Matt Webster Grant of Parole
|About this Item||Subjects||Rape and Sexual Assault; Sentencing and Parole; Prisons and Prisoners
||Speakers||Pearce The Hon Greg; Hatzistergos The Hon John
||Business||Questions Without Notice
||Commentary|| Leigh Leigh; Supplementary Question
The Hon. GREG PEARCE: My question is directed to the Minister for Justice. What is the Minister's response to the granting of parole to Matt Webster, who raped and killed Leigh Leigh at Stockton Beach, Newcastle? Has the Minister been informed that Mr Webster is fully rehabilitated, shows remorse and deserves to be released from gaol?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: Mr Webster was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 14 years. He first became eligible for release on parole on 16 February 2004. It is important to reflect on the remarks made at the time of sentencing by Justice James Wood—a very experienced judge of whom everyone would be aware. Justice Wood said:
An adjustment downwards of the minimum term and the extension of the additional term to secure appropriate supervision of the prisoner on parole [is appropriate].
There was some criticism at the time of the sentence, but it was defended by then Attorney General John Dowd, who is now a Justice of the Supreme Court. On the sentence, John Dowd said:
In this instance the offender will serve at least 14 years before he can apply for release and longer if he does not behave.
In February 2004 the Parole Board declined to parole this individual because of recommendations made by the Serious Offenders Review Council that he needed to undertake work release. He has been on day leave since 2003 and he has successfully completed a number of incidences of day leave without any incident. He has also completed a number of incidences of weekend leave, again without incident. He has also been on work release for a few months. His employer apparently indicates that Mr Webster is performing well and that the employer intends to keep him in that position. He has been reporting back to the prison after work release without any incident.
Mr Webster has completed all relevant programs that the correctional system has to offer, including the Custody Based Intensive Treatment [CUBIT] Program—in which a number of offenders decline to participate, and many of those who do fail. He completed the program satisfactorily and was assessed by CUBIT as being at low risk of reoffending. The proposal to put him on parole—I have not read the reasons, which have not come to me yet—involves his not returning to the Newcastle and Stockton region without the consent of the probation and parole officer and that he remain for the immediate future in the halfway house where he has been performing some of his daily activities. Mr Webster will continue to be monitored by the Probation and Parole Service of the Department of Corrective Services, and any breaches will be reported to the Parole Board for consideration of appropriate action by the board, at its discretion.
I indicated earlier this week that I intend to bring before Parliament in the immediate future proposals that will further tighten the provisions in relation to parole. They will involve the ability to rapidly suspend a person's parole in the event of a breach. In other words, a full hearing of the Parole Board will not be required. It will enable a suspension to take place—which will be possible on a 24-hour basis if necessary through the duty judge scheme. The person will be arrested and brought back into custody and then the Parole Board can deliberate on the matter. I must also indicate that Mr Webster will be required to continue maintenance courses, as directed by the Probation and Parole Service, while he remains at large. He will be subject to urine analysis testing. In the event of any breaches of those guidelines, he will brought to account.
These are difficult decisions. Mr Justice Wood indicated at the time of sentencing that it was a very difficult decision. The choice that must be made is between determining whether Mr Webster remains in custody, having completed all the relevant programs, received recommendations from probation and parole, the Serious Offenders Review Council and other parties— [Time expired.]
The Hon. GREG PEARCE: I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate his answer?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: The issue is simply this: Do we continue to keep him in custody for an extended period of time when he has made progress—bearing in mind that at the end of his 20-year sentence he would be released and there would be no opportunity to supervise him? Or, alternatively, do we take it the next step further and, once he has satisfactorily completed all the relevant leave programs and appropriate courses, test him out in the community and give him an opportunity? As I have indicated on a number of occasions—and I have opposed parole in a number of instances—I have considered this matter very carefully. In the circumstances I do not disagree with the very difficult decision of the New South Wales Parole Board. I do, however, make it very clear to Mr Webster—and no doubt this will be communicated to him by the Probation and Parole Service—his progress will continue to be monitored. The test is not over. He will continue to be monitored not only by the Probation and Parole Service but also by the New South Wales Parole Board through regular reports they will have in relation to his progress.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: How long has he served?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: He has served 14½ years. In the event that he fails to comply with or meet his obligations under the parole order he will be brought back into custody.
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN: If honourable members have further questions, I suggest they place them on notice.