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21 June 2023, 14:31
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan):

Thank you to Mr Limbrick for his contribution. This bill seeks to amend the Corrections Act 1986 to limit the circumstances in which Paul Denyer may be released on parole, a prisoner sentenced in 1993 to three consecutive sentences of life imprisonment for three counts of murder. Last week I had a long conversation with Karen Noone, a close friend of Natalie Russell, and I thank her for her time and for her patience and for her candour. I found our conversation both deeply moving and deeply troubling. I express my profound sympathy to her, to the family and friends of Denyer’s victims and to my colleague Mr Limbrick.

This is a wicked problem. On the one hand we have a wicked man and an evil man and a man who, as I understand it, has expressed no remorse for the crimes that he has committed. Personally, and like the family and friends of the victims, it is unfathomable to me why Justice Vincent’s original decision was watered down. I do not think anyone in this house wishes to see this man set free. On the other hand, we have a central pillar of our democracy, which is the separation of powers between the Parliament, the executive and the judiciary. Put simply, it is, as I understand it, the role of the Parliament to make laws and it is the role of the judiciary to interpret and to apply those laws. This principle has underpinned our Westminster system for more than 300 years.

What makes the debate before us so vexatious is that the parole process serves to repeatedly punish the family and the friends of Denyer’s victims, as they are forced to relive the events and the trauma of their loss. So in seeking to respond to this wicked problem and to this bill, it is incumbent on us to weigh up these conflicting priorities. If this bill was to address how the state responds to serial killers generally, then we should debate that and provide a standard to the judiciary. But it does not. It seeks to step in and replace the role of the judiciary. Politicians are not judges, and we should not attempt to be. That previous parliaments have chosen to legislate this question for specific individuals does not change the primacy of that principle. We should, however, be seeking to address the appropriateness of the current laws and ensuring that the families and friends are not continuously retraumatised.

Denyer should be punished, not the families. On this basis, while we have the greatest sympathy for the families and friends, we will not be supporting this bill, and we look to the government to bring forward changes to protect the families and friends of these victims and others who are regrettably affected in the future.


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