COMMUNITY FIGHTS FOR KAREN: Member for Mildura Peter Crisp with the thousands of signatures he tabled in Victorian Parliament yesterday calling for tougher sentencing for violent criminals.

By JOHN DOOLEY and VINNIE RODI

AN emotional and passionate Member for Mildura Peter Crisp has called on the State Government to introduce tougher sentencing for violent criminals during a sitting of the Victorian Legislative Assembly yesterday.

Addressing his fellow Parliamentarians, Mr Crisp’s calls follow the death of former Mildura Rural City Council staff member Karen Belej at the hands of her partner, Brandon Osborn, in May 2016.

Osborn was originally charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and received a nine-year jail sentence. However, with time already spent in custody, and a minimum six-year non-parole period to be served, Osborn could be free in four-and-a-half years.

Mr Crisp said Premier Daniel Andrews must introduce tougher sentencing for violent criminals after Mildura delivered overwhelming support for reforms.

More than 9000 people have signed the ‘Justice for Karen’ petition in a demonstration that they have had enough of the tragic consequences violence has inflicted on the community, according to Mr Crisp.

The petition, in addition to calling for tougher sentencing for violent criminals, calls on Premier Andrews to urge the Office of Public Prosecutions to consider appealing Osborn’s ‘lenient sentence’.

Following the tabling of the petition in Parliament, Mr Crisp arranged for members of Karen Belej’s family to meet with Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and discuss the Liberal-Nationals’ commitment to toughen sentences for violent criminals.

Chris Belej, Karen’s brother, said the time was now for Victorians to “make a stand against a judgment process that doesn’t give justice to victims of crime or their families.”

“My sister was shot point blank in the head by a man… who illegally procured a gun,” he said. “Our judiciary and our justice process allowed a sentence to be handed down, that did have up to 30 years of imprisonment attached. He was awarded a sentence 33 percent of that – nine years.

“I find that sentence handed down appalling and weak, and I call on Daniel Andrews, Matthew Guy and all Parliamentarians… to draw a line in the sand, stand up and say this is not good enough.”

Mr Crisp vowed in Parliament yesterday to continue the fight for justice, not only for Karen, but for all victims of violence in our community.

“The way the community came together despite its grief and heartbreak at this appalling, lenient sentence, is a clear indication of their want for change in our justice system,” he said.

“The sheer volume of people who felt so strongly about this have gone out into the community and started conversations with their friends and family about sentencing and violence, and this demonstrates how seriously these issues are felt.

“Now that Daniel Andrews and his Labor Government have received that message, for them to continue to do nothing would be as unjust as the sentencing system itself.”

Mr Guy said the Coalition was already looking at reform that could be made to the justice system, highlighting plea bargaining as a facet in need of an overhaul.

“Plea bargaining often leaves victims of crime and their families completely lost and distraught… especially when they find that some of the charges that have been downgraded against offenders in some heinous circumstances, this one in particular, are allowed to occur with no consultation with families of the victims involved,” he said.

“The murder of Karen Belej is an appalling situation, it’s an appalling case… and it does show a gaping hole in our justice system.

“We need to give families a voice as to whether some of those charges should be downgraded come a trial situation for an offender.

“It’s clear to me that we have to reform the justice system from the ground up in Victoria.

“To look at this through the family’s eyes would change every Victorians view of our justice system. It would say that it’s just not fair… that at the last minute a charge is downgraded.

“I encourage Victorians to sign this petition… and let’s make a difference to toughen sentencing in Victoria.”