Saturday, May 21, 2005

He has an active ministry in prison

Dr Gordon Moyes Superintendent Wesley Mission & Part of the Prime Minister's Community Business Partnership?

Bronson Blessington: was the youngest person to be sentenced to life imprisonment since the transportation ended in 1840.


Second Reading

The Hon. Tony Kelly: (Minister for Rural Affairs, Minister for Local Government, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister for Lands) The Government has continually stated that it would protect the community forever from never-to-be-released prisoners.

The Government has in the past amended sentencing legislation to make it perfectly clear that not withstanding the provisions of the 1989 legislation, in the case of a very small number of offenders where the courts had previously recommended that an offender should never be released, that recommended should be enforced.

A recent decision of the Supreme Court in R v Blessington has held that an offender with a section 13A application that was pending as at 8 May 1997 is not subject to the present rules for redetermination.

The decision also canvassed the possibility that Blessington (and by extension, any others who have not yet had their application determined) might now be able to appeal the sentencing court's recommendations that they never be released. They would therefore be excluded from the application of the current regime for redetermination of those never to released offenders.

The Government believes that the intention of the legislation past by this Parliament was clear.

We have sought advice from the Solicitor General, who has advised that there is some prospect of a successful appeal.

But the people of NSW, and the Balding family, deserve certainty. Both the Solicitor General and the Director of Public Prosecutions believe that the best way to deliver that certainty and remove ambiguity is through an appropriate legislative amendment.

This will ensure that the current regime works uniformly and that all never to be released prisoners will:

* not be eligible to have their sentence redetermined until they have served at least 30 years;

* if a non-parole period is fixed on a redetermination, the offender may not receive a fixed term; and

* that where a non-parole period is fixed on a redetermination, parole cannot be granted except where the offender is in imminent danger of dying (or is incapacitated to the extent that he or she no longer has the physical ability to do harm to any person) and has demonstrated that he or she does not pose a risk to the community.

The amendments proposed in schedule 2 ensure that section 15A of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 applies to a 'never to be released' offender regardless of whether the non-release recommendation has been quashed, set aside, or called into question.

The amendments remove any possible ambiguity in relation to the application of the law in respect of any particular offender.

The Hon David Clarke: This bill, which is supported by the Opposition, amends the Crime (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 so as to overcome the effect of the decision given on15 April 2005 in the case of Blessington v The Queen, thereby achieving the Government's commitment to keep Bronson Blessington, and people like him, indefinitely locked up. The background circumstances are that in 1990 Bronson Blessington, then aged 14, was convicted of the abduction, sexual assault and murder of Janine Balding.

As a result in sentencing legislation passed in 1989, offenders serving life sentences could apply to the court after eight years for a defined sentence with a minimum and additional term. In more recent years amendments to sentencing legislation relating to inmates subject to a non-release recommendation have been introduced which provide that the period before which an application for a redetermination application could be made was at least 30 years.

When the Minister for Police, Mr Whelan, introduced the Sentencing Legislation Further Amendment Bill in 1997 he described Blessington as representing "pure evil".

Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes: I speak on behalf of the Christian Democratic Party on the Crimes (Sentencing Procedures) Amendment (Existing Life Sentences) Bill. These amendments seek to ensure that the current regime for redetermination of existing life sentences of "never to be released" offenders extends to all those offenders whose original sentences have not been redetermined, and applies to those offenders even if theoriginal non-release recommendations are now appealed. I commend the bill to the House.

I acknowledge that the Hon. Peter Breen knows more about Bronson Blessington than anybody in this Chamber because of his close professional association with him.

However, I take Beverly Balding's point that Bronson was capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

I took calls over a long period of time on talk back radio and I found not one comment from the community at large in support of Bronson Blessington's early release. By the age of 14 he had been sexually abused by four adult males, was a street kid, an alcoholic, a petrol sniffer, and basically uncontrollable. I have been informed on good, reliable authority from those who work within the prison system that when he became a Christian in 1990 his life very dramatically changed.

In his speech the member for Wagga Wagga, Mr Daryl Maguire, referred to some comments made by Beverly Balding, the mother of Janine Balding.

"Although Blessington was 14 (one month off 15 years of age), he was an uncontrollable child, and had been on the streets for quite some time before he and the others took part in Janine's horrific rape and murder. There is no excuse whatsoever for what they did, and they were all old enough to know right from wrong."

Over the past 14 years or so his Christian life has made Bronson and outstanding model prisoner. He has said that the Lord has led him to lead more than 580 Bible studies within prison yards, with an attendance well over 5,500 prisoners. I commend him on the step that he has taken to invite Christ into his life. Staff of mine from Wesley Mission, who go within the prison system, speak most highly of his complete change of life through his Christian commitment.

His Christian witness in prison will continue to be powerful witness of the power of Christ to change people. If Blessington is preaching to prisoners, I would encourage him to keep on doing so. But can he continue to be a Christian in gaol? That is what Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul, the apostles Peter and John, and a million other twentieth century Christians have done.

I wish Mr Blessington well in his continuing experience as a Christian within gaol. The Hon Dr Arthur Chesterfield Evens: The result is that if an appeal against this bill were made to the High Court by Blessington, the appeal would be ruled against, as occurred in Baker v The Queen.

It therefore falls to the member of this Parliament to override the courts if we will. That is a sad state of affairs. I do not believe I have sufficient knowledge to overrule the courts. I think it is extraordinarily arrogant of us to be voting on a bill such as this when we have heard not a thing from Blessington.

The Hon Peter Breen: Not a word.

The Hon Dr Arthur Chesterfield Evens: Despite these circumstances, we are asked to overrule the courts as if they are nothing. I repeat this is a sad state of affairs. If past this bill will retrospectively take away the right of this prisoner to have his sentence redetermined. We are overriding the courts. On what do we base any such decision? Not on serious knowledge, I put to the honourable members of this House.

No-one doubts the abhorrence of the events surrounding the death of Janine Balding, and no-one doubts that Blessington was guilty. I note the comments of the Reverend the Hon Dr Gordon Moyes, who spoke about the fact that Bronson Blessington has turned to Christ and that people within the gaol system have noticed an immense change in him.

I was rather surprised in that circumstance Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes did not say he would forgive Blessington. I had thought from the way the honourable member spoke that he might have come to that position. Indeed from my recollection of the Bible, Jesus Christ forgave sinners on the cross.

Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes did not express such forgiveness; rather, he pointed to public opinion expressed to him on talk- back-radio. My own view is that we should not act according to what is said on talk- back-radio. Our job is to lead the country, not follow opinions. We must be aware of opinions heard on talk-back-radio. If we are not, presumably that is at our own peril. We need to do better than that.

The Democrats oppose bills that operate retrospectively against individuals. I believe we do so without detracting from the suffering of the Balding family.

The Hon. Peter Breen: I speak against the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Amendment (Existing Life Sentences) Bill. All week I have been waiting for the Daily Telegraph to do a story on this bill, the object of which is to keep Bronson Blessington in gaol "forever", to use the word of the Attorney General in the other place. Certainly, that is the Government's intention.

Yesterday I thought the story appeared on page 17 when I read the headline "Dig deep to find the cure for a killer." To my surprise, the article was about heart disease, and seeking donations to the Peter Frilingos appeal.

The headline would have been appropriate for a story about the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Amendment (Existing Life Sentences) Bill because the Government is digging deep, in fact, that the ground under the Government's feet on this bill is too hot even for the law and order lobby.

The Daily Telegraph has not written one word on the bill. Bronson Blessington was no ordinary offender. When he murdered Janine Balding by drowning her in a dam at Minchinbury in 1988 he was 14 years old with the mental capacity of a 9 year old or 10 year old. His mental condition gave rise to a classic case of diminished responsibility, but the defence was never pleaded at his trial. -- a fact that the trial judge drew attention to in his sentencing remarks.

I wrote to Blessington's lawyers asking them why the defence of diminished responsibility was not raised, and they could not recall. Indeed, they could not recall any discussions about the issue of diminished responsibility.

The sentencing judge also observed that the mental condition affecting Bronson Blessington was a temporary disorder of adolescence, and that the boy had good prospects of recovery.

Indeed, the judge also observed that the boy was already making excellent progress towards rehabilitation in juvenile detention while he was awaiting trial.

Sentencing judges make those kinds of observations all the time. Sometimes they are prophetic; at other times what they predict turns out to be quite wrong. In the case of Bronson Blessington, everything the sentencing judge said turned out to be true. The boy recovered from his temporary mental disorder, he did well in rehabilitation and, as Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes pointed out, at age 17 Blessington converted to Christianity while he was still in juvenile detention. He studied by correspondence at theMoore Theological College.

Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: He has a ministry in prison.

The Hon Peter Breen: He has an active ministry in prison. I cannot imagine anyone else being in a position to approach prisoners in the way he does. He goes out into the yard with his Bible and says, "Anyone for scripture?"

People gather around; it is an extraordinary ministry. Bronson Blessington is living proof that children who make mistakes literally grow out of their problems, that juvenile offenders can be rehabilitated and that giving people a second chance is a sentencing principle that lies at the heart of a justice system that evolved from a penal colony. These are the reasons the legislation before the House today did not get a run in the Daily Telegraph. [this week 5 May 2005].

Bronson Blessington was the youngest person to be sentenced to life imprisonment since the transportation ended in 1840.

Murder committed in New South Wales prior to 1990 carried a life sentence unless the trial judge was satisfied that mitigating circumstances significantly diminished the prisoner's culpability for the crime. In practice a life sentence did not mean natural life as a prisoner could apply to the Supreme Court after eight years to convert the life sentence to a fixed term.

Approximately 250 lifers indicted before 1990 have applied for fixed- term sentences to replace their life sentences, and so far 225 of them have been successful. In 1990 the average life sentence served for murder was 15 years.

As part of its tougher approach to crime and punishment, the Government changed the law in 1990. To what is called truth in sentencing legislation of 1989. Which came into effect on 12 January 1990. As a result of that legislation, a life sentence now means for the term of a prisoner's natural life.

I have a longstanding interest in Bronson Blessington and his convicted co-offender, Stephen "Shorty" Jamieson, who was a victim of foetal alcohol syndrome and a person who was almost certainly innocent of the crimes for which he stands convicted. It was a bizarre case of mistaken identity. Both Blessington and Jamieson have now served 16.5 years in prison.

The bill before the House is directed solely directed at Bronson Blessington, who made a successful application before Justice Dunford in the Supreme Court and judgement was delivered on 15 April 2005.

It seemed to me that this young man had paid for his crimes and deserved a second chance to give something back to society. Bronson Blessington was partly raised by his paternal grandparents, Mat and John Blessington, who were field officers for the Salvation Army.

Visiting the child prisoner, initially at the juvenile detention centres and later in the adult prisons, Mat Blessington and Jack Begnall became good friends, and today they are both resolute and forthright men -- even at over 70 years of age -- praying ceaselessly for the salvation of Bronson. The assistant pastor reminded me that Christianity is tailor made for prisoners, offering them hope. Jesus Christ himself was a prisoner, as Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes has pointed out. He was despised, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, and one from whom we avert our gaze, to paraphrase the prophet Isaih.

Jack said. "God forgives even the greatest sinners, and this is the liberating power of Christianity. Many prisoners who previously had no knowledge of God and led aimless lives find their liberation in prison through the gift of faith. I suggest to the assistant pastor that many inmates who have suffered injustice and oppression identify with the counter-cultural and revolutionary Jesus who lurks at the heart of Christianity."

Prosecution and defence lawyers have opposing tasks; one seeks a conviction and the other seeks an acquittal. Police assist the prosecution and play a critical role in deciding what will be investigated and how the evidence is presented to juries, for the most part, are kept in the dark about the bargaining that goes on between the prosecution and the defence over the evidence.

But when it comes to sentencing the judge, as sole arbiter of the fate of a prisoner, ought to have the benefit of all of the facts, and those facts ought to form the basis of the prisoner's sentence. That is one of the problems with Parliament deciding sentences. We have to do it in the context of a debate. How can we make a judgment about the life of a person without getting the facts?

A psychiatrist, Dr Clark said the youth suffered from "a conduct disorder of adolescence", a defined medical condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. The psychiatrist concluded that the boy suffered from an abnormality of mind "which was present at the time of the offence" and "fits the criteria for a defence of diminished responsibility".

After quoting the report Justice Newman said, "I might add this defence was at no stage raised during the course of the trial". In the very next sentence he observed that the condition diagnosed by the psychiatrist is transient and the good doctor expected it to be resolved in time.

The Judge said, "On the basis of this Dr Clark held out the strong hope that the boy Blessington is capable of being rehabilitated". Then the judge referred to the reports from the Department of Youth and Community Services indicating Bronson had already made "excellent progress" in the juvenile detention centre while awaiting trial.

This was when Bronson was 17.

By God 21 May 05


Putting your Family First?

(This following link has now been removed from gov't website now updated 18 April 2009.)

The Prime Minister's Community Business Partnership

"Working in partnership not only has the potential to enrich people's lives but can also deliver tangible results for all Australians. Community and business partnerships are a driver to accomplish better outcomes than any group acting alone could achieve."

The Hon. John Howard, MP, the Prime Minister of Australia and Reverend The Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes AC, MLC Superintendent Wesley Mission?

Photo Source: Reverend The Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes AC, MLC Superintendent Wesley Mission from that site.

However, some of that material now posted on another website without the photos:

Prime Minister's Community Business Partnership

Related Links:

To Her Excellency the Honourable Marie Bashir, AC, Governor of New South Wales. WHEREAS, under the Royal prerogative of mercy Your Excellency has discretion to grant a pardon to a convicted offender. WHEREAS, Bronson Matthew Blessington was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment on 18 September 1990. At the time of committing the offence Bronson Blessington was a juvenile aged 14 years and he is the youngest person sentenced to life imprisonment in New South Wales since transportation ended in 1840.

Bronson Blessington: Testimony from my prison cell
Before my conversion in 1990 I was completely illiterate, extremely fearful of all adults due to the fact, I had been sexually abused by four adult males. I lived in a fantasy world, crying out for someone to love me and looking for somewhere to belong. By the age of 14 I was an alcoholic and a petrol sniffer and basically uncontrollable. I only write this so you have some idea of where I was at when God reached deep into my soul and washed me clean with the blood of Christ.

NSW Prisoner speaks out
Hello my name is Bronson Blessington. I am writing this letter to you in the hope that you will be able to give me some assistance. I have been in prison now for 15 and 1/2 years. I was given a life sentence when I was 14 years old.