BIRTHS, DEATHS AND MARRIAGES REGISTRATION AMENDMENT (CHANGE OF NAME) BILL 2012
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
Mr GUY ZANGARI
(Fairfield) [12.34 p.m.]: I make a contribution to debate on the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment (Change of Name) Bill 2012, which seeks to amend the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 to increase the change of name restrictions relating to restricted persons and serious offenders. Once enacted, this legislation will prevent a serious offender or a restricted person from applying to have his or her name changed with the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages without first obtaining the approval of his or her supervising authority and will prevent the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages from registering such change without approval.
The bill recognises the need to protect the community from people who have been incarcerated for committing unacceptable and unspeakable acts. It recognises that whilst a criminal may have served the sentence imposed on him or her by a court, it does not necessarily mean that such a person is completely rehabilitated and poses no threat to the community. The safety of the community is paramount. A primary objective of the bill is to ensure that a serious offender being monitored by a supervising authority does not change his or her name in an attempt to elude the supervising authority. Importantly, it will mean that a serious criminal will have to think again before changing his or her name to take on a new identity and possibly reoffend.
The proposed changes to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act will apply also to restricted persons—offenders serving out their sentences. Under proposed section 31B this will include a person who is an inmate, on remand, a parolee, a periodic detainee, a forensic patient and a correctional patient. It will prevent such persons from changing their names without written permission from their supervising authority and it will place a high standard on the supervising authority to ensure that the offender or restricted persons will not pose a threat to the community if allowed to change their names, ostensibly taking on new identities. The supervising authority may give approval only if, in all the circumstances, it is necessary or reasonable.
Under proposed section 31C the supervising authority must not approve the making of an application to the register for the registration of a change of name of a restricted person if the authority is satisfied that a change of name would be reasonably likely to put at risk the security, discipline or good order of the premises or facility where the restricted person is held or accommodated; jeopardise the restricted person's or another person's health or safety; be used to further an unlawful activity or purpose; be used to evade or hinder the supervision of the person; and, importantly, prevent the serious offender or restricted person from changing his or her name in a manner that would be reasonably likely to be regarded as offensive by a victim of crime or an appreciable sector of the community.
Unlike the earlier forays by the O'Farrell Government on law and order, in particular, the well-documented suggestions by the Attorney General to change sentencing laws that would allow certain members of the community to avoid incarceration because they belonged to a particular class of people, this bill puts the safety and wellbeing of the community ahead of any other consideration. The bill will ensure that convicted criminals and restricted persons cannot just take on a new persona once released from prison, thereby affording the community some peace of mind. I do not oppose the legislation.
Mr JOHN SIDOTI
(Drummoyne) [12.38 p.m.]: I make a contribution to debate on the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment (Change of Name) Bill 2012 The Government is to be congratulated on introducing this bill in such a timely manner after it was revealed that many former criminals change their names before being released from prison. The proposed new laws will require prisoners and parolees to receive approval from their supervising authority to change their names. These laws should have been put in place many years ago.
It explains why many have used the present system to change their identity and hide their past. Up until now convicted murderers and other violent offenders were simply able to complete a form and lie when asked whether they had any convictions. Only child sex offenders could be identified through automatic police checks by the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Under this amendment, serious criminals will be prevented from changing their names. The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages will be sent an alert list of serious offenders such as murderers and rapists. The existing laws do not prevent such criminals from securing a new identity when they are released. Some have even had a sex change before being released.
Let us have a look at the chain of events regarding Maddison Hall, who was jailed for life under the name of Noel Crompton for the brutal shooting in 1987 of hitchhiker Lyn Saunders. Three days before Christmas in 1987 Marrion Saunders was waiting at her Adelaide home for her son, Lyn, to arrive home for the holidays. His car had broken down in Broken Hill and he was forced to hitchhike the rest of the way. He never made it home. A farmer living near the Murray River town of Gol Gol discovered the grisly remains of Lyn Saunders. He had been shot a number of times. It was 18 months before police would arrest Lyn's killer when the murder featured on Australia's Most Wanted
. An anonymous woman rang police to tell them Noel Crompton, then 26, was living with his wife in Campbelltown in the west of Sydney.
Crompton had given Lyn Saunders a ride before killing him after a disagreement and was jailed for life. It was at that point that the story took a bizarre turn when Crompton pleaded that he was really a female trapped in a man's body. He wanted to become a woman and the focus immediately changed from Lyn Saunders murder victim to Maddison Hall's gender identity disorder. He claimed he belonged in a female prison and in August 1999 the Serious Offences Management Committee recommended he be moved to the all-woman Mulawa prison. Although still a man, Hall was on hormone treatment but it did nothing to curb his behaviour as a sexual predator. He was charged with raping his cell mate and other inmates reported that Hall had sexually assaulted them. He was moved back amongst the men and within three months there were reports he had prostituted himself for drugs.
Ron Woodham, Commissioner for Corrective Services, tried to keep Hall in a male prison but he lost the battle and Hall successfully exploited his legal rights as a prisoner, backed by the publicly funded Prisoners Legal Service. Even more alarming was that he successfully sued the Department of Corrective Services claiming psychological trauma and won a $25,000 out-of-court settlement. Later in 2001 and following psychiatric examination, Hall's life sentence was cut to 22 years, with a 16 years and six months non-parole period. In 2003 he had full sex change surgery funded by the $25,000 payout. He was released in April 2010 with a job and accommodation at a secret location—as well as a new face and a new name.
Another shocking example of misuse of this loophole is the case of convicted child killer, Austin Allan Hughes, who had been living in the Kempsey area since his release in 2009 under the new name of Blain Lopez Smith. His partner in the disturbing crime was none other than the boy's mother, Gunn-Britt Ashfield. She remains in prison but under the new name of Angelic Karstrom. He served 16 years for the brutal murder of six-year-old Nowra boy John Ashfield. The innocent young boy died after a frenzied attack by Hughes during which he was kicked and punched and shoved into a cold shower before having his head placed on a phone book and repeatedly bashed with a hammer. Once released Hughes was found to be living with a Kempsey woman and her two young children.
The woman was unaware of Hughes' past and it was uncovered only when her mother became suspicious and made the shocking discovery of his hideous crime on the internet. Despite this being a breach of his bail conditions, the point is that it happened and had it not been for the intervention of the woman's mother, it could have gone unchecked until it was too late. These people are a danger to society and society has every right to be advised of where they are living and what crimes they have committed. I believe also it is the right of members of the community to know exactly who they have living next door. The current laws do nothing to prevent criminals from securing a new identity.
This legislation proposes that there be greater contact between the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, the Commissioner of Police, the Commissioner of Corrective Services and the head of the Parole Board. Under the existing laws, the Department of Corrective Services is powerless to stop prisoners and parolees from changing their identity and, even more disturbing, no records are kept of those who have done so. The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment (Change of Name) Bill 2012 provides a 10-point plan to ensure that no weak links in the system can be exploited by criminals. It further ensures that name change information can be obtained in a timely fashion.
Under the proposed amendment, all serious sex offenders will need to obtain approval before changing their names. Police would provide to the registry an alert list for high-risk individuals. Prisoners and parolees will need to obtain approval and the registry will need to be notified of the change. People will be limited also to changing their names only three times in a lifetime. I support also the proposal for the Federal Government to introduce laws to place a national limit on the number of times a person can change his or her name. We need consistency across the country for this law to work. I congratulate the Attorney General on his quick response to a problem that was causing considerable stress to a large percentage of the community. I commend the bill to the House.
Ms TANIA MIHAILUK
(Bankstown) [12.45 p.m.]: We have another sitting week and another law and order beat-up by the O'Farrell Government. I note that whilst supposedly tough-on-crime legislation is introduced, police numbers in south-western Sydney remain 80 police officers short again this week. The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment (Change of Name) Bill 2012 aims to make it harder for serious offenders to change their names, and that is a perfectly reasonable proposal. It makes sense for such individuals to be subjected to close scrutiny on matters concerning identity, in particular for security reasons. Proposed section 31F is limited in its effect for those who have been in prison within the past 10 years. It states that once the 10-year period has passed during which the person has not served time in prison the restrictions of this bill no longer apply.
This may be appropriate for some offenders, but not all offenders are equal. The proposal should be extended to certain categories of crime. I call on the Government to consider extending this period to other offences, such as violent crime, sexual offences and crimes against children. I note also that simply because someone has not been convicted of a crime during this period does not mean that he or she has not committed a crime. I do not propose further judicial punishment, merely that the scope of bill could contain greater flexibility. I suggest giving greater flexibility to supervising authorities in extending restrictions, particularly with respect to offenders who are no longer on supervision orders. Members have highlighted instances where individuals still pose a threat to the community even after long periods out of prison. It is important that appropriate measures are put in place to keep track of such individuals.
I ask the Attorney General to confirm whether provisions exist to prevent people on the child offender register from changing their names beyond the 10-year restrictions imposed by the bill. If not, I encourage the Government to extend the period in which such offenders will be the subject of this legislation. I understand—and I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that although those on supervision orders are covered under the term "restricted persons" in the bill, not all offenders on the child offender register are necessarily subject to supervision orders. The bill provides for offenders to appeal either to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal or to the Mental Health Commission, depending on the individual matter. Although I support the nature of the proposal, this could be subject to change because of the Government's own review and potential to consolidate tribunals in New South Wales. The Government has already demonstrated its willingness to slash legal services, as evidenced by the decision to close the Parramatta office of the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.
Mr Greg Smith:
Point of order: My point of order relates to relevance. The member should be brought back to the leave of the bill. We are not dealing with Fair Trading or the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal; we are dealing with the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment (Change of Name) Bill.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lee Evans):
Order! I draw the member for Bankstown back to the leave of the bill.
Ms TANIA MIHAILUK:
I note also that the decision regarding name changes will lie with law enforcement officers, namely, the Commissioner of Police and the Commissioner of Corrective Services. That is appropriate as such individuals have the appropriate level of expertise to make such calls. Section 29A of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act already requires applicants for a name change to disclose whether they have been convicted of a relevant offence. A relevant offence is defined in the Act as one which has involved a term of imprisonment of 12 months or more. The Act also makes it an offence to fail to make such a disclosure, with a penalty of 100 penalty units or two years imprisonment. Section 30 of the Act provides for the Registrar to require the applicant of a name change to demonstrate:
… that the change of name is not sought for a fraudulent or other improper purpose.
Section 46A of the Act allows access to entries in the register by law enforcement agencies. These agencies are defined as the NSW Police Force, the police force of another State or the Commonwealth, the NSW Crime Commission and any other law enforcement or investigative agency as prescribed by regulations. As worthy as the stated aim of the bill is, it is misleading for the Government to refuse to admit that much of what it has proposed in this legislation is already contained in the Act. Furthermore, the fanfare associated with the proposal is unwarranted and disingenuous. I note that after six months of dithering the Government has released the Parsons report into the allocation of police resources. The proposal contained in the report to merge the Bankstown and Campsie local area commands is of great concern to my local community.
Mr Geoff Provest:
Point of order: Once again the point of order relates to relevance. Nothing in this bill relates to the Parsons report. I believe that the member for Bankstown is canvassing your ruling and should be asked to return to the leave of the bill.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lee Evans):
Order! I again ask the member for Bankstown to return to the leave of the bill.
Ms TANIA MIHAILUK:
I make that point because the Attorney General, in reply to previous debates, has pointed out that not all the answers are necessarily legislation but police resources. When I have commented on that matter in the past the Attorney General has said that it comes down to police resources. I am concerned about the Parsons review. I have taken this opportunity to reflect on the Parsons review because it is not only about legislation stopping individuals who commit crimes; it is also about police resources across western Sydney in particular.
Mr Greg Smith:
Point of order: Mr Acting-Speaker, I do not know whether you made a ruling but there should be a ruling that this has nothing to do with the leave of the bill.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lee Evans):
Order! I am making a ruling under Standing Order 59, which states:
The Speaker may direct a Member to discontinue a speech if the Member persists in irrelevance or tedious repetition.
All those in favour say aye, all those against say no.
Division called for.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lee Evans):
Order! I am informed that it is the Chair's decision. The member will sit down. There will be no division.
Mr TONY ISSA
(Granville) [12.56 p.m.]: I support the Births, Deaths and Marriages Amendment (Change of Name) Bill 2012 and commend the Attorney General for introducing this amending bill which will strengthen the change of name restrictions. The purpose of this bill is to strengthen the change of name restrictions—