Constituency question- Mildura & Swan Hill-Family Violence

I asked the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence what extra measures are being implemented specifically in and around Mildura and Swan Hill given the terrible comparative proliferation of family violence incidents in each of these two areas of my electorate?

Members Statement- Seymour Expo

It was wonderful to be at the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo last week and meet so many people from across my electorate of Northern Victoria, who converged on Seymour over three busy days. Seymour Expo attracts about 20,000 people and is a great event for the local economy, and provides an opportunity for people to gather and explore the vast array of exhibits. The Expo, of course, largely focuses on agriculture exhibits, which were so diverse and displayed how the agriculture sector supports so many jobs as it links across the supply chain, but there were also other displays of interest.

Thank you and congratulations to the Seymour Expo team who worked hard over many months to bring this showcase together. The Expo gave me an opportunity to speak to many, many people about the issues that are important to them.  It is so important to listen to people, to hear their stories and experiences, and adds to the wealth of information I gather to assist me in representing them in this place.

Adjournment- Public Housing & Retirement Village Sector

My matter is for the Minister for Housing and relates to the lack of any requirement for air conditioning in Victorian public housing. This is clearly an especially acute need in many parts of my electorate of Northern Victoria, which are typically some of the State’s hottest areas.

The State Government is obliged, by law, to provide public housing tenants with facilities that are, quote, “fit for habitation”. The action I seek is for consideration of improvements to these arrangements

Speech- Out of Home Care Bill 2020

I rise to say that Mr Grimley and I support the intent of this bill, albeit that I am not entirely convinced that the bill is actually required to trigger the changes Ms Patten is seeking to make. From the time it was established one of our party’s most important goals has always been the protection and welfare of young people. Indeed it has been the core political cause of our party founder, Derryn Hinch, throughout his entire life. Therefore a bill which has the general intent of improving the wellbeing, choices and futures of young people in Victoria is one to which we are very naturally drawn.

It is also worth reaffirming the point made by Ms Patten and others that the changes embedded in the bill have been advocated for for a long time by the likes of Anglicare Victoria through its CEO, Paul McDonald, and other charitable organisations. The Deloitte Access Economics report that Anglicare commissioned on this policy also presents some compelling information and evidence about the potential benefits of such changes.

All of that said, I want to point out that I have for a number of years in my past directly worked with many young Victorians and families in need of support—vulnerable families who have been in kinship care, foster care and residential care. With that background I would observe that all of us would do well to remember that the state’s protection and support of children, youth and families is an incredibly complex area of policy, accompanied by probably some of the hardest questions and choices in budget management that exist anywhere across government.

Without wanting to sound like a spokesperson for either of the major parties, out-of-home care has already been the subject of many, many billions of dollars of funding from governments of both persuasions, not least through the 2016 Roadmap for Reform initiatives, which brought together a vast diversity of measures aimed at increasing the safety of families and the support of vulnerable children. Out-of-home care services have indeed also already been extended to young people between the ages of 18 and 21. Whilst I know that it is difficult for them to say anything about this before May, my understanding is that the government will more than likely be announcing further funding specifically in this area in the budget.

It must be stressed that there is also a very wide range of programs already in place to help people up to the age of 25 transitioning to living away from home, like the umbrella Creating Connections Education Employment Pathways and the Transition to Independent Living Allowance models and the various initiatives underneath them. Quite explicitly the very purpose of all of these is to support young people who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness to transition to independent living and to access or sustain education, employment and training.

Whilst I apologise to Ms Patten that I was not able to raise this with her directly prior to the debate on the bill, I would also be keen to see whatever front-end modelling or analysis has been undertaken or commissioned by her or her office on the many hundreds of millions of dollars that would quite clearly be needed as a starting point to implement these changes.

At the moment we have only been given the Deloitte report that models what the long-term, post-implementation results might be. I have always been a big believer that money and resources need to go into the primary prevention and early intervention space so that we can mitigate some of the risks and consequences that we see, particularly for children going into residential care.

I would also like to say that we still do certainly have a long way to go in this area—something most people who have spoken on this bill have raised. I would also like to say that there are many people with experience as youth workers and social workers who would also confirm that a high priority in this field, as I have just mentioned, is that early intervention and primary prevention. Preventing or minimising problems before they become as serious as they have in the cases of foster care et cetera is frequently a preferred approach, rather than trying to repair or mitigate the unfortunate consequences that these children often experience.

I have worked directly with these children and know firsthand the trauma that they have often experienced, and often parents are just unable to manage these children. We see them going into residential care, foster care and kinship care, and ultimately the impact that that has on these children is so significant for the rest of their lives. I have worked with young people in residential care who, yes, when they come to 18 become very fearful and anxious about what lies ahead for them. I think a point I would like to make is to ask: what are we actually doing at the moment to prepare them, in that current space, prior to them becoming 18? I believe that more funding is probably required to support organisations to support them through that. I know we have targeted care packages, which cost an enormous amount of money, and I believe that if we could invest in that earlier intervention we could certainly balance the scales and support our children in a more proactive way.

I would hope that most members are aware of the Social Ventures Australia report that was developed late last year for Berry Street, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare and other leading agencies across the child and family sectors. It spells out the clear economic case for early intervention. Throughout that report there is a detailed examination of the incredible costs that early intervention measures can help save, including by very specifically reducing the likelihood of children ever needing to enter out-of-home care in the first place—and wouldn’t it be magnificent if we no longer needed out-of-home care.

So on the one hand we have the Deloitte report in Ms Patten’s specific area of expanding late out-of-home care, but on the other we have the Social Ventures Australia report that recommends, as do a wealth of other studies, targeting the other end of the spectrum. We also have before us the commissioner for children and young people’s recent Lost, Not Forgotten report, which not only strongly recommends more early intervention ahead of crisis funding but also targets a range of very real weaknesses in programs and service delivery. In an ideal world none of these things would necessarily be regarded as mutually exclusive, but clearly we do not live in an ideal world, and there is not unlimited money available to be spent on overcoming all of these issues simultaneously.

Anyway, my time for this speech is nearly at an end, so I will quickly finish where I began. Together with Mr Grimley I will be supporting this bill, given its aim is to improve the lives and welfare of many young Victorians. I also particularly commend all of those child welfare organisations who are behind the bill and who do so much work to advance these objectives more generally. As Ms Shing so eloquently, as always, put it, it is often a thankless job, and I do say a very heartfelt thank you to all organisations, carers and staff who support these young vulnerable children.

What I am about to say is not to diminish the aims of Ms Patten’s bill. However, I will close by reiterating that we should never, ever lose sight of the fact that there is still an enormous amount of work to do that goes way, way beyond this legislation in the support and development of children, young people and families more generally. I would like to congratulate Ms Patten on her bill, and I would like to commend this bill to the house.

Constituency Question- Black Spur safety

My question, to the Minister for Roads, is again about safety improvements to the Black Spur road in Murrindindi. I asked the Minister if she could make available an itemised list of both the completed upgrades and planned works- and timelines and costs.

Question without Notice- Ambulance response times

I refer, in the Question to the Ambulance Services Minister, to the heartbreaking case of Seymour woman, Gayl Hubbard, who died on 7 October 2019 while waiting for ambulance crews to arrive. Gayl’s husband, Tony, was led to believe by the ESTA worker that an ambulance was imminent, given he could see the ambulance station from his home. The worker told Tony “the ambulance is on its way” repeatedly. Tragically it took 43 minutes by Tony’s call log for an ambulance to arrive.

Adjournment- Mandatory sentencing

My matter is for the Attorney-General. It follows a 16 December County Court appeal decision which upheld James Haberfield’s non-custodial sentence for his vicious January 2019 assault on two Victorian paramedics even though Haberfield’s attack was fuelled by his entirely voluntary decision to take a cocktail of illicit drugs at a music festival and was so violent that it left the paramedics, collectively, with multiple injuries and substantial, ongoing psychological trauma.

As members will know, the continued, widespread attacks on emergency workers are of enormous concern to Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. As one example of that, a motion I introduced here on 16 October last year specifically addressed the lack of practical translation into court judgements of Premier Andrews’s commitment of 22 May 2018 that ‘if you attack and injure an emergency worker, jail will mean jail’. During the debate on that motion I said the Haberfield appeal outcome would not alter the fact that the current legislation has such discretionary scope that it will continue to allow perpetrators of these outrageous assaults to avoid jail. This was notwithstanding the fact that the Premier had himself urged the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) appeal, believing the government’s legislation ensured the likes of Haberfield should receive minimum sentences. My prediction, sadly, was absolutely correct.

I do note Judge Tinney’s observation that the Haberfield appeal case was particularly complex and the existence of the changed legislation presented him with some invidious choices about whether or not to impose a mandatory jail term. Nevertheless, he still ultimately resolved these in favour of the offender. He also pointed out that even the DPP conceded the legislation left open to him a number of non-custodial sentencing options.

I will say that our party is encouraged by the mandatory sentence applied in the Macintire case in late January. We are also increasingly hearing that strengthened legislation is imminent. In light of all this, the action I seek is the Attorney-General’s confirmation of whether the government will do what the Premier suggested in September may happen if the appeal in Haberfield’s case was unsuccessful—namely, review and potentially change its minimum sentencing legislation for assaults on emergency workers.

Like many Victorians, I want to know if the perpetrators of these attacks will continue to avoid minimum sentences or if the balance will be urgently redressed so there is actually a meaningful deterrent and so that greater rights are finally afforded to the victims rather than the perpetrators of these cowardly and shameful assaults.

Constituency Question- North East Rail Line

Since my previous question in Parliament last year, I again asked the Minister for Public Transport, to clarify for the long suffering passengers on the North East Rail Line, whether urgent and extensive improvements will be made, and if so, when?

Adjournment- CFA Fire services

Following the disastrous recent bushfires across the state, I asked the Minister to clarify what, if any, provisions are in place to ensure that CFA Volunteers are heard and understood by the government so that their views are genuinely reflected in policies and arrangements, including in relation to vehicle deployment, that govern their actions and operations.

Constituency Question- Cause of bushfires

My question is to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. It is about the terrible recent bushfires in my electorate of Northern Victoria Region. I ask the minister if she could indicate what information the government possesses about the actual ignition sources of each of the fires. To clarify what I mean by that question, what I am asking is if the minister could state how many separate bushfires began within Northern Victoria Region during the period from 1 December 2019 to the date of her answer; and in what percentage of these cases have the ignition sources respectively been identified as being (a) attributable purely to natural events, (b) human caused, ideally subdivided into accidental, suspicious or deliberate acts, and/or (c) due to any factor other than (a) or (b)?