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.”

Link

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

Older person abuse demands swift, robust response

November 4, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP has asked Ageing Minister James Merlino MP to detail how staff training and practice in state-managed aged care homes is being strengthened to protect residents from sexual assault and abuse by staff.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria last week used an adjournment speech in Parliament to raise concerns about a ‘non-urgent’ classification that can be used to define the sexual assault of residents by staff.

“While aged care remains a federal responsibility, Victoria operates Australia’s largest public sector residential aged care service and almost 88 per cent of its facilities are in our regional and rural areas,” Ms Maxwell said.

“The federal government brought forward the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) because of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety tabled in federal parliament on March 1, this year.

“Since April 1, every aged care service has been required to have in place an effective incident management system for eight types of reportable incidents, including the use of unreasonable force, unlawful or inappropriate sexual contact and psychological or emotional abuse.

“The scheme requires priority 1 incidents likely to cause psychological or physical injury to be reported to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission within 24 hours, while priority 2 incidents are to be reported within 30 days.

“What concerns me is that the regulator asks staff to determine the impact on the victim and whether there are reasonable grounds to report an incident to police.”

Ms Maxwell said a study by KPMG in 2019 found that almost 60 per cent of aged care staff considered that a survivor had not experienced any physical or psychological impact after being raped or sexually assaulted.

“In one-third of cases, incidents were resolved without formal intervention,” she said.

“Now, the SIRS should cover this because sexual assault is a reportable offence, but if staff deem it to have no impact it might not be reported for 30 days, or reported to police at all.

Ms Maxwell said the royal commission found that ‘Australia’s aged care system is understaffed and the workforce underpaid and undertrained’.

It recommended regular training in trauma-informed service for all workers,” she said.

“Training is important not only for staff to understand their obligations under this scheme but to improve protective measures so that the incidence of sexual assault and abuse are reduced, not swept under the carpet.

“I also raise these concerns to honour and support Maria Berry, who contributes to national change on rural aged care issues in her role as a consumer adviser to the Older Persons Advocacy Network, who does an enormous amount of work in regional Victoria for those in aged care.

“She advocates tirelessly for people living in aged care.”

Illicit tobacco review terms of reference published

Statement

November 4, 2021

The Victorian government today published on-line terms of reference for a review of illicit tobacco by Better Regulation Commissioner Anna Cronin.

The review follows a motion that Tania Maxwell put to Parliament on September 8, 2021, calling on the government to rein in a trade that funds organised crime and costs Australia more than $820 million a year in lost excise – revenue that should be funding health and education services.

Comments by Tania Maxwell MP, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria:

I welcome the Victorian government’s decision to request a review by the Commissioner for Better Regulation of the state’s regulatory framework for the sale of tobacco products.

The retail sale of illegal tobacco trade is widespread. Organised crime profits from it, not only funding illicit farming and distribution, but funnelling proceeds into other serious criminal activities, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, drug, firearm and human trafficking, cyber-crime and violence.

On September 8, I put a motion to Parliament that called on the government to stamp out this insidious trade. I briefed Minister for Business Regulation Danny Pearson MP ahead of the motion, which passed unopposed, and I’ve since met with him and Commissioner Anna Cronin to shape terms of reference for this regulatory review.

The Minister recognises that Victoria needs a robust regulatory and compliance framework to limit, contain and eliminate the importation, production and sale of illegal tobacco. Too much of it funds crime. It’s sale also effectively steals from our communities – because illegal resellers don’t pay millions in excise that Australia uses to fund health and education services, and because they compete with retailers who sell tobacco lawfully.

As I’ve made clear to the government, Victoria and Queensland are the only jurisdictions in Australia without a regulated licencing scheme for the sale of tobacco. Yet Victoria regulates gaming and the sale of alcohol and firearms to enable the state to decide who are fit and proper people to conduct these activities, the conditions by which they must operate and the penalties for breaching these.

When the Commissioner’s review is complete, I’ll be pressing the government to make retail tobacco licencing mandatory. Only when the state equips law enforcement with strong investigation and compliance powers will Victoria begin to butt out this illegal trade.

Government’s statement on the Illicit Tobacco Review

November 4, 2021

The Minister for Regulatory Reform, the Hon Danny Pearson MP, has requested that the Commissioner for Better Regulation, Anna Cronin, undertake a review of Victoria’s approach to illicit tobacco regulation.

Illicit tobacco works against collective efforts to reduce smoking and tobacco-related harm because it undermines tobacco control measures such as price increases and plain packaging. It also targets the most disadvantaged communities, which already have higher smoking rates. A recent report by the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law and Enforcement found that more could be done to control illicit tobacco.

The Commissioner’s report will consider:

  • the current regulatory framework for tobacco in Victoria, with a focus on regulation of illicit tobacco
  • the regulatory frameworks applying in other relevant jurisdictions
  • recommendations for improvement, having regard to the nature of illicit tobacco sales and the parties involved
  • possible pathways to implement these recommendations, including whether new legislation and/or regulation is required
  • the costs and benefits of the preferred approach, and
  • funding considerations including possible sources of funds that may be available to assist regulation of tobacco production and sales.

As per the Terms of Reference, the report will focus on Victoria’s regulatory system surrounding illicit tobacco, rather than enforcement matters. The Commissioner has been asked to report to the Minister for Regulatory Reform and the Minister for Health by the end of April 2022.

Better Regulation Victoria is currently preparing a consultation plan and will provide further advice shortly on this web page about the ways in which we consult with key stakeholders and interested parties on these issues. For more information, please email contact@betterregulation.vic.gov.au.

Women firefighters deserve equal compensation rights

Media statement

November 1, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed the Victorian government’s commitment to study the incidence of female-specific cancers in firefighters and consider adding these to a schedule of occupational health impacts eligible for compensation.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria last week in the Legislative Council pushed to have ovarian, cervical and uterine cancers included in a legislated list of occupational diseases and injuries covered by the Forests Amendment (Forest Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation) Bill 2021.

But she did not press her amendment to a vote when the government committed, during the debate, to seek the latest medical and scientific advice and work with her to consider the reforms she proposed.

“The bill implements an occupational cancer presumptive rights compensation scheme for forest firefighters modelled on the scheme that passed Parliament in 2019 for Fire Services Victoria and Country Fire Authority members,” Ms Maxwell said.

“But it does not extend presumptive compensation cover for firefighting women who develop cancer, nor to contractors or employees working for forestry management companies.

“The link between exposure to fire and cancer is an enormous risk to the health and safety of firefighters and a huge personal cost to those who protect our property and people.

“Exposure to every fire increases that risk and quite a lot of research has been done, though the samples are often skewed by gender.

“The markers are there, and we should pay attention. Women are as susceptible to elevated risks of cancer as men.

“Men have significantly elevated risks to their reproductive organs, including testicular cancer, while indicative statistics – though small in number – show the incidence of cervical cancer to be more than four times higher in women firefighters.

“Yes, the studies of incidence in female reproductive organs have been inconclusive because of the relatively small proportion of women firefighters compared with men, but it is a reasonable bow to draw.

“Quite simply, what is good for the goose is good for the gander—or in this case, the other way around.

Ms Maxwell said Canada had become the first jurisdiction to add female-specific cancers to its firefighter and emergency services presumptive compensation scheme “out of good faith and caution”.

“With Canada’s lead, others will follow, and I am very hopeful that the amendment I’ve proposed will be incorporated into future legislation and extend these presumptive rights to all female firefighters,” she said.

Senior government minister Shaun Leane told Parliament that he thought all MPs shared Ms Maxwell’s aspiration to ensure the compensation scheme was supportive of women in Victoria’s fire and emergency services.

“I want to thank Ms Maxwell again for raising this important matter regarding her amendment today,” he said during the debate on October 27.

“The Minister for Emergency Services, Jaclyn Symes, is a massive advocate for women in the emergency services and for those on the front line, and I understand (she) has given Ms Maxwell a commitment to undertake further consultation and take into account the medical and scientific advice before we proceed with any reforms that Ms Maxwell may be suggesting.

“The Minister is happy to involve Ms Maxwell when speaking to women that this will affect and those on the ground.

“I am happy to provide in the chamber this commitment to Ms Maxwell to involving her in this development, and I know this is an area Minister Symes is really interested in exploring.”

Ms Maxwell welcomed the commitment.

“I really look forward to us working together to ensure that female firefighters are encouraged both to work in the field and to know that there will be further research to ensure equality and that women will feel they have that same right afforded to them as men now have under the amended scheme,” she said.

“I also hope that more work is done in the future to find ways to recognise the risk of exposure for forest industry brigades that currently number about 800 people, of which about 15 per cent are women, and how to extend them appropriate presumptive rights to compensation.”

View my speech in Parliament in Parliament on October 26, and the government’s response.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party opposes Victoria’s pandemic-specific Bill

Joint statement: Stuart Grimley MP and Tania Maxwell MP

October 27, 2021

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party will not support the Victorian government’s pandemic-specific Bill introduced to Parliament yesterday.

If passed, this Bill will give the government unprecedented powers over Victorians. Further, it would not even require a public health threat threshold test to determine pandemic risk before its powers were used.

We are elected Members of Parliament, yet we found out about the Bill’s introduction and its contents from the media. The two of us represent more than a million enrolled electors, but we’ve been told we were not briefed on the bill because we opposed the state government’s State of Emergency Bill in March last year and its extension five months later. What sort of a democracy is that?

If the intent of the Bill is to protect the public, then Victorians should be alarmed, as we are.

Additionally, this Bill allows the government to exclude unvaccinated people from entering certain venues, workplaces and events. In effect, it takes people’s jobs from them. It must also be recognised that there are some people in our communities who are medically exempt from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. We need to come together during a crisis and ensure that the most vulnerable are not alienated under any circumstances.

The Bill also allows the government to make decisions about ‘certain classes of people’ currently protected under the Equal Opportunity Act and to exclude them from certain activities and opportunities because of their race, gender, disability, political beliefs or other characteristics. We can’t agree with this.

We instead believe that health advice to a government about a future pandemic threat should be answered with legislation tailored to it, and to that alone.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party supports vaccination. We are vaccinated by choice, as are our staff. But as NSW moves to become ‘one society’ on December 1 – with no restriction between those who are vaccinated and those who are not – Victoria is heading in another direction. We’re likely to achieve 90 per cent vaccination by November 24. Which begs the question, if we’re vaccinated and doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, why should we be giving the Premier and the (current or future) government unfettered new powers?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen issues time and again with one person having exceptional power over Victorians. Further, the official advice handed to the government for the past 19 months has never been made public, and still we do not know if the government followed it or has made up restrictions as it decided.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party prides itself on reviewing all legislation thoroughly and making informed decisions in the best interests of our constituents. We also pride ourselves on making the right decisions based on the principles and policies of our party, particularly around justice.

We know that’s what all Victorians expect, and that’s why it’s the right thing to do.

Move to stamp out illegal tobacco

October 27, 2021

I welcome the Victorian government’s decision to request a review by the Commissioner for Better Regulation of the state’s regulatory framework for the sale of tobacco products.

The retail sale of illegal tobacco trade is widespread. Organised crime profits from it, not only funding illicit production and distribution, but funnelling proceeds into other serious criminal pursuits, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, drug, firearm and human trafficking, cyber-crime and violence.

On September 9, I put a motion to Parliament that called on the government to rein in this insidious trade. I briefed Minister for Business Regulation Danny Pearson MP ahead of the motion, which passed unopposed, and I’ve since met with him and Commissioner Anna Cronin to shape terms of reference for this regulatory review.

The Minister recognises that Victoria needs a robust regulatory and compliance framework to limit, contain and stamp out the importation, production and sale of illegal tobacco. Too much of it funds crime. It’s sale also effectively steals from our communities – because illegal resellers don’t pay millions in excise that Australia uses to fund health and education services, and because they compete with retailers who sell tobacco lawfully.

As I’ve made clear to the government, Victoria and Queensland are the only jurisdictions in Australia without a regulated licencing scheme for the sale of tobacco. Yet Victoria regulates gaming and the sale of alcohol and firearms to enable the state to decide who are fit and proper people to conduct these activities, the conditions by which they must operate and the penalties for breaching these.

When the Commissioner’s review is complete, I’ll be pressing the government to make retail tobacco licencing mandatory. Only when the state equips law enforcement with strong investigation and compliance powers will Victoria begin to butt out this illegal trade.

Give Northern Victoria tourism a head start

Media statement

October 21, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP has encouraged the state government to give regional tourism a head-start by allowing Melbourne residents to book accommodation and to travel to the North East, Central Victoria, Murray, Mallee and Sunraysia from October 29.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria put the request in a letter to Health Minister Martin Foley this week following representation from hospitality businesses hit hard by bushfire and COVID-19 lockdowns since January, last year.

“As a snapshot, the cumulative impact of the 2020 bushfires and pandemic restrictions that followed shortly afterwards is estimated by Tourism North East to have cost Wangaratta, Benalla, Indigo, Alpine, Towong, Mansfield, Murrindindi, alpine resorts and local communities at least $1.5 billion in the 16 months to June, this year, let alone the on-going cost of COVID restrictions since July,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Allowing Melbourne residents to travel and stay in our regions from October 29 – the Friday before what many enjoy as an extended weekend ahead of the Melbourne Cup – would give our tourism sector and many small hospitality and retail businesses a great head-start towards recovery.

“It would help them set out on the path towards rebuilding cashflow that’s so critically important in all our communities after 20 months of severely restricted business. 

“With Victoria’s population aged 16 and over today achieving 70 per cent double vaccination almost a week ahead of target, it seems reasonable to expect the 80pc target should be met ahead of November 5, the date forecast in Victoria’s road-map.

“Many accommodation providers in the regions, and especially in Victoria’s east, rely heavily on a mix of metropolitan markets, including Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, and they stand to lose the advantage offered by the closest market if Melbourne people are unable to make bookings in regional communities for what is usually a boom weekend ahead of the Melbourne Cup.

“While I encourage everyone to stay COVID-safe, I hope Mr Foley and the Health Department will recognise the opportunity that strong vaccination uptake offers to make the weekend a winner for our regional communities and tourism businesses.”

Image: Concrete Playground 2018

Grant steps Alpine Health towards redevelopment goal

Media statement

Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed a $934,000 grant for Alpine Health to upgrade vital services at Bright, Myrtleford and Mount Beauty hospitals and fund a feasibility and business case to redevelop Bright Aged Care.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria appealed to the Victorian government in March, this year, to support redevelopment work at Bright hospital, starting with a master plan update to ensure designs for the service were fit-for-purpose to meet Alpine communities’ future needs.

Ms Maxwell also co-ordinated a meeting between senior government minister and Northern Victoria colleague Jaclyn Symes MP and Alpine Health after the Legislative Council met in Bright late in April.

“This Rural Health Infrastructure Fund grant is great news for our Alpine communities and it answers Alpine Health’s hard work to bring the Victorian government’s attention to its goal for re-development, particularly at Bright hospital,” Ms Maxwell said.

“The hospital was built in the 1970s and 1980s and Alpine Health reviewed its capacity in 2012 and 2015 with feasibility studies and master planning, but redevelopment did not go ahead after those reviews.

“So the delivery of local services at the hospital continue to be constrained by outdated buildings, separate waiting and care areas, shared bathrooms that limit the hospital’s capacity to manage highly infectious patients, and a lack of consultation space for visiting specialists and proper security.

“At the same time, Alpine communities have grown strongly, with Myrtleford, Bright, Mount Beauty, Harrietville, Wandiligong, Porepunkah and local villages now home to almost 13,000 people plus a much bigger seasonal visitor population.

“The shire’s population growth rate doubled between 2015 and 2016 and again between 2019 and 2020. The number of people older than 60 has also increased more than 18 per cent since 2011.

“A dramatic landscape, cool climate and wonderful attractions ensure these communities are more and more becoming a big drawcard, so it’s vital that Alpine Health has the proper infrastructure, equipment and staff capacity to meet local needs now and into the future.

“This grant helps it to take the next step towards a redeveloped service with contemporary facilities and also pays for up-to-date nurse call systems at the Myrtleford, Bright and Mount Beauty campuses and upgrades to air systems in the Bright and Mount Beauty operating theatres.

“Alpine Health’s board, chief executive officer Nick Shaw and staff have worked hard to get this money delivered, and I’ll be advocating with the community for government investment so redevelopment works can get underway when the planning funded by this grant is complete.