Government cuts help in ‘ice nation’

Media statement

July 1, 2022

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has called on the state government to reinstate funding to the ‘gutted’ alcohol and other drugs (AOD) sector as Australia acquires an infamous reputation for having the highest reported methamphetamine use per capita in the world.

An Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) report released yesterday listed the finding based on wastewater samples taken in December 2021 and February 2022 from 56 regional and metropolitan sites covering a population of 13 million.

This comes after the Victorian government slashed funding to the alcohol and other drugs sector through the 2022-23 Budget, including the removal of a $25 million ‘COVID-19 AOD Workers Initiative’ which funded additional AOD staff.

The 2022-23 Budget made an overall cut of $39 million cut to the AOD sector when Victoria had a list of more than 4000 people waiting to receive publicly funded AOD counselling in December 2021.

The ACIC report also comes at a time when peak body Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association has asked the government for $3 million in recurring funding across Melton, Casey, Wyndham and Cardinia, where there are growing populations and significant disadvantage, to provide new services to address AOD-related harm.

Further, the government has not been forthcoming in enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations for the AOD sector, which has led to difficulties in attracting and retaining quality staff. This has exacerbated an already burnt-out, underpaid workforce.

Stuart Grimley MP, Member for Western Victoria:

“The alcohol and other drugs sector has been running on the smell of an oily rag for a long time and we are seeing the fallout of this through the ACIC report.

 “Australia is the ‘ice capital of the world’ and yet the government is scaling back investment into treatment for addicts – how does this make any sense?”

Tania Maxwell MP, Member for Northern Victoria:

“Every time an addict is turned away or asked to wait for help, we risk the safety of the community and the potential of creating more victims of crime.

“The most common breach of a community corrections order in Northern Victoria is people not attending AOD rehabilitation. How do we expect people to address their addiction if there is no place for them to check in due to lack of funding and staff resourcing?”

Reforming mental impairment defence

My motion calls on the Victorian Government to review the defence of mental impairment to ‘act proven but not criminally responsible’.

Community paramedics can relieve health pressures

Media statement

May 31, 2022

Tania Maxwell has welcomed a move by Australia’s first community paramedic service to extend its home care health support network to the North East.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said HMS Collective will partner with Wangaratta’s Open Door Neighbourhood House specifically to deliver preventative health care for carers who look after others at home.

The service will also help these carers to connect with doctors and other community support.

HMS Collective co-chief executive officer Ranee Wilkinson expects the ‘Care for carers’ service to start within six weeks.

“This is such an encouraging move by an organisation led by qualified paramedics and supported by retired and former paramedics, nurses, other health professionals and ambulance transport attendants living in our communities,” Ms Maxwell said.

“It will help to ease pressure on over-stretched triple-zero, emergency and hospital patient services.

“The serious challenges faced across our health system are affecting the level of care that people can expect and the level of care that our dedicated healthcare workforce can deliver.

“My heart goes out to emergency despatchers, ambulance paramedics, and nurses, doctors and hospital staff who have to face these demands every day when COVID has dramatically changed the way our healthcare system works.

“Everyone knows about its impact on ambulance response times, hospital ramping and the risks to patient care and staff safety.

“But Victoria needs to look to options like the one that HMS Collective provides.

“While it doesn’t operate an ambulance, the range of services it offers can start to meet demands for non-urgent care and preventative care in our communities if properly resourced.

“It’s an option that’s working really well in the Macedon Ranges in my Northern Victoria electorate and, extending from western Melbourne, it’s becoming available to people in Corio and Ballarat and it’s likely to be brought to Bendigo shortly.

“It’s a solution from the community – using skills and experience available in our communities – to deliver aged and disability care, wound and post-hospital care, mental health support and medication checks, palliative care and other personal health care services.”

Ms Maxwell last week told Parliament that HMS Collective estimates its 20 workers save 90 hours of ambulance attendance every week and the care they provide significantly reduces the burden on demand for hospital beds.

“But the service doesn’t qualify for state funding, relying instead on National Disability Insurance Scheme and My Aged Care package funding, donations and local grants to meet its costs,” she said.

“I’m pressing the government to see what can be done to change that.

“Because of our advocacy, the emergency services and health ministers also know that funding that would enable trained Country Fire Authority brigades to provide emergency first aid until an ambulance arrives is another practical and likely life-saving option.

“Kiewa-Tangambalanga CFA brigade is ready and waiting to pilot such a scheme in communities where the wait time for an ambulance is often among the longest in the state.

“I’m sure other rural brigades would be very keen to consider providing a first responder service.

“Both options just make common sense.”

PHOTO:

HMS Collective’s co-chief executive officer and paramedic Andrew McDonell (left), principal organiser Sharon Picking (second from right), and innovation facilitator and paramedic Jacqui Wilkinson (right) with Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party’s Northern Victoria MP Tania Maxwell and Western Victoria MP Stuart Grimley at Parliament on May 26, 2022.

Animal Justice and Greens duck out on crime victims

Media statement

Tania Maxwell MP says people harmed by crime have been ‘slapped in the face’ by the decisions of the government and two minor parties to vote against financial assistance changes that would help the recovery of victims and their families.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria put a series of amendments to the government’s Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance Scheme) Bill 2022 in the Legislative Council on May 26.

“I recognised during the debate the work that the government has done to reform the help available to victims in recent years,” Ms Maxwell said.

“But financial assistance can be significantly improved.

“That’s why Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party put forward changes.

“Victims of crime need to be certain of adequate, ongoing support so they can deal with the trauma they’ve experienced or witnessed and be safe knowing that help is always available.

“We understand that an assistance scheme has to be sustainable, but it must have robust capacity for victims to get the right support when and where they need it, otherwise recovery can be compromised.

“That’s why we moved to uncap access to counselling help, because preventative investment in mental health for victims and their families can avoid adding burdens to the health and justice systems later on.

“Our party’s other important amendment would have required the appointment of case managers to support victims through recovery, to make sure financial help is effective, and to help guide victims through the often fragmented and stressful process of seeking and receiving assistance.

“But these positive changes were not supported by the government, the Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick and the Greens’ Samantha Ratnam.

“The government instead spent 17 minutes batting back the proposals I put to its legislation that it claimed will deliver the most significant reforms to financial assistance for crime victims in 50 years.

“Compare this with the 20 minutes it spent earlier in the day trying to define who could eat or share in a duck shot in the field.”

Ms Maxwell said it was disappointing to see politics being put ahead of people.

“Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party will always put the rights and expectations of those we represent before any political agenda,” she said.

“If either the Animal Justice Party or the Greens’ representatives had supported my amendments the vote would have been won 19-18 and victims would be assured of reliable, on-going support for their recovery.”

Women firefighters deserve fairness

Media statement

Tania Maxwell MP today moved to extend compensation available for Victorian firefighters to include cancers specific to women.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, who is also a Country Fire Authority South Wangaratta brigade volunteer, put a bill to the Legislative Council to amend firefighters’ presumptive rights to compensation that have been available since 2019.

The rights mean firefighters with a cancer diagnosis do not have to prove their disease was caused by work.

Ms Maxwell said the addition of cervical, ovarian and uterine cancers to Victoria’s compensation schedule should be made “in the interests of fairness and equality” and because of the growing incidence of these cancers among North American firefighters.

“Firefighters across this state – whether they are career firefighters, forest firefighters or the incredible network of CFA volunteers that our regions rely on so heavily – face enormous risk every time they respond to a fire,” she told Parliament.

“That risk is not limited to protection of our local communities. Our teams travel interstate and internationally to fight fires in times of catastrophic emergency.

“The risks are intense and wide-ranging. There’s smoke inhalation, exposure to chemicals, extreme heat, ultraviolet radiation, noise, dust and the risk of crush injuries from collapsing structures.

“Exposure is also not just at the fire-ground. Contaminants remain on firefighting equipment and need to be thoroughly cleaned.

“There has been a real shift away from the image of gear caked in soot as a status symbol and a greater understanding of how chemical leaching can affect a person’s health.”

Ms Maxwell said the number of women firefighters in Australia was still low – insufficient for research epidemiologists to determine the risk of female-specific cancers developing from women’s exposure to fire.

“Female firefighters make up less than five per cent of the overall workforce,” she said.

“They are greater in number in Victoria’s forest firefighter sector – I’m told 25pc – and while participation rates will grow, it will still be some time before they are sufficient in number to provide researchers with reliable study sets.

“But the United States and Canada have led the charge on presumptive cancer rights for firefighters, where studies predict that female firefighters get a minimum of 20pc more cancers than the general population.

“In 2019, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency published a paper Emerging Health and Safety Issues Among Women in the Fire Service.

“This report stated the incidence of cervical cancer is more than four times higher in female firefighters[i].

“It suggested that elevated incidence and mortality could be associated with exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the firefighter population, which could elevate the incidence and mortality of reproductive cancers among female firefighters.

“Another US study confirmed that female firefighters are exposed to higher levels of some PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) compared to office workers.”

Ms Maxwell said she had spoken with various fire services and their workers and the United Firefighters Union, Volunteer Fire Brigades of Victoria and members of both Fire Services Victoria and Country Fire Authority about the changes she proposed.

“We should not delay in bringing this change to the presumptive rights scheme until there are enough female firefighters to provide the evidence that exists now for men,” she said.

“That evidence could be years or decades away and, in the meantime, will deny equality to those female firefighters, those trailblazers, who serve us now and who might need this now.”

[ May 25, 2022 ]


[i] Emerging Health and Safety Issues Among Women in the Fire Service (2019),  p42

State must redress care leaver trauma

Media statement

May 11, 2022

Tania Maxwell MP has asked Premier Daniel Andrews MP to establish a redress scheme for care leavers – people who experienced physical, psychological and emotional abuse as children while in Victorian orphanages.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria told Parliament yesterday it was time the Victorian government provided redress for those traumatised by abuse in state institutions.

“The government has announced a number of redress schemes for those harmed by historical actions from state policies and practices,” Ms Maxwell said.

“This includes the recent announcement of redress for mothers who had their children forcibly removed in the historical practice of adoption for children born out of wedlock, as well as reparations for Aboriginal Victorians forcibly removed from their families before 1977.

“These schemes will provide $100,000 in redress to each person who experienced harm by these practices.

“Care leavers hold no grudge against others who have been given redress, but it is hard for them not to feel envy and disappointment that their own harm is not being recognised in a similar way.

“Care Leavers Australasia Network has long campaigned for recognition and redress to extend from sexual abuse, which the Commonwealth’s national redress scheme covers, to physical and emotional abuse that so many endured in our state institutions.

“In 2004, a Senate inquiry recognised the history of cruelty inflicted on children raised as wards of the state.

“It recommended redress, and then-Premier Steve Bracks delivered an apology on behalf of Victoria in 2006, including a commitment to work with survivors of abuse and neglect in care to promote the healing process.”

“Progress has since stalled since and, in the absence of Commonwealth action, Victoria could – and should – lead the way. So I ask the government, 16 years since Premier Bracks’ apology, what are you waiting for?”

Ms Maxwell noted, subsequent to her adjournment, that children voluntarily placed into state care by a parent or guardian are not recognised as care leavers by the government.

View speech in Parliament (May 10, 2022)

Budget boosts community safety and security

Media statement

May 3, 2022

Victorian budget 2022-23

Tania Maxwell MP says state budget funding to plan for a redeveloped public residential aged care home in Bright, build a new aged care home in Mansfield, and create an alcohol and other drugs (AOD) residential rehabilitation centre in Mildura will boost family safety and security in Northern Victoria.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party MP asked the government to support Alpine Health’s Bright high-care aged care and hospital redevelopment project and a drug treatment and recovery facility in Mildura when she delivered her budget submission to Treasurer Tim Pallas MP on February 8.

“The Treasurer’s announcement today that Alpine Health will get $1.52 million to help it plan the redevelopment of Hawthorn Village to become a 40-bed residential aged care home means grandparents and parents will be able to look forward to staying in alpine communities close to their families and friends as they grow older,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Mansfield families will enjoy the same opportunity with a commitment from the government that Mansfield District Hospital will share in $146m to develop one of three new, much-needed residential aged care homes in regional Victoria,” Ms Maxwell said.

“For the western end of my electorate, I asked the Treasurer when I met him to consider allocating $35m for a drug court and alcohol and other drugs (AOD) rehabilitation unit in Mildura.

“The budget announcement of $36m for this unit is a really important step towards improving safety in Sunraysia communities and, now that it’s been made, I’ll continue to press for Mildura to be added to the network of Victoria’s drug courts.

“A major study has shown that re-offending can drop by one third and offences become less serious in communities where drug courts operate. The impacts of drug use and related crime also drop in communities where rehabilitation services are available.”

Ms Maxwell said funding for 82 new mental health beds would include the addition of 16 beds to the existing 20 beds in a redeveloped, modern acute care centre at Northeast Health Wangaratta, and new beds and land purchases for Goulburn Valley Health’s expansion in Shepparton.

“I raised in March the need for acute mental health services for 12-to-15-year-olds with Mental Health Minister James Merlino so I’m pleased to see the government further funding mental health support for young people.

“It’s providing $1.1m for place-based youth programs including Youth Live4Life, $6.6m to continue the Healthy Heart of Victoria program in the Loddon-Mallee region, and $12m to support group-based parenting counselling to improve infant, child and youth mental health and wellbeing.

“Support for justice and policing is also very welcome.

“The provision of $14m to support victim-survivors of sex crimes so they can get help and, as much as possible, avoid the trauma of re-telling their experiences when dealing with the police and justice systems is overdue.

“It’s good to see the government attach value in the budget to a proposal put last month by Justice Party colleague Stuart Grimley MP for an online alternative for sexual assault reporting.”

“A specialist family violence court is to be established in Bendigo, together with a Koori court to consider cases involving Indigenous Australians, specialist court services are to be expanded in the Loddon-Mallee, and $342m is to fund an extra 502 police and 50 protective services officers.”

Ms Maxwell said emergency service funding included:

  • $42m for the state’s emergency response workforce and fuel management
  • $25m to replace and renew critical bushfire emergency assets and resources
  • $10m to boost energy supplies
  • $9m for Country Fire Authority stations
  • $2.4m to continue to the Victoria’s powerline bushfire safety program

Image: Tania Maxwell MP (left), Tim McCurdy MP, Alpine mayor Sarah Nicholas, Alpine Health chief executive Nick Shaw, and Helen Haines MP .

[Photograph montage, December 2021]

Maxwell welcomes emergency action budget

Media statement

May 3, 2022

Victorian Budget 2022-23

Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed the state government’s $457 million budget commitment towards improving ambulance response times.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said she had pushed successive emergency services ministers since 2019 to fix performance problems that can be life-threatening in regional Victoria.

The government today announced spending of $333m to recruit another 400 call-takers and despatchers to the Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority and $124m to recruit and train another 90 paramedics, improve ambulance fleet management and staff rostering, and reduce bottlenecks at hospital emergency departments.

“I’ve been raising ambulance service issues consistently with the government across the past three years,” Ms Maxwell said.

“I’ve brought to ministers’ and parliament’s attention many times the challenges my communities face with Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority call-handling, ambulance emergency response times, hospital ramping and how community paramedics and first-responder services could be supported to reduce the strains on our health system.

“But the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath seem only to have made things worse.

“When every second counts, the latest Ambulance Victoria performance data shows Northern Victorians had to wait 50 seconds longer on average in the three months to the end of March than they did for an ambulance to arrive at a code one call-out in the previous quarter.

“Across 27 local government areas in my electorate, people wait on average 20 minutes 16 seconds for an ambulance called to an emergency, almost two minutes more than they did a year ago.

“And in Indigo in the North East, one of our smallest shires by population and area, the latest data shows the average emergency response time has blown out three minutes in the past quarter, to 24:51 minutes, and more than 2:12 minutes in the past year.

“At the same time, there’s been good news for Mansfield residents, where code one call-out average response times have improved 2:18 minutes in the past quarter and 4:24 minutes in the past year.

“But in so many areas, like Towong (31:08 minutes), Yarriambiack (25:27), Buloke (27:23), Loddon (26.20), Hepburn (20:20), Murrindindi (24:43) and Strathbogie (24:00) the wait is still way too long.

“So, I’ll be asking the government for detailed assurances about the benefits my communities can expect from the extra funding announced in today’s budget after Parliament resumes next week.”

Ms Maxwell said hospital ramping – where patients wait on-board in hospital emergency ambulance bays for medical attention – was still critical last week with reports of 30 ambulances ramped at emergency departments and delays at 12 major hospitals of up to seven hours.

“The additional budget money directed at reducing emergency department bottlenecks, more resourcing for emergency call and despatching staff and $698m for the ‘Better at Home’ health program is welcome, but is it enough?” she said.

“Regional hospitals have been at code yellow alert levels for months and the strain on staff is really biting.

“I’ve also recently requested a briefing from the Minister for Emergency Services about the recommendations from the ESTA review made by former Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton and, while I am yet to hear back, I look forward to this discussion taking place as a priority.”

Victoria Police stalker screening pilot underway

JOINT STATEMENT

April 4, 2022

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party MPs Tania Maxwell and Stuart Grimley have welcomed a Victoria Police move to pilot stalker screening that the party proposed in its submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s stalking inquiry last year.

Police today revealed their trial of a new tool called Screening Assessment for Stalking and Harassment that profiles stalker behaviour and can be used to prevent serious violence.

SASH has been actively used in The Netherlands since 2015 to strengthen police awareness of stalking risks through a data-driven system that triggers alerts about offender behaviour.

DHJP recommended the VLRC stalking inquiry examine the system used by Dutch police to track stalker psychological patterns and alert law enforcement to escalating risks.

The Dutch 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.

Tania Maxwell MP:

This is a very significant trial at a time when stalking offences outside family settings have increased more than 12 per cent in 12 months in Victoria.

Celeste Manno lost her life to stalking in 2020. Di McDonald is still living every day with the impacts of trauma from a stalker who pursued her for more than three years.

Behavioural training for police and technology come together in SASH to deliver a powerful tool that can make our communities safer.

Stuart Grimley MP:

We welcome the pilot of SASH in Victoria which we’d recommended in our submission to the VLRC’s stalking inquiry last year.

It’s crucial that we have better training and education for police in this area, as well as a modern system created to detect an offender’s risk.

We look forward to seeing the government’s response to the stalking inquiry after it has been tabled but welcome the proactiveness of Victoria Police to start making cultural and procedural change as a matter of urgency.

Victims’ strength and bravery seeks to change justice system

Media statement

March 24, 2022

Tania Maxwell has recognised victim-survivors’ strength and bravery for putting changes to Victoria’s criminal justice system in an eight-month parliamentary inquiry initiated by the Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party MP.

The Member for Northern Victoria – welcoming today’s release of the inquiry report by the Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee – said its recommendations were influenced by victim-survivors’ submissions.

“I stand here today to say I hear you, and this report is for you,” Ms Maxwell told victim-survivors seated in the Legislative Council gallery.

“I hope the recommendations in relation to victims of crime support will be accepted and implemented by the government as soon as possible.

“Some of the these are not new to this Parliament and focus on the recurring theme that prevention and early intervention is essential for fair, just, safe communities.

“Some will require further debate, and while I made a deliberate decision not to submit a minority report, I will put on record my strong opposition to any watering down of practices or laws that protect our community from high-risk, violent offenders.

“We must make sure that any reforms brought about by this inquiry reduce risk, support community safety and balance the rights of victims over those of offenders.

“Otherwise, we may simply reduce statistics without actually reducing crime or the harm that accompanies it.”

Ms Maxwell said victim-survivors’ decisions to share their experiences with the committee revealed deep and enduring suffering that usually flows from the impact of crime.

“When I brought my referral motion to Parliament in June 2020, I noted that significantly driving down crime has to be a goal that we all share,” she said.

“With more than 50 per cent of people incarcerated in Victoria going on to re-offend, I wanted the committee to investigate the drivers of recidivism, how we safeguard our community against violent offenders, and also ensure our corrections system is sufficiently ‘corrective’ in its action and outcomes.

“This required considering the justice system across all stages and in its totality, from supporting at-risk and vulnerable children before they’re born, to crime prevention, policing, corrections and courts.

“We examined the opportunities for reform to break what is often a downward spiral of offending for those caught up in crime, and ultimately how we can limit the lifetime of suffering for those who are victims and survivors.

“I look forward to the government’s careful consideration of the 100 recommendations in this report and I will continue to advocate for their implementation, especially the 31 directed at better supporting victims of crime.”

Ms Maxwell also drew attention to apparent consensus in submissions by legal services and other stakeholders advancing an increase in the age of criminal responsibility to the committee.

“While this is something that may be considered by the government, I would emphasise that without the implementation of evidence-based early interventions and primary prevention frameworks, this would not be a sensible or practical initiative at this time,” she said.

“The report discussed diversion programs and other alternatives to incarceration for young people and I hope that those opportunities will be strongly considered by this government.”

NOTE

The Legislative Council on June 3, 2020, supported the referral of Tania Maxwell’s motion for an inquiry in Victoria’s criminal justice system to the Council’s Legal and Social Issues Committee to examine:

  • Factors influencing Victoria’s growing remand and prison populations
  • Ways to reduce rates of repeat offending (recidivism)
  • How to ensure judges and magistrates have appropriate knowledge and expertise when sentencing and dealing with offenders, including an understanding of recidivism and the causes of crime; and
  • Appointment processes for judges in other jurisdictions, especially reviewing skill sets required for judges and magistrates overseeing specialist courts.

Visit Legal and Social Issues (parliament.vic.gov.au) for the inquiry’s specific terms of reference.

The first of the inquiry’s public hearings was held in Wangaratta on June 30, 2021.

Image: Victim-survivors Cathie Oddie (centre), Di McDonald (back left), Tracie Oldham (obscured), Lee Little and Thomas Wain, and inquiry chair Fiona Patten MP at a media conference following the inquiry report’s release at Parliament on March 24, 2022.