Constituency Question- Relocation Incentives

My question (on behalf of a constituent) is to the Treasurer. Recently, the Education Minister announced that teachers will be offered incentives of up to $50,000 to re-locate to regional schools – including, I assume, to any school in the Northern Victoria electorate. I ask the Treasurer to clarify if similar incentives will also be made available to workers in other sectors (and, if so, which sectors) who may be interested in re-locating specifically to the Northern Victoria region, given the widespread difficulty across many fields in attracting employees to our electorate. If that will not be the case, can he please explain why it has been decided that it will only be to the education sector that these re-location incentives will be made available?

Member’s Statement-Caroline Chisholm Society

I am pleased to speak today on the Caroline Chisholm Society as they celebrate 50 years. My advocacy for primary prevention and early intervention programs is very well known in this place. As stated by the Caroline Chisholm Society, if we can get perinatal mental health right, we will improve the well being of every Victorian child during the critical first 1000 days of their life. The Goulburn Valley Pregnancy and Family Support Service provides practical assistance, advice and care to improve maternal and infant health outcomes. The dedicated team at Shepparton run a great service on very limited resources with a high reliance on volunteers and the goodwill of the community.

The Caroline Chisholm Society has made key recommendations to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, and with the interim report due today we hope the government will quickly address the needs, which include a coordinated health and community service response for women, infants, children and other family members during and after pregnancy to improve perinatal health; increased funding for perinatal mental health services to meet demand; better protocols and referral pathways; improved access to therapeutic programs to strengthen families; and implementing policies aligned with the World Association for Infant Mental Health’s statement on the rights of the infant. I thank the Caroline Chisholm Society, their staff and their volunteers and commend them for their important work in delivering a brighter future for mothers, babies and children.

Adjournment- Child pornography and exploitation

My matter for the Minister for Child Protection is about the topics of child pornography and exploitation. I raise it not only because of a recent spate of horrifying news stories in these areas, like the conduct of Westpac, the starved four-year-old in Gippsland and a series of child neglect cases in Queensland; I also raise it because of my longstanding concerns about Victorian sentencing practices and data for child pornography crimes. Broadly speaking, serious sex offenders now account for around one in five people incarcerated in Victoria. Child pornography offenders are among the most challenging parts of all of this cohort, with Victoria currently facing, in police chief commissioner Graham Ashton’s words, a tidal wave of violent child pornography activity. His observations are also very consistent with trends more widely which have been evidenced, for instance, in Australian paedophiles purchasing swathes of online footage of children being tortured and murdered as well as the arrests of 1700 suspected predators in the US in June and the global operation last month against a dark web child pornography site involving 337 arrests across 12 countries. Federally in Australia there was also a very important development in September, when the attainment of child abuse material through a carriage service officially became a crime. Of course the young victims will face many incredibly serious challenges in overcoming such exploitation, and we will never eradicate violence from society as long as this abuse of children continues. Sadly it still seems to be the case in Victoria that an overwhelming majority—around two-thirds or more—of those convicted of child pornography offences never even serve a custodial sentence. I say ‘seems’ because it is becoming more difficult to attain such data. The Crime Statistics Agency now groups child pornography offences into a much broader category titled ‘offensive conduct’. The Sentencing Advisory Council still provides information for Crimes Act offences both under section 51G(1) and the repealed section 70(1); however, there is no longer an obvious way of accessing information purely in respect of child pornography charges and sentences.

The action I therefore seek from the minister is that he indicate what changes, if any, are being implemented in Victoria on three fronts, namely: following the federal and international leads in proactively targeting child pornography offenders; ensuring that sentences in this area reflect community expectations and the gravity of the crimes; and making publicly available crime data specific to child pornography offending and sentencing.

Question without Notice- Council resourcing for bush fire prevention and management

My question is to the Minister for Local Government, Mr Somyurek. It is about the status of the ‘Councils and emergencies project’ overseen by Local Government Victoria, especially as it relates to bushfire management and prevention activity in regional areas of the State. I believe work on that project started back in 2016 with a view to enhancing the capability and capacity of local councils in emergency management.  However, I understand there may recently have been slippage in the scheduled timelines for the project. Given this apparent delay to its completion date, can the Minister indicate that new date – and whether (in the interim) the Government will be increasing resourcing specifically to improve councils’ preparedness for emergency situations?  I ask this especially in relation to the current bushfire season.

Constituency Question- Police resourcing in North East Victoria

My question is to the Police Minister. It is my understanding that, as part of the Government’s ‘Be a Force for Good’ campaign, 10 new police officers have recently been recruited to what is known as Eastern Region Division 4, within North-East Victoria in my electorate.
It has also been suggested to me that these 10 officers have been recruited to work predominantly on family violence matters in the area.
I therefore ask the Minister if she could clarify the specific reasons for the assignment of those 10 new officers to that region – and, if it has indeed been to address family violence, whether it means there has been a rise in these offences and/or an increased risk of these offences in the area recently?

Adjournment-‘Lost, not forgotten’ report on child protection

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Child Protection.

It follows the recent tabling of the ‘Lost, not forgotten’ report of Victoria’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Liana Buchanan. By any measure, the revelations in the report are chilling. Specifically, it scrutinised the actions (or, more to the point, the lack of actions) of Child Protection and child and family services in relation to the repeated and severe neglect of each of 35 children, in particular.  These 35 children (who were all aged between 12 and 17) ultimately committed suicide (in the years from 2007 to 2019), typically after their cases were closed or passed to other agencies who were not appropriately placed or equipped to help them. All of that is horrifying enough.  However, there is a range of other detail in the document that is also profoundly disturbing. I don’t have the time this evening to work my way through all of that – but it includes, for example, the generally inadequate tracking of families’ engagement with services; the disproportionate number of Indigenous children among those neglected; a pattern of reports and referrals essentially gathering dust; wholly ineffective early intervention approaches; and a general culture (in Ms Buchanan’s words) of increasing hopelessness and despair. The release of the report also closely followed the emergence of news that over 14,000 calls to the State’s Child Protection Hotline were not even answered during a 20-month period in 2018 and 2019. Similarly, a recent VAGO report made a series of scathing findings about the administrative inadequacies of DHHS and other public health services responsible for child youth mental health services. Each of these points is very disturbing in its own right.  But, collectively, they paint a clear picture of serious systemic failings in Victoria’s child protection framework. Consequently, the action I seek from the Minister is that he clarify whether the new funding and resources for which Ms Buchanan has called will, as she has recommended, be urgently released into the child protection system. As part of that clarification, I would also be grateful if he could confirm whether he accepts Ms Buchanan’s observations that, of the total child and family service budget, only a quarter is spent on early intervention. If so (and given that Berry Street has also reportedly presented the Government with detailed modelling recently on the myriad benefits of early intervention), I would also appreciate it if he could comment on whether any new funding will directly address this specific shortfall.

Constituency Question- North East Rail Line

My constituency question is to the Minister for Public Transport, and it is about the ongoing “Third World” performance of trains on the north-east rail line. Specifically I refer to the atrocious punctuality figure for October of just 30.1 per cent. This is the worst number ever recorded in the historical monthly data on the V/Line website and means that less than one in every three trains are arriving even within the 11 minutes leeway allowed. The government is promising a completed north-east rail line upgrade at some time in the future. The Premier also advised my constituents last week to ‘just stick with us’. However, I ask the minister: what actions are specifically being taken in the meantime to urgently improve punctuality statistics that cause so many difficulties for passengers and are so completely unacceptable?

Child Protection

The ‘Lost, not forgotten’ report of Victoria’s Commissioner for Children and Young People is a chilling read, and reveals continued failures across child protection and family services. There have been 35 child suicides, all aged between 12 and 17, after their cases where closed. This report, along with others, is scathing about the inadequacies in the Department of Health and Human Services and other public health services. I asked Parliament to prioritise early intervention strategies for vulnerable familes. We cannot continue to tip money into the crises end….the findings of this report are unacceptable, and we need to prioritise sustained funding to address the root cause that leaves vulnerable children exposed. We need to stop failing these children.

Constituency question- Yarrawonga/Mulwala Bridge

My constituency question is for the Minister for Roads.

It is about the longstanding desire of my constituents in Yarrawonga and surrounding areas for a new Yarrawonga-Mulwala bridge crossing to be constructed.

Amendment- Serious Offenders and Other Matters Bill 2019

As I outlined in my speech earlier, the purpose here is really quite simple, I am merely seeking to ensure that the government takes the step of proactively advising the relevant victims of crime of their right, a right already enshrined in law, to receive a share of a compensation payout. That is, I am asking that a relevant victim or victims are notified by the government as soon as a compensation payment of $10 000 or more is awarded to a particular, current or former prisoner or person on remand. Under the way this presently operates, some victims are never told about such a thing at all. Through this amendment I am not objecting to the reasons for these compensation payouts, nor am I seeking to disrupt or even amend the fundamentals of the government’s existing policy on the Prisoner Compensation Quarantine Fund itself. What I am doing is trying to improve the way it is administered. One thing that I did not do in my speech earlier, which may be appropriate for me to do now, is to quickly cite some of the words of the relevant Labor minister at the time when the relevant parts of the Corrections Act 1986 were first introduced into the Parliament in 2008. Then Minister for Corrections, Bob Cameron, said on 31 July 2008 that the Brumby government was: “committed to empowering victims to exercise all of their available rights and remedies to seek compensation” … He also spoke of the need to: …” address the situation where an offender receives an award of damages from the state and therefore has a much improved financial situation. Victims can then choose to take advantage of that improved financial situation”. And he spoke of: … “the perceived inequity when offenders are seen to use the law for their own purposes through pursuing compensation arising from their circumstances in custody”.

In many respects I could not put it better myself, given that I think those sentiments would be best honoured in practice by making sure that victims know of this entitlement each time it arises. I commend this amendment to the house.