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 The Sentencing Advisory Council still provides information for Crimes Act offences both under section 51G(1) and the repealed section 70(1); however, there is no longer an obvious way of accessing information purely in respect of child pornography charges and sentences.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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

Adjournment- Working with children checks

In the last sitting week, through an adjournment matter for the Attorney-General, I raised a number of concerns associated with the application of working with children checks in the sporting arena. I am afraid I am returning to pose a similar matter to her again tonight. A fortnight ago my adjournment speech related to martial arts; this evening it relates to Australian Rules Football. It follows two recent cases of convicted sex offenders avoiding certain vetting requirements in order to become directly involved in junior football. One came to public attention in May, when it was revealed a recidivist sex offender was allowed to umpire matches, reportedly partly because of a favourable reference from a very senior figure in the AFL. The other case made headlines last month, when an already frequent perpetrator was convicted again, this time of an indecent act after gaining access to his young male victim by infiltrating a football club as a financial sponsor.

Both stories are deeply disturbing. They also raise numerous questions, including whether there are problems in the processes for working with children checks merely in some sports or whether they are more widespread across Victorian sport in general. At the very least the fact that the issues currently appear significant across at least two sports should be provoking serious cause for concern. Indeed I would be surprised if these two recent cases alone had not prompted government and sporting officials to have launched their own urgent investigations into why and how working with children checks are often being evaded.

At the end of my contribution about martial arts two weeks ago, I asked the Attorney-General if she would consider meeting to discuss a practical new initiative I believe might solve many of the current problems in working with children checks in the area of sporting. I am still very keen for that meeting to occur. However, a further action that I would also now like to seek from her is that she indicate what reporting and review mechanisms are in place that allow the Department of Justice and Community Safety to identify cases where a working with children check has been issued in error and/or where a check of someone’s suitability to work with children should have been conducted but has not been. I would also be grateful if she could disclose the number of cases that have fallen into each of those two categories since the commencement of the state’s working with children checks scheme, specifically including the area of junior sport.

Adjournment- PANDA Week

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Health.
I raise the awareness of the annual PANDA Week across Australia in this chamber as it is so near and dear to my heart.
PANDA is an acronym for Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Awareness and, in 2019, the theme for the week (which runs from 10th to 16th November) is “let’s get real”.  It’s a theme which aims to focus the minds of all Australians on the reality that perinatal anxiety and depression are common and serious. Indeed, as a measure of exactly how common they are, it’s worth noting that around 1 in 5 new or expecting mothers and up to 1 in 10 new fathers are likely to suffer from anxiety and/or depression within the period from a child’s conception to 12 months after their birth.

To add to that picture, these are conditions that do not discriminate.  They can very easily affect any new or expecting parent.  They can also escalate very quickly, especially as many people often feel an intense guilt or shame about such emotions and are therefore afraid even to open up about such issues.  The escalation of these problems is not hard to understand, of course, given that those affected will typically be surrounded by friends and loved ones who are (in complete contrast to them) feeling great excitement and joy about the prospect of a new arrival to the family. Against that backdrop, one of the key aims of PANDA Week is to widely emphasise the point that such depression and anxiety is actually nothing to be ashamed about – and that supporting new and expecting parents, and monitoring their wellbeing, is always important.

Now, I know the Minister will be well aware of PANDA Week and very likely participating in a number of events and activities associated with it. So, to build on that and in a completely apolitical spirit, the action that I seek from her through this adjournment is the provision of advice about what Victorians can best do, the whole year round, in the name of supporting anyone suffering from perinatal anxiety or depression. As part of that, I would also ask the Minister if she could list resources that are specifically made available by the Victorian Government (including the URLs of relevant web pages, and the names and numbers of relevant contacts) for people who are seeking help in managing, treating and reducing the impact of these two conditions.

Adjournment- Cross Border Issues

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Regional Development. It is about cross-border issues and problems and the impact on many of my constituents of the myriad differences in laws, regulations and conventions across state borders, especially for those living close to New South Wales and South Australia.

Motion- Murray Basin Rail Project

I will resume my speech from 16 October by re-stating the basic purpose of this motion, from the perspective of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party.
Primarily, it is intended to be an information-seeking exercise … one that gives Victorians more detail about the future of the Murray Basin Rail Project.
This is through requesting that the lead Minister, Jacinta Allan, attend a public meeting to provide information and answer questions in relation to the project.

Motion- Youth Justice

This motion requests that the Government provide new information about issues of very significant concern to many Victorians. In essence the motion asks for that information in two forms. The first is that members of the government provide us with their latest thinking on how they intend to strengthen the security of the state’s youth justice centres between now and the planned opening in 2021 of the Cherry Creek facility. The second is that they release a full version of the 2018 interim evaluation of their youth crime prevention grants (YCPG) program rather than the very abbreviated one that remains the only publicly available version of that report.

I know that the management of individuals in youth detention is an issue that has been debated on a recurring basis for many years in this place. Clearly it is an extremely vexed and difficult problem, no matter which side of politics is in government or whether it is in Victoria or any other part of the world. I completely understand, respect and acknowledge that. In fact it is for that reason that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party is asking for the two things that we are through this motion, because we hope that a discussion and resolution of each of these two points might help inform improvements to the current arrangements.

In relation to fortifying security and safety at the youth justice centres, it remains very clear that we have two largely overcrowded facilities at Malmsbury and Parkville that are no longer fit for purpose in their current form. Given the limitations on me this afternoon in terms of time I will not delve in extensive detail into the numbers of the despicable ongoing attacks on the custodial officers at those two facilities nor the recent announcement that on the basis of a detainee’s attack on an employee at Malmsbury in 2018 WorkSafe has officially charged the Department of Justice and Community Safety with failing to provide a safe workplace there. However, I will briefly cite the Herald Sun’s recent revelations that at least 60 workers across the centres are now too traumatised and/or injured from assaults on them to return to work. More broadly, according to a report in the Age the CPSU says there were 311 assaults on staff in the first 120 days of this year and that as many as 29 detainee-on-detainee assaults were even reported on a single day in September.

Against that background I am asking through the motion if government members can simply give us all an understanding of what work is currently being done and will continue to be done during this term of Parliament to address these terrible realities. I ask this partly because of an unfortunate chain of events in late September and early October. On 27 September the government issued a media release outlining some changes in its future plans for the operations of the state’s youth justice facilities. This concentrated exclusively on how the Malmsbury and Cherry Creek centres would be used and how Parkville would continue to be used once the construction of Cherry Creek is completed in 2021. Yet within a matter of days after that there was another wave of attacks at Malmsbury and the spectre of staff actually walking off the job on account of safety fears. As trite as this remark possibly sounds, it is abundantly clear that things cannot simply continue as they are and/or that significant changes have been largely placed on hold as we wait for the planned reorganisation of the facilities in 2021. Something more has to be done in the meantime. Victorians also need answers on the public record about what that something is.

That is a basic summary of what the first part of the motion asks. To move to the second request in the motion, about the youth crime prevention grants program, it is the position of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party that there must always be a strong emphasis in the state’s justice system on the importance of primary prevention and early intervention. On the cause of trying to reduce the number of troubled youths and youth offenders and lowering the numbers of young people in detention, we regard the importance of these two considerations as being paramount.

At least $17 million has already been spent on the YCPG program over a period dating back to 2016. This includes, for example, around $1.4 million on the ReBoot program, which is targeted specifically at children aged from 10 to 14 who have already engaged in low-level offending and/or have a potential for future criminal behaviour. Unfortunately, though—and this was confirmed from an adjournment response that I received from Minister Carroll about ReBoot earlier this year—there does not seem to have yet been a full evaluation of whether this money is being well targeted and well spent in helping to reduce the proclivity to crime among young Victorians.

I am not suggesting that the money is not being used effectively, and I do have very genuine respect for Mr Carroll and think he is sincerely committed to these goals. However, from outside of government it is impossible to know the answer about this expenditure when all that has apparently been completed to date in this sense has been an interim report in October 2018. To add to this picture, the only part of that document that ever appears to have been made public is an excerpt of just two out of the 109 pages. I do accept that there is apparently an ongoing, fuller evaluation being undertaken and hope to see it whenever it is finalised. Again, though, it is unclear if and when this report will ever be made available, and I do think it is critical, even before then and as a matter of urgency, that the Victorian public is given access to far more of the information that is already in the government’s possession about how well this program and all of its individual elements are or are not working. These evaluations lead to the basis of reforms and resources to be applied to support and assist these young people through that crucial early intervention and primary prevention.

If we want to reduce the number of our young people here in Victoria becoming a part of the justice system, we need to do more. We need to do more preventative work on the ground. In this policy area, and in an era in which the challenges of managing youth crime remain especially problematic, it is absolutely critical that we know whether such programs are well focused. Are they fit for purpose? Are they correctly targeted? And are they actually proving to be effective? If they are not, then they need to be replaced. It is as simple as that. They need to be reprogramed. They need to look at other ways to support these young people. And in the meantime I would like to see further commitment to providing the transparency of these reports. I would like to commend this motion to the house.

Members Statement – Victorian Regional Achievement and Community Awards

The Regional Achievement and Community Awards acknowledge the tireless work of individuals, communities, businesses and groups to support the social, economic, commercial or environmental prosperity of regional and rural areas. Finalists of this year’s awards included many dynamic programs from across Northern Victoria including TwistED Science of Echuca, Wandoon Estate Aboriginal Corporation of Healesville, Food Next Door of Mildura, Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services, Tyrrell College of Sea Lake. Northern Victorian organisations were strongly represented in the Employer Excellence in Aged Care category including Cooinda of Benalla, Jacaranda Village of RedCliffs, and St Catherine’s Hostel of Wangaratta.  Dianne McAuliffe of Shepparton was a finalist for her volunteer work with the elderly and Kevin Mitchell brought Devenish together to paint their silos. Community groups from Devenish, Golden Square, Goorambat and Puckapunyal have built volunteer programs and tourist opportunities for their towns. The ‘No Flies on Us’ campaign by the Goulburn Murray Regional Fruit Fly Project were worthy recipients of the 2019 Regional Achiever of the Year Award, strengthening management of fruit fly across the region and creating benchmarks that can be shared around Australia. Congratulations to all nominees, finalists and winners. You are ALL winners and our regions are stronger because of the work you do