Scenes from the shooting in Hoddle Street in 1987.

Scenes from the shooting in Hoddle Street in 1987.

On one hand mass-killer Julian Knight is the perfect candidate for parole. Bright, relatively obedient and legally savvy, he has spent years preparing himself for release into the society he once attacked with 200 rounds of high-grade ammunition.

He was just 19 when on an August night in 1987 he went stalking in Hoddle Street, Collingwood, with three firearms. By the time he threw down his guns 38 minutes later to surrender to police he had shot dead seven people and wounded another 19.

He later told detectives he intended to shoot himself but misplaced his last bullet.

Bullet holes in a victim's windscreen.

Bullet holes in a victim's windscreen.

Ultimately he was sentenced to life with a minimum of 27 years after pleading guilty to seven counts of murder and 46 attempted murders.

Those who parrot the line that courts have gone soft on crime should look at the Knight case. Today he would have been staring down the barrel of a life sentence, or, considering his age and a subsequent guilty plea, a minimum of 40 years.

But back then there was no such thing as life without parole, and as he was under 21 he was given a discount due to his age.

Now, just a couple of weeks short of his 46th birthday, he had just one year to go before he would have been eligible for parole. Would have been, that is, until the Napthine government stepped in with one-off legislation to effectively give him the life sentence that Justice George Hampel couldn't.

"This is guaranteeing that he remains in jail until he's dead, or so seriously incapacitated he's no risk to other people in Victoria or indeed in the community," Dr Denis Napthine said.

But Justice Hampel made it clear in his November 1988 sentencing remarks the 27-year term was not set in bluestone.

"A minimum term is not a period at the end of which the prisoner is released. It is a period before the expiration of which, having regard to the interests of justice, he cannot be released," he said in sentencing.

"Dr Bartholomew [prison psychiatrist] was confident that, having regard to the crimes which you have committed, it is most unlikely that a decision to release you would be made if, after a very thorough investigation, there was any doubt about your presenting a danger to the community."

The mass killer has been declared a vexatious litigant after he appeared in court 15 times in 2012, launching actions over prison conditions, computer access and his desire to be allowed to ready himself for release.

The backstory here is simple. Knight has been denied access to pre-release programs because authorities were not prepared to do anything that increased his chances of freedom.

And Knight's long-term strategy (backed by some legal heavy hitters) was to take his case to the High Court to argue the government, prison authorities and the Parole Board were effectively and unlawfully re-sentencing him to life.

His argument was (and remains) that he should simply be dealt with as any other inmate and allowed to have his case decided by the Parole Board on its merits. He wanted to put the case that he should be judged, not solely on what he had done, but what he was likely to do.

The government's legal advice must have been he had a good chance of success, which is why the Knight legislation is being introduced to Parliament in a bid to close that opportunity. Because if there is no chance, then it is nothing but a pre-election publicity stunt.

It is, by any definition, a draconian law, although when in power the ALP said it would also block his release. Knight's supporters say he is reformed and is not the angry young man who launched that random killing spree.

Certainly, except for the odd glitch (the latest an alleged assault in prison last month) Knight is an inmate who follows prison officers' instructions. For years he has worked to provide a glowing CV the Parole Board could not ignore.

The latest assault is curious. After a series of minor thefts from a shared fridge, Knight was one of several prisoners on "fridge watch" who confronted another inmate, leaving him with a broken jaw.

It is believed Knight did not throw the punch, although his behaviour since has been erratic – possibly because he knew the incident damaged his release campaign. Recently pornography was found on the prison computer he uses – another Parole Board black mark.

Knight is fit, boxes regularly and, according to one prison officer, "knows how to hold his hands up".

The real question is, has Knight changed or is it an elaborate ploy?

Many of his closest friends are among the worst crooks in Victoria (which is hardly surprising considering he has spent all his adult life in maximum security units).

But there are elements in those relationships that remain disturbing. He has tried to out another inmate as a police informer, claiming the notorious gunman was paid $500,000 to implicate others in a cold case killing. Such an action would place the alleged informer at risk of attack in the same way underworld killer Carl Williams was murdered inside Barwon prison in April 2010.

And he has offered to assist defence lawyers acting for his mates inside prison. He has maintained contacts inside and outside of prison and has tried to manipulate criminals with violent records to turn against his perceived enemies.

Knight is infamous inside prison and notorious outside. Narcissistic, he collects all stories that mention him and, according to one prison source, is "extremely concerned in his place in history". So much so that he keeps a record of the world's mass killers, noting his position on the list.

He remains fascinated by guns and the military. A prison source said: "He is perfectly well-behaved in here. If he was released he would love the attention, but once that died away what would happen then?"

His greatest fear is he will remain inside prison until he is nothing but a legal footnote in university law exams on retrospective legislation.

And although he gave up without a fight when cornered by police in Collingwood that August night in 1987, he won't do the same over this latest legislation.

At a dinner a few years ago one of the state's most respected judges was asked who he thought was the most dangerous criminal in Victoria. He paused to reflect before responding: "Julian Knight, I fear we will hear from him again."