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Summary Offences (Interviewing Vulnerable Witnesses) Amendment Bill

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 10 August 2017.)

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (16:23): I rise to speak to the Summary Offences (Interviewing Vulnerable Witnesses) Amendment Bill, and I speak on behalf of my Liberal colleagues. The Liberal Party is supporting the second reading of the bill. The bill seeks to amend the Summary Offences Act and it follows the passage of the Statutes Amendment (Vulnerable Witnesses) Bill 2015, which came into operation on 1 July 2016.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Point of order: the speaker is right next to me and I cannot even hear him.

The PRESIDENT: Can anyone who wants to hold a discussion please do so in the corridors and allow the speaker to be heard.

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN: Thank you, Mr President, for your protection and thank you to the Hon. Tammy Franks for bringing the noise to your attention. We will be supporting not only the second reading but also the passage of this bill, as well as the amendments that have been filed by the government. A recent Supreme Court decision has highlighted a potential gap in the extant legislation concerning the application of the transitional provisions. The extant legislation governs interviewing vulnerable witnesses—that is, those who are under the age of 14 or those who have a cognitive impairment—and the use of video records of interviews in court.

Provisions were previously enacted to enable video interviews of vulnerable witnesses to be admissible at trial in lieu of an examination-in-chief, subject to certain safeguards. The recent Supreme Court decision highlighted some slight ambiguity in the transitional provisions, that they might only be enlivened in matters involving serious offences against the person. However, as the government asserts, this was not the intention of parliament.

This bill amends the Summary Offences Act to provide clarity and ensure that video interviews with a vulnerable party are admissible in proceedings for all criminal offences, not just those involving serious offences against the person. Although the Supreme Court decision still permitted the admission of the video evidence, the Liberal Party concurs with the government proposition that it is prudent to explicitly clarify the law on the issue, and hence the bill is before the parliament.

Today, the Attorney-General in the other place also made a statement in relation to prescribed interviewers. There was a further technical problem in relation to certain interviews that took place that were not fully compliant. There is a further amendment to this bill that seeks to rectify this situation. It has been set out at length in the Attorney’s ministerial statement to the house, which has also been tabled in this chamber. The Liberal Party will support these technical amendments. I note that there is a very late filing with a minor amendment with reference to a clause, and I would ask the minister in the second reading summing-up to clarify that minor change for the benefit of Hansard.

The current law introduced a requirement for an audiovisual recording to be taken of an interview with vulnerable witnesses and for the interview to be conducted by a prescribed interviewer. These recordings were then tendered in court proceedings in lieu of examination-in-chief of vulnerable witnesses.

Due to an administrative oversight, child protection staff were not prescribed for the purposes of the act between 1 July 2016 and 21 August 2017 as was intended. It appears that training undertaken by interviewers at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital had not been accredited by the then health minister. As a result, a court ruled last month that at least one recorded interview was inadmissible. Further amendment will enable the Minister for Health to specify by notice in the Gazette those child protection services staff who conducted interviews between 1 July 2016 and 21 August 2017 as designated persons and therefore conducted by a prescribed interviewer. I commend the bill to the chamber.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Employment, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, Minister for Automotive Transformation, Minister for Science and Information Economy) (16:27): I thank honourable members for their contributions and the Hon. Andrew McLachlan, who has carriage of this on behalf of the Liberal Party. I note that there was, I think, one clarification on the minor amendment, which I will seek to make during the committee stage, if it pleases the honourable member. With that, I wrap up my second reading speech.

Bill read a second time.

Committee Stage

In committee.

Clause 1.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I have already spoken to this bill on behalf of the Dignity Party. However, given the information that has come to light in the last few days, I wanted to put on the record what has happened. As has already been explained, due to an administrative oversight by the government some of the evidence collected from young people, particularly those with disabilities, by SA Health child protection officers may not have been admissible in court and therefore they may have had to testify or give that evidence again. Given that these are very young people, again, often with additional needs or vulnerabilities, we were very concerned that it could be unnecessarily traumatic for them to have to go through that entire process again.

So, we are very glad that the government has agreed, thanks to the Dignity Party push, to make this a priority for today and to get this dealt with today so that we can ensure that the evidence that was collected between July last year and August this year can be admitted in court and, therefore, we have a greater chance of getting convictions of abuse against young people with disabilities in particular. With thanks to the government for acting quickly on this and seeing the reason to act on this today, we support the amendment.

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN: In my discussions with the minister, there was a draft circulated for approval that referred to part 17, division 3, and the filed bill number refers to a different section. I would just like, for the purposes of clarity and for Hansard, the minister to explain why the new section was inserted post the draft.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: As I am advised, the amendment that was filed, rather than the draft amendment circulated, more correctly and specifically describes the section of the act, rather than more broadly, consistent with the regulations. It is not a change: it is more accurately describing the section of the act being referred to in the filed version of the amendment.

Clause passed.

Clauses 2 and 3 passed.

Schedule 1.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I move:

Amendment No 1 [Employment–1]—

Page 3, after line 29—After clause 1 insert:

2—Prescribed interviewer

(1) An interview conducted by a designated person with a potential witness during the transitional period will be taken to be (and always to have been) an interview conducted by a prescribed interviewer for the purposes of section 74EB of the Summary Offences Act 1953.

(2) In this clause—

designated person means a person identified by the Minister for Health by notice in the Gazette as a designated person for the purposes of subclause (1);

transitional period means the period commencing on 1 July 2016 and concluding on 21 August 2017.

Note—

The Statutes Amendment (Vulnerable Witnesses) Act 2015 came into operation on 1 July 2016.

I think these issues have been quite well agitated. I thank the Hon. Kelly Vincent for her words and her strong interest and advocacy for these matters. I think the issues that this amendment goes towards have been rather extensively addressed in the ministerial statement that the Hon. Andrew McLachlan referred to, so I move the amendment as printed. If there are any specifics that members have questions about, I am happy to address those, but I think they have been well agitated both in briefings that have been given to interested members but more particularly in the ministerial statement that was made in another place and tabled in this chamber today.

Amendment carried; schedule as amended passed.

Title passed.

Bill reported with amendment.

Third Reading

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Employment, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, Minister for Automotive Transformation, Minister for Science and Information Economy) (16:33): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.

See full session on Hansard