Question without Notice- CFA resourcing

My question is to Minister Jennings representing the Premier. On behalf of my constituents in the badly bushfire-affected Northern Victoria electorate, my question is about firefighting. Minister, CFA volunteer brigades continue to be forced to individually fundraise for their own equipment, including essential operational equipment. Even in cases where they happen to be awarded volunteer emergency services equipment program grants, they still need to contribute $1 of their own money for every $2 of government funding. Paramedics do not have to—and nor should they—pay for their ambulances and medical devices, and police do not have to pay for their tasers, guns, vehicles and so on and so forth. So why is this the case for CFA firefighters, who have yet again proven in recent weeks how amazing and invaluable they are in saving multiple lives and properties, particularly in regional Victoria?

I thank the minister for his answer. I would like to begin my supplementary question with just one example of the widespread consequences of the current funding situation. The Koondrook CFA’s only fire truck is 32 years old. It is an unsafe non-dual cab with a leaky radiator, and it is in constant need of repairs. Among other difficulties, the brigade also desperately requires an extension to its shed and equipment to adequately wash its fire hoses and to provide change rooms etc. It does not even own basic firefighting breathing apparatus—a situation that seems at odds with the government’s recent legislative recognition of firefighters’ elevated cancer risks. Minister, in view of the many severe shortfalls and safety risks that result from the current funding arrangements, when will CFA volunteers be consulted about and involved in helping design an improved model that is better resourced and tailored to their needs?

Constituency Question- Internet access & Emergency Notifications

For my constituents and indeed others in regional areas, internet access is often unreliable at the best of times. Let alone in emergency situations, where power and phone coverage is often severely hampered. Being able to successfully click through to the URL is accordingly, in some cases, simply impossible.
I therefore ask: why is far more comprehensive, meaningful information not included, in the first instance, in the text message?

Condolence Motion – Victorian Bushfires

I plan to keep my condolence motion quite succinct today for a number of reasons. As Ms Shing mentioned, this is quite an emotional topic to be standing here doing a condolence motion on, particularly given that the fires had an enormous and devastating effect in my electorate of Northern Victoria, but I also realise and respect that there are other speakers who are waiting to do their condolence motions as well.

I would also like to acknowledge and reiterate the sentiments that have been expressed here today by everybody in the chamber. It has been lovely to stand here and listen to such eloquent condolences.

It is with great sadness that I stand here today to pay respect to those who lost their lives either whilst performing their duties to save others’ lives and properties or whilst protecting their own homes here in Victoria during what has been a shocking fire season throughout our state. Bushfires have a devastating effect on our land, communities and animals, with the ultimate devastation being the loss of lives.

To the families of David Moresi, Bill Slade, Mat Kavanagh, Mick Roberts and Fred Becker, I send my deepest condolences. I can only imagine that this must be an incredibly difficult and traumatic time for you all. My words here today will sadly not heal your pain, but I hope with love and support from family, friends and your community, you will be able to take comfort from those who surround you in your time of need.

This is a heartache that you never expect to happen when a loved one walks out the door and does not return and recovering from such a tragedy can be an extremely painful and lifelong journey.

To the families in New South Wales, South Australia and the ACT, I also wish to send my heartfelt condolences to their families who have lost loved ones and for the stress and devastation these fires have caused.

I would also like to acknowledge the serious impact these fires have on townships, communities and our wildlife, who have all suffered terribly in the past few months. It will take years before the recovery is completed, and my electorate of Northern Victoria has experienced a disaster which we hope will never be repeated.

I praise the courage and commitment of all firefighters, emergency services personnel and first responders in protecting our state and of those who have volunteered in any capacity. I express my sincere gratitude to all those assisting in the recovery as I know many of you must be completely exhausted.

Minister Symes mentioned Wangaratta—my hometown—and the incredible sharing of kindness that we saw. The gratitude that we have from the generosity of people who travelled up from Melbourne, who brought truckloads of food and prepared and cooked meals, who went up to support firefighters who they did not believe were being fed. They put on a concert. They have done so much in our time of need, and I would sincerely like to thank them.

We had another group of psychologists and counsellors who travelled up to the relief centre in Wangaratta, and they provided what was a child-safe space. That space was so important to the children who had been evacuated from their towns, who needed that normalising of their day, and it also provided an opportunity for parents to be able to have adult discussions with other adults, without discussing their needs and concerns in front of their children.

I also opened my office up, and the generosity of people within our community was incredible. I had no idea of what to expect, and I have to say I was extremely humbled. My staff and I delivered seven carloads and two truckloads up to FoodShare. We could not clean our office out quick enough. In the time we travelled those 45 minutes to Wodonga, unloaded and then travelled back, as soon as we got back my office would be completely full once again, so the generosity of people was absolutely astounding.

I would also like to take this moment to thank the councils in my electorate of north-east Victoria, as I know that they opened their doors and provided whatever form of support they could to all those within our communities.

I also give thanks to all who joined us from overseas. It is wonderful to see the reciprocation of support at this time, and your efforts to join us over this lengthy fire period are certainly greatly appreciated by all. Unfortunately, three of your comrades will sadly not return home, and for that I feel extremely saddened. Once again, I send my sincere, heartfelt sympathy to all the families affected by the loss of these five men. Rest in peace, gentlemen; you will certainly not be forgotten.

On a final note, I would also like to bring up something that concerns me greatly. To arsonists who have started some of these fires throughout Australia, it is an act of disgraceful behaviour, and I certainly hope that you will be caught and held accountable for the devastation and trauma that you have created in innocent peoples’ lives.

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?