Constituency Question – Nestle Tongala closure

My constituency question is to the Minister for Regional Development – and is about the wellbeing of the people of the town of Tongala, in my electorate. It follows Nestle’s announcement on 28 August of its plans to close its factory in Tongala, and to progressively shift overseas all of the manufacturing currently undertaken there.  That decision will ultimately lead to 106 local people being made redundant. As the Minister will know, the announcement by Nestle comes in the midst of Tongala’s continued exposure to many ongoing and severe difficulties being caused by the downturns in the dairy industry. I ask the Minister: what actions is the Government taking (and/or will it take) to directly assist the people of Tongala to adjust to, and overcome, these very serious challenges to the town’s growth and development?

Member Statement – Paula Allen Blue Ribbon Foundation Police Officer of the Year

Adjournment – Mental Health Services

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Mental Health. It relates to the release in March 2019 of the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) report Access to Mental Health Services. More specifically, it is about the section in that report on workforce strategy, starting on page 35. It would simply be an understatement to say that that section of the report is, as indeed a number of other sections are too, critical of the direction and effectiveness of the actions being pursued by the government through, in particular, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Multiple observations about current failings were made, and multiple priorities for reform were identified. These included the need for targets on the specific types and numbers of workers required in the sector, as well as the lack of integration between mental health workforce strategies and broader service and infrastructure planning. There was also a very clear call for urgent action on addressing the particularly serious staffing challenges that exist in regional and rural areas. Just as worryingly, the report observed in the area of workforce strategy—and indeed this was a common refrain throughout almost the entire document—that well-targeted evaluation measures and mechanisms are also sorely lacking. That the criticism of the state of play is so wideranging is even more concerning when it is borne in mind that DHHS had specifically released a new, 10-year mental health plan in late 2015. That strategy was actually introduced, in part, as a means of trying to decisively address some of these very problems. Yet it appears that, at least at the time the report was written, there had been little to discern in the way of such improvements. I do understand and acknowledge that the government is taking various steps to try to improve mental health services in the state and improve their quality and availability for what is, unfortunately, a significantly growing number of people, including through the current royal commission process. Given all of that background, the action I seek from the minister is for the provision of a statement to me about whether the government, six months on, accepts the findings made on workforce strategy that are detailed in the VAGO report. If the government has indeed accepted those findings, then I would also appreciate from the minister an update on any progress towards implementation of VAGO’s suggested changes. Alternatively, if the government has not accepted the findings, then I would ask if the minister could explain why not.

Adjournment – Prison Contraband

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Corrections. It follows the recent release of the latest Drugs in Victorian Prisons report. On the one hand I congratulate the Government for continuing to release this report. That it does so comprehensively and on a monthly basis and that officers in the prison system appear to be undertaking this testing and checking work on a regular, ongoing basis is very welcome. On the other hand it is, sadly, one of the more disheartening public documents that I continue to come across in this job. The reason I say that is that seemingly without fail it continues to paint a very disturbing picture of the scale of the drug use within, and the level of the smuggling of contraband substances into, Victorian jails. I should clarify here that contraband, the way that the report defines it, includes items like further drugs, alcohol, syringes and needles and edged weapons. In this latest version, which details statistics from June, the number of positive random drug tests across Victorian prisons had increased to more than 5 per cent. For the year to June the report also revealed that there were seizures of contraband from prisoners amounting to over 750 litres of alcohol, around 900 edged weapons, 360 syringes and needles and nearly 2000 hits of heroin replacement drug. In each case that is a significant increase on the already alarming numbers from the previous 12 months. Clearly these kinds of figures elicit many questions about the effectiveness of any deterrents and punishments being imposed on prisoners found to be using and/or possessing drugs and other contraband. Similarly they raise many concerns about what sanctions, if any, are being applied to people caught trying to smuggle drugs and/or contraband into the prisons. The action that I therefore seek from the Minister is that he clarify how the government has established the benchmark for the levels of drugs and contraband use that are stipulated in the drugs in prisons report and why it should apparently be regarded as acceptable that there should be any drugs or contraband items allowed in the state’s prisons at all. As part of the response I would also be grateful if the Minister could clarify what percentage of the tests and checks that are identified in the report are performed on prisoners purely as they enter jail, as opposed to prisoners who are already serving their sentence.

Question without Notice – Millewa Drought

My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Ms Symes. As one of her fellow members for Northern Victoria Region, I commend her for her decision to expedite a visit to the Millewa region last week to inspect the effects of the crippling, successive droughts there. I ask the minister if she could provide me with a clarification on how much money is still available to assist those farmers in the Millewa region?

Constituency Question – Benalla Police Station

My constituency question is to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, and I ask if she could indicate whether and when the government will fund a rebuild of the Benalla Police Station. I ask because the station, built in 1956, is now in near complete disrepair.

Member Statement – Maria Hutchison

It was my sincere pleasure to recently launch the book Facing Maria on behalf of author Maria Hutchison, who is in the gallery with us here today. Maria’s life has been marked by periods of trauma, abuse, oppression and addiction. From this dark place Maria has emerged as a woman of courage, conviction and inspiration.

Question without Notice – Swan Hill Hospital

My question is to the Minister for Health, Minister Mikakos. Will the minister advise this house of the criteria on which the government prioritises hospital upgrades? As part of the answer, could she clarify what level of due diligence the government typically performs in making its funding decisions on hospital upgrades and whether it is compulsory each time for a specific documentation to be prepared, such as a master plan, business case or any other kind of cost-benefit analysis?

Speech – Engineers Registration Reform Bill

I rise to speak to this bill today. At the outset of my contribution let me say there is no problem, as far as Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party is concerned, with the stated aim of this bill. Broadly we agree with the government that finding a means of providing the general public with confidence and peace of mind about the capacities and qualifications of professional engineers is perfectly sensible in itself, especially in the midst of a period of significant infrastructure spending and activity in Victoria.