Border communities need business, not brokers

Wangaratta’s Cafe Pre Vue is usually brim with customers on a warm spring morning – but not today (Sep 14) because of unviable patron limits at regional hospitality venues.

STATEMENT

Comments by Tania Maxwell MP, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, in response to the Victorian government’s September 13 statement: ‘On-the-ground support for Victoria’s border communities’ –

September 14, 2021

I find it appalling that this is being done now when it would be plain common sense to allow border zone residents to travel both sides of the Murray, and for our many twin communities to operate, as usual, as one.

Our small businesses and cafes, clubs and pubs in places without cases just want to open for normal trade while observing COVID-safe settings. Similarly, skilled farm workers should be able to travel across the zone as seasonal work demands, heeding common rules.

No amount of money put up to activate on-ground ‘border broker’ support will bring small and sole trader business that depend on cross-border commerce back from the brink of bankruptcy, or re-open those which have closed. Nor nor will it provide revenue to fund staff wages.

Today, pub, club and cafe operators indicate they have floorspace capacity for more patrons and yet last week’s new rules say they can seat just 10 people indoors, regardless of venue size. With miserable weather forecast this weekend, how can these businesses remain viable?

Let’s use our respected Cross Border Commissioners to reinstate commerce and common rules in the border zone so places without cases can get back to work.

Lockdown lift welcome, but hospitality venue limit not viable

With The Other Place Rutherglen cafe owner Cyril Cox after the June lockdown.

September 9, 2021

I welcome the Premier’s decision to lift lockdown restrictions in regional Victoria from 11:59pm today.

But what’s really welcome is his common-sense commitment that lockdowns for any future COVID outbreak in a regional community will be locally-targeted.

I’ve been advocating a local government area traffic-light system for more than year so people in places-without-cases can get on with their daily lives and community and business recovery.

There have been no cases in our communities and they’re achieving some of the highest vaccination rates in the state. Great work by Alpine, Indigo, Wangaratta, Benalla, Mansfield, Moira, Euroa, Buloke, Yarriambiack, Mount Alexander, Hepburn, Macedon Ranges, Strathbogie, Gannawarra, Nillimbik and Towong communities which have achieved first dose vaccination rates between 70 and 74 per cent for those 15 years and older.

But despite this strong response the new hospitality limit of 10 people seated indoors and 20 outdoors at cafes, restaurants and hotels makes little sense.

Venues in my communities tell me it’s simply not viable – a point I made to the Premier’s office on Wednesday. They should be allowed to apply the usual COVID-safe density rules and open, just as supermarkets can.

Victorians should be able to take Parliament sitting for granted

Joint statement

By Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Leader and Member for Western Victoria Stuart Grimley MP and Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell MP:

August 29, 2021

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party is extremely disappointed and frustrated that Parliament has once again been adjourned.

We made our views known last sitting week when we voted down the government’s motion to defer Parliament and supported changes to allow all MPs to participate in a COVID-safe way.  

Last year, when sittings were adjourned because of COVID, MPs were able to put questions to Ministers, have them answered, and for these actions to be reported in Hansard – the Parliamentary record.

Without even this basic procedure, there are few options for us to keep the government to account unless we go to the media.

As a matter of urgency, this lockdown shows why Parliament must be able to meet virtually – as federal Parliament is demonstrating – so we can represent our communities and scrutinise the government and its legislation, as we’re elected to do.

Making sure Parliament can meet – in person in a COVID-safe way, or virtually – is the one thing the people of Victoria should be able to take for granted in these challenging times.

IMAGE: Parliament of Victoria Legislative Council chamber

Apply for lockdown cash support now

I encourage small and medium-sized business, sole traders and people who have lost work to lockdown to seek the maximum cash support available from government.

COVID hardship fund

This fund offers a $14,000 payment where revenue has dropped more than 70 per cent since May 27, 2021, for small and medium-sized business ineligible for other support programs.

You must be able to show the drop for a minimum of two consecutive weeks compared with the same period in 2019. If you weren’t trading in 2019 alternative arrangements are available.

You must also have an Australian business number (ABN) and be registered for goods and services tax (GST). Find more information here.

Business costs assistance program

Regional business which received a Business Costs Assistance Program payment in round two and the subsequent July extension will receive $5600, or $2800 per week, during the August 21-September 2 lockdown period. You do not need to re-apply.

Licensed hospitality venue fund

Licensed hotels, restaurants, cafes and clubs which received a payment of $5000 to $20,000 per week, according to patron capacity, will receive the same payment during the current lockdown.

Alpine resorts winter support program

This program will also provide payments of $5000 to $20,000 per week to eligible businesses.

Check the latest information for each of these programs listed above.

COVID-19 disaster payment

If you lost or lose work during lockdown you can apply for a COVID-19 disaster payment of $450 or $750 for every seven-day period that COVID restrictions prevent you from working.

Sole traders who don’t have an ABN or aren’t registered for GST can also apply for this payment.

In regional Victoria, you can claim the disaster payment for these periods:

  • August 6-12 (apply before September 2)
  • August 20-26 (apply before September 16)
  • August 27-September 2 (apply before September 23)

Check your eligibility before you apply.

Contact me

Please email tania.maxwell@parliament.vic.gov.au or call 03 4700 1787 if you need help, or if your applications keep being rejected. My office is open 9am-5pm weekdays.

Time to butt out Victoria’s illegal tobacco trade

Media statement

August 19, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP wants the state government to crack down hard on Victoria’s widespread illegal retail tobacco trade by shifting compliance responsibility from local council environmental health officers to law enforcement.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said Victoria Police or a new agency should instead be given robust powers to disrupt and halt illicit production and under-the-counter retail sales estimated to cost Australia more than $820 million a year in unpaid tobacco tax.

“It’s a very shady trade that also costs our communities, the state and the nation in ways that go well beyond lost revenue,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Law enforcement has established strong links between the smuggling and sale of illicit tobacco and organised crime syndicates.

“Most concerning to me is how profits are funnelled to other serious criminal pursuits, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, drug, firearm and human trafficking, cyber-crime and violence.

“As Illicit Tobacco Taskforce commander Greg Lindsell told The Sydney Morning Herald just a few weeks ago: ‘Removing illicit tobacco from crop to shop creates a level playing field and helps to stop organised crime syndicates from funding other activities’.”

“It’s an insidious trade across our communities, too – ranging from the waterfront, where Australian Border Force every year intercepts millions of illegal cigarettes, to more than 400 shopfronts throughout Victoria selling contraband tobacco products.

“Just this year there have been seizures of illegal cigarettes, loose tobacco or crops in the ground in Euroa, Shepparton, Mooroopna, Yarrawonga and Beverford.

“In March, a joint taskforce of NSW and Victoria Police, the Tax Office and Border Force raided three properties either side of the border on the lower Murray and seized 45 hectares of illegally-grown tobacco worth up to $84 million in excise payable to the federal government had it been sold legally.

“But at a retail level it’s local councils that are currently responsible for checking that cigarettes and other tobacco products sold in local shops have been lawfully produced and manufactured.

“This means environmental health officers are usually those carrying out inspections.

“But they have no training in surveillance, search and seizure and do so at considerable personal risk because of the very nature of this black-market trade.

“Local government also tells me that there are no substantial infringements that would be of any real consequence to an offender, yet one council reported it spent 12 months and $50,000 to get a conviction.”

Ms Maxwell said Victoria and Queensland were the only Australian jurisdictions without a regulated licencing scheme for the sale of tobacco.

“Victoria regulates gaming and the sale of alcohol and firearms that enables 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,” she said.

“But we stop short of doing the same for those who deal in tobacco products.

“This is completely at odds with the huge investment we’ve made in public health campaigns to limit and reduce smoking and the cost to the health system and people’s lives, estimated at $137 billion by the National Drug Research Institute.

“By strengthening enforcement and introducing a licencing scheme with robust powers, Victoria’s tobacco control system would better align with those in other states and at a national level, provide effective support for legitimate tobacco retailers, bolster public health messaging, minimise harm and rein in crime.

“I’ve had productive conversations about these proposals with Health Minister Martin Foley, Local Government Minister Shaun Leane and acting Police Minister Danny Pearson in recent weeks.”

CIGARETTE IMAGE: Australian Border Force

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party fights for stalking reforms

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has proposed 43 reforms to Victoria’s stalking laws, policing framework and victim support in a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s stalking inquiry.

The DHJP believes flaws in current legislation and its interpretation undermine the seriousness of stalking.

It asks the VLRC to consider proactive reforms modelled on The Netherlands’ move in 2015 to strengthen police awareness of stalking risks and set up a data-driven system to trigger offender alerts.

The Dutch policing framework includes:

  • Continued education and training for all police officers in stalking behaviours, ‘red flags’ and actions.
  • An algorithm-based checking system designed to ensure no stalking cases are missed or misidentified. This digital trawl of all police information management systems flags cases logged in the previous 24 hours for certain words and phrases. The cross-referenced data is then checked by an officer who assesses whether any cases are stalking-related but may not have been marked as such when logged.
  • A Screening Assessment for Stalking and Harassment (SASH) tool refined by Australian, British and Swedish clinicians and researchers that weighs victim and stalker risks of persistent, escalating and violent stalking.
  • An enhanced communication and co-operation case management system where a single police officer case-manages an allegation to completion, and is responsible for notifying agencies that should be involved, such as child protection services.

The DHJP also recommends the immediate expansion of Victoria’s fledgling Victims’ Legal Service that was funded in the 2021-22 State Budget as a result of its MPs’ advocacy.

The party says an expanded service should provide information, advice and support for victim-survivors of stalking throughout the criminal trial process.

Other recommendations in the submission include:

  • Separating personal safety intervention orders (PSIOs) into different streams, including one specifically for stalking cases.
  • Increasing the maximum penalty for stalking offenders.
  • Allowing stalkers’ previous behaviours to be admissible in court, particularly pre-sentence reports.
  • If adopted, naming these changes ‘Celeste’s Law’ in memory of Celeste Manno, a young Victorian who was brutally murdered, allegedly by an ex-work colleague, in November 2020.

The full submission will be available online. Submissions to the inquiry close on August 17.

Tania Maxwell MP:

Stalking crimes often affect their victims in unimaginable ways.

An offender will watch their victim’s every move, and victims have to change their lifestyle and make countless sacrifices to stay safe, including installing cameras or moving house. Stalking can change the lives of victim-survivors forever.

Having worked with many victim-survivors of stalking crimes, it’s obvious that our current system isn’t working and that the reporting and judicial processes can often be as traumatising as the crimes themselves.

I thank the VLRC for its work and hope it considers implementing our party’s recommendations.

Stuart Grimley MP:

We are extremely proud of this submission, which goes some way in honouring the victim-survivors of stalking we have worked with and those who aren’t here to contribute.

We’re grateful our Victims Legal Service was partially funded, though it is very limited in the services it can currently provide. Supports and legal advice for stalking victim-survivors should be part of the future expansion of the service.

We hope that the VLRC will look closely at these recommendations to ensure our system responds adequately – and proactively – to stalking crime in the future.

Revamping ambulance ramping

Media statement

Tania Maxwell MP has again asked Health Minister Martin Foley about state government action to improve ambulance response times and overcome ramping at hospital emergency departments.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria last week told Parliament she did “not expect to be happily surprised” by the latest ambulance response time data for the April-June quarter.

It shows average response times[i] to code 1 call-outs, compared with a year ago, increased two minutes in Alpine, Campaspe and Mitchell shires, 2:41 minutes in Hepburn , one minute in Benalla, 3:21 minutes in Loddon, and 4:21 minutes in Mansfield, while there were improvements in Gannawarra and Indigo – all areas under the spotlight in the past year.

Ms Maxwell said practice of ambulance ramping, which occurs when hospital emergency departments are extremely busy and instruct paramedics to keep a patient on board until given the go-ahead to deliver them, was also affecting patient care.

“The July report of a patient with a spinal injury who was in a corridor at Sunshine Hospital for 14 hours is simply despairing,” she said.

“This patient was ramped outside the hospital for hours and then waited and waited for a bed. The Victorian Ambulance Union reports that patients are regularly waiting for 12 hours in ambulances outside hospitals or being treated by paramedics in corridors while they wait.

“I have spoken numerous times in this Parliament about the pressure on ambulance services in northern Victoria, including a very sad, recent case in my electorate where an aged-care resident waited 90 minutes for an ambulance, a delay which was attributed directly to hospital ramping.

“These bottlenecks are placing enormous strain on our health workforce.

“Speaking with healthcare workers, they tell me of the challenges of staff shortages and trying to find ways to discharge more patients safely to free up beds.

“They do an incredible job in an already pressured environment.

“The Australian Medical Association warned in July that our hospital systems cannot cope with a flu epidemic, let alone a COVID epidemic, in what was described as an ‘acute public health disaster’.

“Yet the point of Victoria’s first lockdown early last year was to prepare our health system to cope, and 18 months later we seem to be in no better position.”

Ms Maxwell said ramping was not isolated to state hospitals or Victoria.

“The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has called for a whole-health-system approach across both state and federal governments, including utilising general practice and community health,” she said.

“Other states, such as Tasmania, are rolling out policy to take pressure off emergency departments with extended care centres through general practices, extending hours, and weekend operation.

“I expect such a prospect would be welcome in many regional centres also, if you could indeed resource them, given the wait time to see a GP.

“I thank our healthcare workers, and I encourage the government to share with our communities what work they are doing in Victoria and with other levels of government to address these concerns.”


[i] https://www.ambulance.vic.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/2020-21-Q4-Ambulance-Response-Quarter-4-FY2020-21.pdf

Shocking child protection data breach demands investigation

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party parliamentarian Tania Maxwell has welcomed the Victorian Ombudsman’s reported investigation of an appalling child protection data breach that led to the rape of a 13-year-old boy.

The Northern Victoria MP said her party fully supported a formal review of how Alex Jones, now serving a six-year jail sentence for sexual assault, got a job for 17 months with a contractor working with children in a program funded by the former Department of Health and Human Services.

Victoria’s Information Commissioner subsequently found Jones continued to access the department’s client relationship database on 260 occasions for more than 12 months after he left the role.

Jones also conducted 150 searches of the database, revealing confidential, sensitive information about clients, including vulnerable young people, before his access was terminated.

“It beggars belief how a worker could still access a confidential database after he’d left his job, let alone use it to search, meet and groom young children,” Ms Maxwell said.

“It’s a public disgrace.

“The former DHHS*, responsible for managing, maintaining and providing child protection at the time the breaches took place, must be held to account for this shocking violation of the child safety standards it was charged to uphold.

“Not only did it lead to a horrifying crime.

“It shows that the department utterly failed the child who became the victim of this offender while relying on its protection.”

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has called for the continual enhancement of Victoria’s child protection system.

Speaking on the government’s Child Wellbeing and Safety Standards (Child Safe Standards Compliance and Enforcement) Amendment Bill in June, Ms Maxwell said legislation aimed at better protecting children was always close to her heart.

“The overriding purpose of this legislation is to foster an increased focus on child safety within thousands of Victorian organisations,” she said.

“It is aimed at improving the way that the standards, policies, procedures and practices of those organisations are regulated so as to more effectively prevent, disclose and respond to allegations and instances of child abuse.

“But the harms and costs of child abuse remain unacceptably high.

“We can start to bring these down if we link more closely with the work of other states, territories and the federal government and align the Victorian child safe standards with the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.

“We also need Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland to sign up for a national child protection scheme so information on people deemed a risk to work with children can be cross-checked in these jurisdictions.”

NOTE: * The former DHHS branch responsible for child protection in Victoria was re-named the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing in February 2021.

Link

Law Reform Commission stalking inquiry open for submissions

Tania Maxwell MP has encouraged victim-survivors of stalking to make a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s (VLRC) review of what she calls an insidious crime.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the inquiry had been established following the horrific murder of Celeste Manno in Mernda in November, last year.

“I join victim-survivors and their families in welcoming the opening of submissions and the release of the VLRC’s consultation paper for its stalking inquiry,” Ms Maxwell said.

“On December 9, last year, I stood on the steps of Victoria’s Parliament with Celeste’s mother, Aggie Di Mauro, and brother, Alessandro Manno, to call for urgent changes to the management of intervention orders.

“I worked closely with Ms Di Mauro to initiate this inquiry and we want to see serious consequences for people who commit stalking offences.”

Since Celeste Manno’s death, a change.org petition calling for stringent laws against stalking has been signed by more than 32,000 people.

In the year to March 2021, the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency recorded 14,100 stalking and harassment offences, of which 2300 (16 per cent) were in Northern Victoria.

Ms Maxwell said the community was demanding change to stop the horror for victims and their families.

“I speak regularly with victim-survivors and understand the lasting impact that this insidious crime leaves on their lives,” she said.

“We need to ensure perpetrators are swiftly identified and interventions are put in place to curb their behaviour much earlier to prevent further tragedies.

“I hope this inquiry will put the needs of victims at the forefront and I encourage people to make a submission and share their views on what changes are necessary to improve community safety and hold offenders to account.”

The VLRC has released a consultation paper and submissions are open until August 5. The VLRC will then prepare an interim report by the end of the year, and a final report by June 30, 2022.

Information about the review is available at https://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au/projects/stalking/stalking-terms-reference

Image: BBC

‘Green-light’ places without cases, Acting Premier

June 18, 2021

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party parliamentarians Tania Maxwell and Stuart Grimley have pressed Acting Premier James Merlino to keep places without COVID cases out of future lockdowns.

The pair wrote to Mr Merlino on June 16 to put the case again for rolling out in Victoria the COVID-risk management ‘traffic light system’ the government established early this year to limit travel from high-risk locations in NSW.

“I’ve also circulated the proposal to mayors across Northern Victoria and I’m encouraged by the upshot,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Here’s a workable solution that we first put to the government in August and reiterated publicly in parliament in September, last year.

“The government, in response to the Sydney COVID outbreak in January, subsequently set up the Victorian Travel Permit System that used public health advice to define levels of COVID risk in NSW local government areas.

“High-risk zones were designated red, at-risk zones orange, and low or no-risk zones green.

“People from red and orange zones wanting to enter Victoria were subject to travel, activity and stay-at-home restrictions and testing requirements, while people from green zones could carry on with their daily lives and come here simply by completing a declaration permit.

“It’s a system the government continues to use for all travellers from interstate.

“This week Stuart and I have again asked the government to adapt this system for use throughout Victoria in conjunction with robust trace management and testing.

“This would deliver for our communities an ‘an easy-to-understand traffic light system’, as Premier Dan Andrews described it in a media statement on January 11 during the Sydney outbreak.

“It would also enable the ‘places-without-cases’ communities that we represent to get on with recovery and rebuilding after our fourth statewide lockdown.”

Ms Maxwell and Mr Grimley acknowledged in the letter the government’s earlier adoption of other COVID management changes the pair had put forward, including specific exemptions from lockdown for border residents and differing restrictions between regional and metropolitan communities.

“But we’ve told Mr Merlino the government cannot continue to rely on hard lockdowns and sweeping restrictions to limit outbreaks of COVID-positive cases in Victoria,” Ms Maxwell said.

“If there’s either no risk or a very low risk of COVID spread in so many of our communities then these shouldn’t be locked down.”

Mr Grimley said using the traffic light system was “a no brainer”.

“Regional communities should not be lumped in with Melbourne COVID outbreaks,” the Member for Western Victoria said.

“Both Tania and I hear from regional businesses and organisations located more than 400 kilometres from Melbourne pleading to stay open. A traffic-light system will benefit our regional towns.

“I’m sure businesses would be more than happy to continue to check IDs to make sure their customers aren’t from ‘red zones’, especially if that means they can stay open during a Melbourne COVID outbreak.

“It’s hard to think that people in towns such as Nhill, Portland or Edenhope have to wear a facemask because a small group of people in Melbourne have contracted COVID-19. The traffic-light system could stop this from happening.”  

Ms Maxwell said the Justice Party wanted the proposal considered as a key part of a detailed, long-term plan for COVID management in Victoria.

“Since September we’ve openly said the government must also consult widely so Victorians can deal responsibly with COVID,” she said.

 “Stuart and I hear from our communities every day about the devastating financial, psychological and social impacts of impromptu lockdowns, particularly in places where there’s no, or low, transmission risk. 

“All parliamentarians should be actively encouraged to contribute to this plan for public recovery –one that at its heart is directed at restoring Victorians’ livelihoods, certainty and confidence.

“We look forward to the Acting Premier’s positive response.”