Domestic violence ads shy on home truths

January 10, 2022

Federal government advertising is falling short on domestic violence messaging, with bad jokes and sledges at sports matches barely scratching the surface of the real problem, according to Northern Victorian MP Tania Maxwell.

“We are very used to seeing confronting road trauma violence in advertising from the Transport Accident Commission,” she said.

“But the ads about domestic violence – which is lethal for one woman a week in Australia – are all about calling out bad language when you see it or off-colour jokes about women and girls.

“If the problem of domestic violence was limited to degrading language – these ads would be spot on. But we know we have a much bigger problem than that.”

The ‘Unmute yourself’ ads, funded by the federal government, are a part of the Stop it at the Start campaign on domestic violence. One of the most recent ads features two men talking about girls and sport.

The older man asks a younger male “what’s wrong with playing like a girl?”

Ms Maxwell, who has campaigned against domestic and family violence for many years, said the advertising needed to reflect the realities of trauma – just as road safety messages did.

“The softly, softly approach to this issue is not appropriate,” she said.

“A lot of the messaging is silent on what men can do apart from reject degrading language.”

Coercive control should be shown in the ads to educate the audience about healthy expectations in relationships, Ms Maxwell said.

“I think an ad that told men ‘Your partner is allowed to disagree with you – or say no to you – without being punished for it’ would probably be eye-opening for a lot of people,” she said.

“There is an expectation that it’s ok to pressure a woman into going to parties she doesn’t want to attend, or use her money on things she objects to, and people need to know that mental and emotional abuse is domestic violence, too.”

Ms Maxwell said Australians should also reject soap operas as an instructional life guide.

“Children are like sponges and their perception of what is real in some TV shows can have lasting effects,” she said.

“Education is the key here in determining what is and isn’t real life.

“These are dramas – they are written and acted to entertain you – not teach you about how boyfriends and girlfriends should behave towards each other,” Ms Maxwell said.

“A lot of fictional television programs – not just the soap operas – are about grumpy, controlling men and sad, stressed women. We need to reject those role models and change the narrative.

“There is often a lot of conflict in the relationships on screen as part of the storytelling but it needs to be seen in its context as fictional entertainment, not as an expectation-setting tool.

“All those men who are respectful and treat everyone equally and there are, from my experience, thousands of them out there, should be thanked. It is a shame that the minority who display reprehensible behaviours don’t learn from the majority of men in our society.”

This story was first reported in The Bendigo Advertiser on January 6, 2022.

Call for rapid antigen test availability in regional Victoria


January 7, 2022

Hon. Martin Foley MP
Minister for Health, Ambulance Services and Equality

Dear Minister,

I write to seek your urgent assurance that the state government will make rapid antigen test (RAT) kits quickly and readily available to already-vulnerable regional and rural communities, businesses and services in Northern Victoria.

Echuca Moama and District Tourism speaks for many border and neighbouring communities when it confirms that local tourism and service operators, after two years of lockdown, restrictions and border closure, don’t have the resilience or opportunity to source and provide RAT kits to staff so they can keep their businesses open.

CEO Kathryn Mackenzie told me when I visited Echuca four weeks ago that many operators have been grappling to fill staff and skill shortages and taken on higher borrowings to carry through the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is similar in other regional communities.

Yet now, at the peak of the first almost-normal summer visitor season in two years, businesses have little choice but to close their doors or limit service because rising infection numbers and the RAT kit shortage mean that staff who may have become close contacts cannot work. This is having a significant impact on local communities desperate to achieve business recovery. And, from what you have said publicly, the RAT kit shortage is to continue for some weeks.

I understand that limited supplies of RAT kits have been distributed to the four busiest Melbourne testing centres and, while this is understandable, it is critical that regional communities, with very little capacity in these very difficult times, are not left without these resources to help manage an escalating crisis.

At the same time, people in the communities I represent are struggling to access PCR testing, where necessary, and are confused by public health information about isolation requirements. News of health service staff furloughed, supply chain shortages and pressure on ambulance and police response times is only aggravating a keen sense of uncertainty.

Victoria’s coronavirus website provides guidance around PCR and rapid antigen tests, but there is no information about what people who cannot access testing should do to keep themselves and their families and colleagues safe.

Our communities are looking for clear direction and updates during the Omicron surge akin to information regularly broadcast during emergencies such as bushfire. I therefore also ask the government urgently to put in place a public health information campaign that keeps people informed and safe.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Tania Maxwell MP
Member for Northern Victoria

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Victoria Police school program comeback welcome

Media statement

December 15, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed the return to primary and secondary schools of the Victoria Police ‘Schools Engagement Model’ program.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the program informed young people about risks and responsibility and helped to build strong and positive relationships with police.

“This is a great decision by Chief Commissioner Shane Patton to bring the re-badged program back to Victorian schools,” Ms Maxwell said.

“We don’t want a young person’s first interaction with police to be when they’re in trouble.

“The program builds rapport, trust and a stronger understanding that police are here to help and it delivered fantastic outcomes in regional Victoria when it was running as the ‘Police in Schools’ program.

“I’ve heard many stories of how engagement with the local police changed perceptions, educated young people about important safety precautions to protect themselves, and was fun.

“My DHJP parliamentary colleague Stuart Grimley remembers the story of one police educator parking a highway patrol car on an outdoor basketball court and using the speed gun to see how fast the kids could run.

“It might be something small, but these types of interactions are important.”

Ms Maxwell said there had been strong support for the program’s return from Community Advocacy Alliance executive chair and former chief commissioner Kel Glare, deputy chair John Thexton, a former senior police officer, and the Police Association.

“I know from my time as a youth worker that the Borinya Wangaratta Community Partnership often had Victoria Police youth officer Surrey Hunter engaging its school students,” she said.

“Surrey built up such trusting rapport with the students that they welcomed him back almost every week when possible.

“The program also helps young people to handle dangerous or delicate situations, such as family violence issues and cyber safety, encourages trust between young people who have experienced sexual or physical assault and helps them to approach and report such experiences to police.”

Ms Maxwell said the DHJP had long advocated for mandatory education in Victorian schools about online grooming and cyber safety.

“This was also a recommendation of the Inquiry into the Management of Sex Offender Information report in September,” she said.

“The prevalence of online grooming and other cyber safety issues is an increasing worry for parents and school teachers.

“It can often be best to learn of these potential dangers and how to deal with them from those who are responsible with catching the predators.”

Vote defeats public agency scrutiny

Media statement

December 9, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP was last week prevented by two votes from giving Parliament and government the power to request a Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission review of public agency compliance with equal opportunity law and authorise it to publish findings.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria moved in the Legislative Council on December 3 to amend the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 during debate on the government’s proposed changes to equal opportunity exceptions[1] for religious organisations.

“Victorians have been shocked this week to read about VEOHRC findings into the extent of bullying, harassment and gender and sexual identity discrimination in Ambulance Victoria,” Ms Maxwell said.

“But in 2018 we were prevented from knowing if there was similar behaviour in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Country Fire Authority when Victoria’s Court of Appeal upheld action brought by the United Firefighters’ Union against the VEOHRC’s power to conduct exactly this type of review.

“The Court found that the VEOHRC had exceeded the powers of review given it by Parliament.

“So the only way to ensure that the VEOHRC is properly equipped to do its work is to change the Equal Opportunity Act, and I look to the support of my parliamentary colleagues to do that.”

Ms Maxwell’s amendment would have authorised Parliament or a Minister to request a VEOHRC review of programs and practices of any government department, public authority, state-owned enterprise or municipal council.

It would also authorise the VEOHRC to release a report and related documents under this process subject to a public interest test.

Government response

But Attorney-General and Legislative Council leader Jaclyn Symes MP told the House the government was unable to support Ms Maxwell’s amendment “because I do not have an appreciation of what the outcome will be”.

“I know what you are trying to achieve, but because of the time I have not had the opportunity to get advice on whether there would be unintended consequences and the like and how it would change the VEOHRC’s practices,” Ms Symes said.

“Have you got any advice from the commission or otherwise about how that would be implemented? You do not do things unless you know exactly what they are going to do, and I am not in a position to know if there would be other consequences for your amendment.”

Ms Maxwell said she had requested a meeting with the Equal Opportunity Commissioner.

“In my speech in the second-reading debate I said it is clear that the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 needs to change in order for VEOHRC to review matters that may be referred to it by a government minister or the Parliament,” she said.

“As Ms Symes noted in response to my question yesterday, the government cannot table a review that it does not have and VEOHRC cannot provide the minister with a copy of a particular review because of a court order made by the Court of Appeal in 2018.

“The court order was enforced in direct relation to section 151 of the Equal Opportunity Act. It clearly demonstrated that if the government requests a review of a public entity by VEOHRC, that entity may simply say, ‘No, thanks’, and block the review.

“If there are systemic human rights issues within a public authority, a government department, a state-owned entity or council and they do not self-refer, the government or the Parliament should, we believe, be able to refer this to VEOHRC.

“The commission’s role is executed through researching systemic issues; reviewing organisations, programs and practices for compliance; and conducting investigations under the Equal Opportunity Act.

“So these amendments provide for VEOHRC to exercise some discretion. VEOHRC can consider a referral and determine not to review an organisation; however, there is a public interest test for the release of reports and documents. I believe these are reasonable amendments—ones that advance the protections for workers and public transparency—and they would provide the opportunity for those reports to be accessible by changing section 151 of the Act.”

Opposition supports amendment

Shadow attorney-general Matthew Bach told the House the Opposition was “very understanding” of Ms Maxwell’s amendments.

“From our perspective, given the seriousness of the issues which she has hit upon both in her contribution here but also in the very helpful explanatory note that she circulated some time ago, we will be supporting her amendments,” Dr Bach said.

Liberal Democrats’ David Limbrick MP and Independent Catherine Cumming MP also indicated support for the amendments.

“I would like to thank Ms Maxwell’s team for briefing my team on what she is intending to do here,” Mr Limbrick said.

“I appreciate some of the concerns raised by the Attorney, but I do appreciate the intent of what Ms Maxwell is trying to do and the Liberal Democrats will be supporting this.”

On division, the move to amend the bill was defeated 19-18, with the Reason, Animal Justice and Greens parties voting with Labor. Two more votes would have passed the amendment.

Ms Maxwell used Question Time yesterday to ask the Emergency Services’ Minister Jaclyn Symes MP if the government itself would initiate changes to the Equal Opportunity Act, or conduct a fresh review of workplace culture in Victoria’s fire services.

Currently S.151(1) of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 says:

Commission may conduct review of compliance

S. 151(1) amended by No. 26/2011 s. 22(1)

(1)  On request of a person, the Commission may enter into an agreement with the person to review that person’s programs and practices to determine their compliance with this Act.

Ms Maxwell’s proposed amendment to Bill:

(2) On request of the Parliament or government, the Commission may review the programs and practices of any public agency or authority.

(3) The Commission may disclose a report or documents that relate to the review of programs and practices of an agency or authority under (2) if the Commission considers it in the public interest to do so.

[1] Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2021

Ombudsman damns cross-border permit system

Media statement

December 7, 2020

Tania Maxwell says the Victorian government must mandate the right of Victorians to return home during a future public health epidemic, pandemic or disaster.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria has also called on the government to apologise to thousands kept from home and forced to rely on relatives, friends, caravans or tents for a roof and a bed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms Maxwell said the Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation into Victoria’s border-crossing permit directions, released today, showed:

  • 33 per cent of 2649 exemption applications were granted to attend a funeral or visit a loved one at the end of their life
  • 8pc of 10,812 exemption applications were granted to return home for health, wellbeing, care and compassionate reasons
  • 4pc of 971 exemption applications were granted to return to care for animals
  • 75pc of 553 exemption applications were granted for emergency relocation

“The Ombudsman’s report into the failings of the Victorian government’s cross-border permit system will be bittersweet for thousands of Victorians prevented from returning home during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Throughout months of border closures, I raised with the offices of the Health Minister and Cross-Border Commissioner time-and-again the pleas from Victorians stopped by the government’s Travel Permit System from returning home,” Ms Maxwell said.

“These residents were denied the right to return home, children were separated from their parents, carers were unable to help loved ones through illness, and families were stopped from seeing a parent or grandparent at their end of life.

“These stories are heartbreaking and this report shows a system completely overwhelmed and ill-equipped to ensure that applications were treated in a compassionate, considered and consistent way.

“The job for the government now is to respond to the Ombudsman’s recommendations and provide a watertight, legal guarantee to Victorians of the right to return home in the event of a similar health or disaster threat.

“Because the pandemic management legislation passed last week by Labor, Reason, Greens, Animal Justice and Transport Matters parties does not enshrine this right in the new laws.

“When the Attorney-General finally sought the DHJP’s view on the pandemic bill on November 18 we said the legislation should mandate that all Victorians have an explicit right to return to home.

“We also said it should mandate a reasoned, fair and consistent process for people to appeal a rejected border permit application.

“But the Ombudsman shows the department directed its significant resources into keeping people out rather than helping them find safe ways to get home.

“She also said the government used the exemption system as a blunt instrument that led to unjust outcomes, potentially for thousands of people, and described these as some of the most questionable decisions she had reviewed in her seven years in the job.

“The government’s actions also damaged public trust.”


Read Why Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party opposes the government’s pandemic management bill

Bring Sunshine to North East rail passengers

Constituency question

December 2, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:46):

My constituency question (1564) is to the Minister for Transport Infrastructure (Hon. Jacinta Allan MP).

Upgrades to the Sunshine station will connect (Tullamarine) airport with the rest of the rail network. However, there is no provision for a standard gauge platform to accommodate the North East Rail Line.

The minister is currently suggesting that North East Rail Line passengers needing to get to the airport will change at Broadmeadows to a bus or taxi until the Suburban Rail Loop northern section is built in 2053. But the Border Rail Action Group has noted it would be far quicker for passengers to transfer at Sunshine rather than wait for a bus at Broadmeadows. Wodonga City Council wrote to the minister seeking a standard gauge platform at Sunshine.

So my question is: will the minister review the plans so that travellers on the North East Rail Line are not excluded from this metropolitan service?

Image: Sunshine station 2015. Pocketoz

Victims’ experience can bring telling reform


December 3, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:18): (1693) My adjournment is to the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence (Hon. Gabrielle Williams MP), and the action I seek is for the minister to meet with a group of victims and victim-survivors of coercive control and family violence regarding the review into coercive control that was discussed in my motion last week.

I was very grateful last sitting week to have three people visit this Parliament as part of their call for a strengthened response within our justice system to the evidence and impacts of coercive control. Each of these individuals was in their own way subjected to horrendous violent offences involving someone in a position of intimate trust. Michelle Skewes’ husband was convicted of nine charges of rape against her during their marriage. Jay was subject to repeated violent attacks throughout her marriage, often in the presence of her children. Lee Little lost her daughter who attempted to leave her relationship in circumstances that were treated as murder until the charges were plea-bargained down to a driving offence.

Having gone back over Hansard from the debate, the government in speaking to my motion indicated that coercive and controlling behaviour can already constitute an offence in Victoria. Hansard shows Ms Terpstra saying all these forms of abuse or control can interact and all form part of coercive control or be singular offences in and of themselves. I think it is important to note that there is not a stand-alone offence of family violence but that charges arise under contravention of a family violence intervention order or some other offence like assault or stalking. With regard to coercive control, it is the experience of many victims I have spoken with that coercive control was given very little consideration in hearings relating to their intervention order applications, nor was it given much consideration when they faced court on charges of physical violence.

So there is a range of things to consider in this review, and I am very grateful for the productive dealings that I have had with the minister’s office to date on these important issues and also very encouraged from the support across the Legislative Council.

The individuals who attended Parliament last week, along with others, have experienced coercive control and are very keen to invite the minister to meet with them and discuss when and how the review will occur. I think this will give a great opportunity to take the next steps with victims and victim-survivors, to include them in these discussions and to empower them in the process. I would also like to say—and unfortunately he has left the chamber—that these victims of crime felt so honoured that (my Northern Victoria colleague) Mr (Mark) Gepp MP actually went out and spoke to them and listened to their stories, and they were extremely appreciative and very grateful for his time.

Wallan opposes quarry, Minister

Constituency question

December 3, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:35):

My constituency question is to the Minister for Planning (Hon. Richard Wynne MP):

The Victorian Planning Authority’s letter to community regarding the Beveridge North West Precinct Structure Plan and Wallan Quarry Planning Permit consultation states: ‘The (independent planning) panel [from 2020] found that a quarry should be planned for… therefore, the VPA’s changes to the plan and engagement with the community are limited to considering how (not if) the draft PSP and associated planning scheme documents appropriately reflect the panel’s recommendations.

The issue for the community is not how the quarry is developed, but whether it will be. The quarry did not appear in the Future Urban Structure when it was exhibited in 2019, and the community were largely unaware that it was even a possibility.

Given the strong community voice for no quarry in Wallan, how will the Minister ensure that the community’s voice and concerns are appropriately considered and valued in this plan?

Government should boost regional media spend


December 3, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (22:10): (1683)

My adjournment is for the Minister for Government Services (Hon Danny Pearson MP), and the action I seek is for the minister to review the campaign expenditure requirement for advertising in regional and rural media.

It is government policy that regional and rural communities should have equal access to government communications and that regional media channels are used to deliver this. The Victorian government spent $84.6 million on media advertising for the 2019–20 financial year, and $9.5 million of this was spent on non-digital regional and rural media, which includes press, radio and outdoor advertising. This represents 17 per cent of the government’s total campaign advertising expenditure.

Departments and agencies are required to spend at least 15 per cent of campaign advertising expenditure on regional and rural media, so at least spending was slightly above this threshold. However, I suggest to the government that a 15 per cent base requirement is ridiculously low given the expanse of regional Victoria, the number of regional media outlets and the heavy reliance of local communities on local media for trusted information.

WIN Television’s Albury bureau closed in June 2019, and mid-year nine local bulletins were axed, including Shepparton and Bendigo. A number of print news outlets have shared concerns with me that the government has not utilised them for advertising, not only for COVID-19 pandemic information but across agencies and departments.

I was dismayed last week to learn that the ABC has cut Goulburn-Murray region local programming, and the 9.00-11.00 morning program has been replaced with a statewide show. ABC Goulburn-Murray, most recently with Sandra Moon and Alice Walker, has supported our region through the pandemic, with regular updates on border closures and restrictions. Back in the early days of my justice advocacy through the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign, the ABC supported me on this program back when Joseph Thomsen was on the microphone. Last week I also received news of the closure of the Macedon Free Press, another blow for regional media.

Regional outlets provide essential information at times of natural disaster along with local context and scrutiny of state and federal politics. Losing local news is bad for small communities. In their absence people are turning to social media, where information published may not have the integrity of professional journalism. My constituents value their local media. Our government should value it too, not just for sharing important news stories but through advertising. There is a balance that can be achieved to support the survival of regional media and ensure our local communities have access to both local content and local context.

Equal the opportunity to see fire services’ review

Question without notice

December 2, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:33):

My question is to the Minister for Emergency Services.

Minister, this week the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) released the report of its independent review of Ambulance Victoria. It was noted to be both painful and confronting and uncovered entrenched disrespect, victimisation and bullying. To the credit of Ambulance Victoria, this report is transparent and it has accepted all the recommendations from the review.

With respect to the similar review of fire services and the stubborn position of the union to block its release, will you once again seek to gain access to this report or make changes to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 so future taxpayer-funded reviews cannot be blocked?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:34):

Ms Maxwell, in relation to your question where you mentioned the VEOHRC report into Ambulance Victoria, it is compelling reading. It is an important review and I want to commend the management of Ambulance Victoria for taking that seriously. I also want to thank every single member of Ambulance Victoria who came forward to share their experience with the commission, and I encourage those members to continue those conversations. They are important conversations to have.

We should not have workplaces that are not inclusive, respectful and safe.

I have talked about the culture of the emergency services agencies that I have responsibility for in relation to the emergency services portfolio. You have asked for specific information on the VEOHRC review into workplace culture in relation to the fire services. I have answered this question on several occasions. I cannot table a review that I do not have. The VEOHRC have advised me that they cannot provide me with a copy of the review, not because of their legislation but because of a court order made by the Court of Appeal in 2018. So I do not have the capacity to force them to break a court order. That would be inappropriate in any sense but particularly in my other portfolio of Attorney-General.

I guess what I would say to you, Ms Maxwell, is that rather than focusing on a report from five years ago that I have not seen and I do not have access to, the government is focused on cultural change.

We are investing in and delivering in partnership with all of our emergency services organisations, and you have referenced Ambulance Victoria. There are other organisations where issues have been raised, and I think it is important to acknowledge that. I think I have said also, on the record, that the agencies that I deal with do not shy away from their responsibilities to address this. They do not deny that there are problems, but we are all working together to ensure that all of our agencies are safe and inclusive, and we really want them to be a welcoming place, particularly for women. That is something that I am particularly passionate about, and I know you share that passion.

As I meet more and more people in the organisation, I am really confident that everyone is focused on that end-goal.

Ms MAXWELL (12:37):

Thank you, Attorney.

Attorney, the VEOHRC report into Ambulance Victoria noted 52.4 per cent of surveyed respondents reported experiencing bullying. An internal review of the fire services revealed similar statistics. If the government seems unable to obtain this report for tabling in the Parliament, will the government initiate a new similar review of the fire services that will be more transparent?

Ms SYMES (12:37):

I think I addressed the issues that you spoke about. I meet with our emergency services agencies on a regular basis and always on the agenda is workplace culture. I will continue to have those conversations with them, and as I meet more and more staff and volunteers in the organisations as well I will be focused on outcomes.

As I said previously, I believe that our agencies are well on their way to understanding their culture and have in place some really ambitious objectives to ensure that they are one of the best places to work in the state.

Image: Guardian Australia