Spotlight on police checks

By James Bennett

Shepparton is the only regional city in Victoria to take part in a Victorian Government fact-finding mission around spent convictions.

The Legislative Council’s Legal and Social Issues Committee, including Wendy Lovell, Tania Maxwell and Fiona Patten, were in Shepparton on Monday speaking with local legal and multicultural representative groups.

The committee could present a bill to parliament potentially bringing into law shielding low-level offences from a person’s criminal record after a long period of time, referred as a spent conviction.

Reason Party (formerly known as the Sex Party) leader and committee chair Ms Patten said introducing spent convictions could help people obtain a job, particularly ones that required police checks.

Spent convictions aren’t removed from the criminal record. However, these could be removed from a police check.

Ms Patten said it was about ensuring people who had spent a reasonable amount of time away from the justice system were not discredited when presenting a police check to a potential employer.

‘‘In Victoria last year there were 700000 police checks, largely for employment. A criminal conviction is probably the most prevalent reason for someone not getting a job,’’ Ms Patten said.

‘‘Police checks have soared in the last couple of years. When you go to court for doing something stupid but the judge brings down ‘no conviction’ recorded, that still appears on your police check.

‘‘We know employment is the greatest protector from the criminal justice system. If you get a job you are far less likely to reoffend or commit an offence.’’

Victoria is currently the only state in the country which doesn’t have a spent conviction scheme.

Ms Patten said other states had systems that had made it easier for people obtaining jobs.

She said introducing a spent conviction scheme didn’t mean it was exclusive to just ‘‘low level, one-time offenders’’.

‘‘In other jurisdictions in Australia, usually if you have served time for under three years and you don’t commit another crime for a number for years then that record is taken off the police check.

‘‘A Working with Children’s check is a different matter and will require a different assessment,’’ Ms Patten said.

In Shepparton, the committee members met representatives from Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre, MADEC Australia, Ethnic Council, Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (Hume), Rights Information Advocacy Centre and Yorta Yorta elder Lee Joachim.

Ms Patten said MADEC told her half of its clients had ‘‘historical criminal convictions’’.

She also cited a story of a woman who was locally employed and was convicted for not displaying her ‘L’ plates initially struggled to find a job.

Ms Patten said Shepparton was the right fit in Victoria to take place in the committee’s research as it had ‘‘discreet areas of disadvantage’’.

‘‘There is a high Aboriginal population and new settlers in Shepparton, many are disadvantaged,’’ Ms Patten said.

‘‘We know being disadvantaged and unemployed connects you to the criminal justice system. Sadly being Aboriginal increases the likelihood of coming in touch with the justice system. The committee found it enlightening to learn whether there were specific issues around spent convictions in regional areas.

‘‘One of the things we’d be grappling with is if someone does have a spent conviction in a small town, how do you regulate the disclosure of that?

‘‘Shepparton is such a great and supportive community with many organisations that try to work with disadvantaged people; it was an important part of the inquiry.’’

The Legislative Council’s Legal and Social Issues Committee started its research into spent convictions in late May and is expected to release its findings by late August.

Ms Patten said the committee would most likely conduct another inquiry into homelessness later this year.