay, that large clubs doing very well receive massive tax concessions and the Government that has taken those decisions serves up this bill that slashes payments and support for victims of crime. It just cannot be right. Members need to think about that. I have talked about the Liberal-Nationals Government. Through you, Mr President, I will now speak to Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile and the Hon. Paul Green. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile was unfairly harsh on my party. I am not going to respond to his comments.

I think he and his colleague are in a difficult position and it happens to them often. When members have the balance of power an awesome responsibility goes with that. They are standing in the middle of a conflict between the Government and Opposition and they are hearing the pleas of people, many of whom are desperate. There is a natural inclination for the Christian Democratic Party to support the government of the day on major legislation, whether that is a Labor or a Liberal-Nationals Government.

Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: As you know we did that with the Labor Government.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: I acknowledge that.

Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: Often under severe attack.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: I understand the difficult position the member is in, but I think this is a bridge too far and I think members ought to sleep on it. I think we ought to come back tomorrow and see whether we can do better as a House of review. I have been to the Holy Land with Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile and the Hon. Paul Green, and we had a great time together. I have been in Jerusalem with them. I want to share this well-known story with the members:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped of his clothes, beat him and went away leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road and when he saw the man he passed by on the other side. So too a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan as he travelled came where the man was and when he saw him he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. "Look after him", he said, "and when I return I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have." Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

It is the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke's Gospel. When Jesus said, "Love your neighbour as yourself" he illustrated it with that parable. All members have an obligation and a duty to help the least of our brothers and those in the most trouble. There are no people in greater need in our society than victims of crime and the grieving relatives of homicide victims. The parable of the Good Samaritan speaks of a victim of crime and how Jesus sought that he be treated. I do not say this to the Hon. Paul Green and Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile to embarrass them or shame them in any way. I share the same faith as those members. The Hon. Paul Green, Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile and I have been to the Holy Lands and Jerusalem together. I ask that members consider the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I know the Hon. Paul Green and Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile have negotiated for concessions in this bill from the Government this week. I respectfully say that I do not believe that the concessions the members wrought out of the Government go far enough. As a House members ought to be able to do better than the present bill. We ought to sleep on it and come back tomorrow to see whether we can do better for the least of our brothers, the people who need compassion, love, support and a helping hand more than any other group in society: victims. Let us not just consider their rights—although their rights are important—but their dignity as people. Their dignity is absolutely nonnegotiable and absolutely paramount, as it must be. I move:
That this debate be now adjourned.