Return rowing to Nagambie for 2026 Games

Adjournment

May 11, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:45): (1908)

My adjournment is to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events (Hon. Martin Pakula MP), and the action I seek is for the government to expand the list of Commonwealth Games sports across regional Victoria and designate Lake Nagambie to host rowing for the 2026 games.

Northern Victoria covers more than 100,500 square kilometres, around half of the state. There are 27 local government areas in my electorate, and yet only one of those, Bendigo, has been earmarked so far as a venue for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. While the multi-city model is worthy of credit, much of my electorate has been overlooked to date.

A program of 16 core sports and four para sports have so far been agreed between the State of Victoria, the Commonwealth Games Federation and Commonwealth Games Australia. Typically there are 17 or 18 sports competed at the games, so I am hoping there is room for a couple of additions.

When the City of Greater Shepparton conceived a regional games concept back in 2017, it presented a vision of a regional cities model that included 11 cities. As well as the four already announced by the Premier (Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and a hub in Gippsland), the 11 included Shepparton, Mount Buller, Yarrawonga, Wodonga and Nagambie in my electorate.

The two-kilometre rowing course in Strathbogie shire is an example of an existing location ripe for the opportunity that the Commonwealth Games could present.

Lake Nagambie is the only 2km rowing course in regional Victoria. Last month the Australian Rowing Championships were relocated to this course with only eight days’ notice after the devastating floods in New South Wales. Around 2000 athletes competed, and Strathbogie shire and Lake Nagambie showcased themselves with high honours.

Strathbogie shire is a great tourism destination with fabulous food and wine offerings, well-established agriculture and equine industries, beautiful landscapes and wonderful potential. The mayor and council of Strathbogie have reached out to me for help to ask the government to consider flat-water rowing as an additional 2026 Commonwealth Games sport and to nominate Lake Nagambie as the location to host this event.

Rowing was part of the Commonwealth Games sporting program from 1938 until 1962*, when it was classified as an optional sport for the Commonwealth Games. Rowing is a popular sport in Australia—60,000 people participate, including more than 185 schools and 165 clubs. This is an absolute no-brainer for the government, and I know Nagambie and the Strathbogie shire would do Victoria proud in hosting a great rowing event.

I look forward to the government’s positive response, and I hope to see Strathbogie’s name on the list.

* Rowing returned for the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. It has since remained optional for host organisers.

Budget boosts community safety and security

Media statement

May 3, 2022

Victorian budget 2022-23

Tania Maxwell MP says state budget funding to plan for a redeveloped public residential aged care home in Bright, build a new aged care home in Mansfield, and create an alcohol and other drugs (AOD) residential rehabilitation centre in Mildura will boost family safety and security in Northern Victoria.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party MP asked the government to support Alpine Health’s Bright high-care aged care and hospital redevelopment project and a drug treatment and recovery facility in Mildura when she delivered her budget submission to Treasurer Tim Pallas MP on February 8.

“The Treasurer’s announcement today that Alpine Health will get $1.52 million to help it plan the redevelopment of Hawthorn Village to become a 40-bed residential aged care home means grandparents and parents will be able to look forward to staying in alpine communities close to their families and friends as they grow older,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Mansfield families will enjoy the same opportunity with a commitment from the government that Mansfield District Hospital will share in $146m to develop one of three new, much-needed residential aged care homes in regional Victoria,” Ms Maxwell said.

“For the western end of my electorate, I asked the Treasurer when I met him to consider allocating $35m for a drug court and alcohol and other drugs (AOD) rehabilitation unit in Mildura.

“The budget announcement of $36m for this unit is a really important step towards improving safety in Sunraysia communities and, now that it’s been made, I’ll continue to press for Mildura to be added to the network of Victoria’s drug courts.

“A major study has shown that re-offending can drop by one third and offences become less serious in communities where drug courts operate. The impacts of drug use and related crime also drop in communities where rehabilitation services are available.”

Ms Maxwell said funding for 82 new mental health beds would include the addition of 16 beds to the existing 20 beds in a redeveloped, modern acute care centre at Northeast Health Wangaratta, and new beds and land purchases for Goulburn Valley Health’s expansion in Shepparton.

“I raised in March the need for acute mental health services for 12-to-15-year-olds with Mental Health Minister James Merlino so I’m pleased to see the government further funding mental health support for young people.

“It’s providing $1.1m for place-based youth programs including Youth Live4Life, $6.6m to continue the Healthy Heart of Victoria program in the Loddon-Mallee region, and $12m to support group-based parenting counselling to improve infant, child and youth mental health and wellbeing.

“Support for justice and policing is also very welcome.

“The provision of $14m to support victim-survivors of sex crimes so they can get help and, as much as possible, avoid the trauma of re-telling their experiences when dealing with the police and justice systems is overdue.

“It’s good to see the government attach value in the budget to a proposal put last month by Justice Party colleague Stuart Grimley MP for an online alternative for sexual assault reporting.”

“A specialist family violence court is to be established in Bendigo, together with a Koori court to consider cases involving Indigenous Australians, specialist court services are to be expanded in the Loddon-Mallee, and $342m is to fund an extra 502 police and 50 protective services officers.”

Ms Maxwell said emergency service funding included:

  • $42m for the state’s emergency response workforce and fuel management
  • $25m to replace and renew critical bushfire emergency assets and resources
  • $10m to boost energy supplies
  • $9m for Country Fire Authority stations
  • $2.4m to continue to the Victoria’s powerline bushfire safety program

Image: Tania Maxwell MP (left), Tim McCurdy MP, Alpine mayor Sarah Nicholas, Alpine Health chief executive Nick Shaw, and Helen Haines MP .

[Photograph montage, December 2021]

Maxwell welcomes emergency action budget

Media statement

May 3, 2022

Victorian Budget 2022-23

Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed the state government’s $457 million budget commitment towards improving ambulance response times.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said she had pushed successive emergency services ministers since 2019 to fix performance problems that can be life-threatening in regional Victoria.

The government today announced spending of $333m to recruit another 400 call-takers and despatchers to the Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority and $124m to recruit and train another 90 paramedics, improve ambulance fleet management and staff rostering, and reduce bottlenecks at hospital emergency departments.

“I’ve been raising ambulance service issues consistently with the government across the past three years,” Ms Maxwell said.

“I’ve brought to ministers’ and parliament’s attention many times the challenges my communities face with Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority call-handling, ambulance emergency response times, hospital ramping and how community paramedics and first-responder services could be supported to reduce the strains on our health system.

“But the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath seem only to have made things worse.

“When every second counts, the latest Ambulance Victoria performance data shows Northern Victorians had to wait 50 seconds longer on average in the three months to the end of March than they did for an ambulance to arrive at a code one call-out in the previous quarter.

“Across 27 local government areas in my electorate, people wait on average 20 minutes 16 seconds for an ambulance called to an emergency, almost two minutes more than they did a year ago.

“And in Indigo in the North East, one of our smallest shires by population and area, the latest data shows the average emergency response time has blown out three minutes in the past quarter, to 24:51 minutes, and more than 2:12 minutes in the past year.

“At the same time, there’s been good news for Mansfield residents, where code one call-out average response times have improved 2:18 minutes in the past quarter and 4:24 minutes in the past year.

“But in so many areas, like Towong (31:08 minutes), Yarriambiack (25:27), Buloke (27:23), Loddon (26.20), Hepburn (20:20), Murrindindi (24:43) and Strathbogie (24:00) the wait is still way too long.

“So, I’ll be asking the government for detailed assurances about the benefits my communities can expect from the extra funding announced in today’s budget after Parliament resumes next week.”

Ms Maxwell said hospital ramping – where patients wait on-board in hospital emergency ambulance bays for medical attention – was still critical last week with reports of 30 ambulances ramped at emergency departments and delays at 12 major hospitals of up to seven hours.

“The additional budget money directed at reducing emergency department bottlenecks, more resourcing for emergency call and despatching staff and $698m for the ‘Better at Home’ health program is welcome, but is it enough?” she said.

“Regional hospitals have been at code yellow alert levels for months and the strain on staff is really biting.

“I’ve also recently requested a briefing from the Minister for Emergency Services about the recommendations from the ESTA review made by former Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton and, while I am yet to hear back, I look forward to this discussion taking place as a priority.”

Tania Maxwell bats with Hanging Rock

Media statement

April 8, 2022

Tania Maxwell MP has implored Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio to allow small Macedon Ranges communities to keep playing sport at Hanging Rock oval.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said there was no justification to stop the 120-year-old local cricket club from fielding all-age competition on the historic ground but allow concerts, car rallies and fairs in its place and horse racing to continue around its perimeter.

Ms Maxwell made the appeal after she tabled in the Legislative Council on April 5 a petition signed by 1103 people calling on the state government to amend a draft master plan so local sporting clubs can still use the picturesque oval below the Rock.

“The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s draft master plan for the Hanging Rock precinct flies in the face of the aspirations and traditions of the people of Newham, Hesket, Carlsruhe, Cobaw and Rochford,” she said.

“It seems also to be at odds with a 2018 strategic plan for the precinct and the views of local MP and Regional Development Minister Mary-Anne Thomas.

“Ms Thomas recently spoke in Parliament about much-needed sporting facilities in nearby Gisborne, saying: ‘Sport plays such an important role in the everyday life of our communities. And when sports clubs tell us they lack the facilities to play the sports they love, it means that the effects are felt by everyone…’.

“Well, a go-ahead for this master plan will be felt by everyone who uses and enjoys the oval for community sport.

“Local people feel devastated by the prospect that the master plan, as written, would remove cricket without offering a new home for the local kids, young people and adults who love it.

“The game’s been played here since 1864, Hanging Rock Cricket Club has more than 100 members, and this past season it fielded four junior and three senior teams including girls and women.

“Compared with horse-racing, concerts and similar big visitor events, local cricket must be the activity with the lightest touch on the precinct’s environment.

“But bureaucrats haven’t seemed to grasp the cricket club’s common-sense claim on this vital point.”

Ms Maxwell said the Rock’s Aboriginal cultural heritage was clearly significant.

“There’s so much great work going on in Victoria to advance everyone’s understanding and awareness of First People’s culture,” she said.

“In the same spirit as expressed by the cricket club, surely environmental, cultural and sporting traditions can co-exist in a supportive and respectful way in this wonderful place.”

Comments by Hanging Rock Cricket Club officials and players:

“The last couple of years have been tough enough. Keeping the kids and other players at the club safe and healthy and active through three COVID lockdowns has been an exhausting effort from dozens of volunteers, many of whom were hit hard financially during that time. In the middle of that, the club rooms were broken into and wrecked by vandals. We’ve only just managed to complete those repairs. And now the government is kicking us out without a skerrick of support, or any plan for the future. It’s a death sentence for the club.”
Stephen Mitchell, Vice President

“Since joining the club in 2015, it has provided me with a vital outlet, a chance to play sport and give me a sense of community. My partner and I moved to the Macedon Ranges in 2015 and the club has helped provide that rooting to the local community. The club location is what first inspired me to join, and Hanging Rock has since become a second home, so much so that my partner and I are planning to one day tie the knot there. If the club was to move, then it will not only lose that presence in the local community, but it will also lose its identity. It is after all the Hanging Rock Cricket Club!”
Clinton Sterlson, Secretary

“Hanging Rock Cricket Club is all about families and community and giving girls and boys a fair go. The government could have the decency to look after those kids but instead they’re chasing tourist dollars.”
Peter Walsh, President

“It’s pretty humble. And we don’t take up much room. For us not to be a part of the proposal I see as a bit of an oversight.”
Matt Shanahan, player and parent of three junior players

“We’re the Heelers, we’re at the Rock, and we love it here. We don’t want it to be anywhere else.”
Felix, 12, player

“My daughter came to cricket as an observer before Christmas, and we pointed out at each training session the other girls who were participating. After the Christmas break the amazing coach of the U11s group met Lucy and asked her to join in, his partner introduced their daughter to her, and she joined in. In Lucy’s words after the training session, ‘That was so much fun, I’m going to join in every week and play the games too when I’m bigger. It is amazing we get to play here with the Rock’.”
Lucy, 7, and her mum

“Cricket is a real team game, we get to talk on the ­field with our friends.”
Ben, 9, player

Petition – read into Hansard (Legislative Council) Tue, April 5, 2022: 1103 signatures

Link

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council that the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s (DELWP) draft Master Plan for the use of Hanging Rock (the Rock) has significantly shifted focus towards events and tourism at the expense of community involvement and recreation.

Children and adults in the area will have their local sport and recreation facilities taken from them and DELWP is proposing no viable alternative. In particular, the Hanging Rock Cricket Club, established in 1893, has a membership of 100 people with three senior teams, four junior teams and a proud record of supporting women’s cricket.

The Cricket Club provides a safe place for children to play sport in a rural environment where venues for such recreation are limited. Losing access to much needed open space will have a significant and detrimental effect on the tight-knit community around the Rock, which is expanding with many young families.

Removal of a well-supported club from a vital recreation space reflects a desire to maximise profits from a popular and iconic location. In doing so, it sacrifices the wellbeing of the community and abandons the youth of the area.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council call on the Government to amend the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s draft Master Plan for Hanging Rock to allow local sport within the Hanging Rock precinct.

Stalking crime reforms vital for our communities

Media statement

April 7, 2022

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has welcomed the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s interim report into stalking.

The report makes nine key recommendations to strengthen victim safety and enhance police understanding and identification of stalking behaviour.

Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell MP presented an 8000-signature petition to Parliament in December 2020 calling for urgent government action to enforce offender intervention orders and pursue stalkers. 

She was joined by the family of Celeste Manno, who lost her life at the hands of an alleged stalker in her Mernda home in November 2020, and met then Attorney-General Jill Hennessy with Celeste’s mother, Aggie DiMauro, and brother, Alessandro.

Ms Hennessey subsequently commissioned the VLRC review.

Ms Maxwell said the interim report, released on April 6, revealed the pressure on victims to protect themselves from stalking and risks to their safety by applying for intervention orders in court.

The report also shows the prevalence of stalking beyond family or intimate partner relationships.

“While there are some overlaps, the dynamics of stalking outside a family context are different and we need specialised ways to target this insidious crime,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Victim survivors need support from the time when stalking becomes apparent until well after an offender is charged, prosecuted and convicted.

“They need consistent care from our police service, courts and counsellors.

“They need to know that stalking has been stopped and that they can start to feel safe again.

“And to deliver this our communities need a system that works rapidly to identify and track stalking behaviour, reduce risk, and assure victim safety.”

The VLRC interim report recommends that every stalking allegation made to police should be consistently and centrally recorded.

It also recommends that Victoria Police should be responsible for seeking intervention orders to prevent an offender from following a victim.

“The report suggested that police responses, which are usually incident-based, may not be suitable for stalking,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Like coercive control, stalking involves course-of-conduct offending, which means the same offence committed time and again.

“Many people don’t report stalking until it’s been going on for some time, worried they are over-reacting or won’t be believed.”

Forensicare – the Victorian Institute for Forensic Mental Health – said victim survivor safety and stalker intervention should be a priority.

“When stalking is not recognised by police, at court, or by Corrections, we miss the opportunity to provide victim support and specialist assessment or treatment for offenders,” Ms Maxwell said.

Stuart Grimley MP said that the interim report strengthens the call for an expanded Victims’ Legal Service, including help for victims to deal with the personal safety intervention order process.

“Victim survivors often have to navigate complex application processes and advocate for themselves, including representing themselves because legal aid or duty lawyers are assisting the respondent,” Mr Grimley said.

“The VLRC recommended a ‘whole story’ framework.

“This includes guidance for police to minimise the burden on a victim to re-tell their story every time they make a report.”

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party made 36 recommendations in its submission last year to the VLRC stalking review.

Ms Maxwell said she was pleased that key recommendations, including the need for a new risk assessment framework, training for police and court officials and information sharing were reflected in the VLRC’s interim report.

The final report is due in June 2022.

Photo: Victim survivor Di McDonald with Tania and the VLRC interim report at Parliament on April 6, 2022.

Mallee communities step up and out

Member’s statement

April 6, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (09:52):

You cannot travel the Mallee without marvelling at the three things these big-hearted north-west communities do so well—turning vast salt lakes into visitor destinations where you wonder at the awesome arc of earth and sky day or night, transforming concrete grain silos into breathtaking portraits of rural life and making award-winning vanilla slice at Sharp’s Bakery, Birchip.

Recently at the first Mali Heart Street Art Festival the people of Birchip and Watchem created another destination experience. Across the Labour Day weekend I joined these communities, artists and school students to celebrate a collaboration that has produced seven work of art on hotel, garage, local store and portable grain silo walls—wonderful additions to northern Victoria’s art trail. Congratulations to the Birchip Community Forum’s Jak Goldsmith, John Richmond and Ed Rickard; Blender Studios; Buloke Shire’s Kerrie Mulholland; festival artists led by Adrian Doyle; and the many people and organisations who made Mali Heart happen.

I also enjoyed Sea Lake’s Royal Hotel’s fine hospitality, got my rev fix at Wycheproof Lions’ Show and Shine and heard about the upcoming Wide Open Spaces weekend in Beulah, home of the film The Dry.

These small communities are not waiting. Using collaboration and creativity, they are stepping up and out into the future.

Victims remembered as railway bill debated

Puffing Billy Railway Bill 2022

Speech

April 5, 2022

I rise to speak on the Puffing Billy Railway Bill 2022, which repeals the Emerald Tourist Railway Act 1977 and establishes a new principal act for future governance and operation of this iconic railway.

Puffing Billy is a significant tourist attraction. It is well known for delighting families, in particular children, who sit with their legs dangling over the side of the open carriages as Puffing Billy weaves its way through breathtaking scenery.

This bill seeks to provide the governance framework to sustain the operation of Puffing Billy Railway into the future. Symbolically, it is much more than that.

For while Puffing Billy is a landmark attraction that has given joy to locals and tourists over decades, it was also the stage for historical child abuse offences the subject of an investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman in 2018. 

Before I go on, I wish to acknowledge victim survivors who are watching today. I acknowledge your trauma and that, while repealing the Emerald Tourist Railway Act in some respects is another step in closing that dark chapter, it can also bring back to the fore your pain and suffering.

The offender at the centre of the Ombudsman’s investigation was involved with railways, including Puffing Billy, for decades – until 1991 in fact. This was despite having served a prison sentence for child abuse offending, despite having left another railway Society under a cloud of child sexual abuse allegations, despite ongoing and persistent rumours and reports, despite senior members discussing his ‘untoward behaviour’ in the 1970s, despite being confronted by board members and investigated by police in the 1980s, and despite the Vice President warning his own son to stay away from the that person.

The Ombudsman determined that the governance of Puffing Billy was tightly controlled by senior members of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society, and that the lack of appropriate oversight, failure to respond to reports or remove those under clouds of suspicion, left children exposed to child sexual abuse.

We know that perpetrators are opportunistic – this offender certainly was – assuming the role of roster officer, supervising overnight work parties and fire patrols, and leasing property where offending occurred. He became the archives officer and drafted a policy that could conceal complaints.

The failures don’t stop in 1991, when the offender was forced to resign from Puffing Billy. During the Ombudsman’s investigation, one of the Preservation Society board members made a repulsive suggestion that blame could be directed towards, and I quote, “the predatory child”[i].

The CEO appointed in 2002 – a long-standing board member and former president of the Preservation Society – was criticised for failing to provide full and accurate information to victims, the Royal Commission, government bodies, the media and the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman noted: “…for decades, young victims with valid complaints about sexual abuse were forced to seek justice for themselves, while steps were taken to protect the reputation of the alleged offenders and the railway”.

Young William Elms was banned from volunteering following his complaints, something that continues deeply to affect him.

I recognise that with over 1000 members at some points in time, and nearly 500 volunteers being actively involved in preserving and operating the railway, that there are many hardworking, honest and law-abiding members of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society.  The failures of the board, described as ‘monumental’ by the Ombudsman, were likely never known to them.  I’m sure it’s very painful for these members that their love for the railway, for their society, is tarnished by the scathing details exposed in the Ombudsman’s report.  

Those volunteers have raised funds and given countless hours over many decades to the Puffing Billy Railway.

A couple of those volunteers wrote to me imploring that this bill be delayed – citing a range of concerns about how volunteers will be supported in the future, about how assets will be managed, and a fear that the Society is being dismantled as punishment for the past.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse said that if the problems identified are to be adequately addressed, changes must be made to the culture, structure and governance practices of institutions. [ii]

This should be without resentment and with the best interests and safety of children at the centre.

The government has its own share of responsibility to accept , for the Emerald Tourist Railway was a government agency. While the government could nominate six representatives to the board, it only ever nominated three. This allowed four society members to control the board, a control they held very tightly from 1977 until 2002.

I do not accept suggestions that the Ombudsman’s report was not robust, or that there is some kind of obscure cabinet cover-up occurring, as has been suggested in a couple of the emails to me. 

I do accept some of the concerns raised about preserving the future for volunteers and ensuring a cooperative and safe operation of Puffing Billy. Volunteering is an important part of our society – many aspects of our society are heavily dependent on volunteers. I know the Society is trying to move forward and that there are issues relating to assets and contracts that are ongoing and need to be resolved.

The government made some positive commitments around this during consideration-in-detail in the Legislative Assembly and my office has had discussions with the Minister’s office on some of those concerns. I appreciate these conversations, and I hope the government will be true to the commitment they have given to protect the heritage significance of the railway and the significance of Puffing Billy volunteers.

The Preservation Society has undergone much change since 2018. It is now an independent entity and I hope has robust policies and oversight in place – as should all organisations. I hope that mechanisms such as Working With Children Checks and Child Safe Standards ensure that predators cannot manipulate opportunities that give them access to children, as they have in the past. Measures to ensure the safety of our children should continue to be a high priority of all organisations – be they government agencies, volunteer societies, sporting clubs and other associations. 

Governments should continue to explore measures that make it easier to identify potential offenders – whether that is considering Coach Check, implementing the public Sex Offenders’ Register, ensuring offenders cannot operate under pseudonyms or other ways keep a light on potential predatory behaviour.

Derryn Hinch has been well known for naming and shaming paedophiles. Our party continues to focus our policy work on child safety and the rights of victims over offenders.

For the interest of this chamber, the Ombudsman’s investigation noted a report on the Hinch program back in 1989 about one of the offenders – it largely concerned a job in the Department of Defence which was kept open while the offender was in prison. The report noted the sentencing remarks of the case, that this offender “used his position as a youth leader at Victoria’s historic Puffing Billy steam train to lure young boys into his web”.

The minutes of the society meeting after the Hinch report aired states the committee agreed that one of the executive would have a ‘quiet word’ with the other offender, yet in in keeping with the practice of secrecy nobody seemed to recall what this was about.  We can only join those dots, given the subject of that ‘quiet word’ was later convicted, nearly 25 years later, of 23 counts of sex offences against six children. 

I know that I have focused heavily on the Ombudsman’s report in my contribution today, but we always speak for victims first and recommendation two from the investigation was that the government review the structure and governance of Puffing Billy – as this bill does.

I hope the track ahead for Puffing Billy – for the new board and also for the Preservation Society and its many volunteers – is one that brings only joy to the children and adults who travel on this iconic attraction, or who volunteer or work for it, in the future.


[i] Investigation into child sex offender Robert Whitehead’s involvement with Puffing Billy and other railway bodies (point 274, p43)

[ii] Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (p7)

Railway image: Public Transport Victoria (Heritage).

Radio presenter Derryn Hinch, Hinch Report.

Victoria Police stalker screening pilot underway

JOINT STATEMENT

April 4, 2022

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party MPs Tania Maxwell and Stuart Grimley have welcomed a Victoria Police move to pilot stalker screening that the party proposed in its submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s stalking inquiry last year.

Police today revealed their trial of a new tool called Screening Assessment for Stalking and Harassment that profiles stalker behaviour and can be used to prevent serious violence.

SASH has been actively used in The Netherlands since 2015 to strengthen police awareness of stalking risks through a data-driven system that triggers alerts about offender behaviour.

DHJP recommended the VLRC stalking inquiry examine the system used by Dutch police to track stalker psychological patterns and alert law enforcement to escalating risks.

The Dutch framework includes:

  • Continued education and training for all police officers in stalking behaviours, ‘red flags’ and actions.
  • An algorithm-based checking system designed to ensure no stalking cases are missed or misidentified. This digital trawl of all police information management systems flags cases logged in the previous 24 hours for certain words and phrases. The cross-referenced data is then checked by an officer who assesses whether any cases are stalking-related but may not have been marked as such when logged.
  • A Screening Assessment for Stalking and Harassment (SASH) tool refined by Australian, British and Swedish clinicians and researchers that weighs victim and stalker risks of persistent, escalating and violent stalking.
  • An enhanced communication and co-operation case management system where a single police officer case-manages an allegation to completion, and is responsible for notifying agencies that should be involved, such as child protection services.

Tania Maxwell MP:

This is a very significant trial at a time when stalking offences outside family settings have increased more than 12 per cent in 12 months in Victoria.

Celeste Manno lost her life to stalking in 2020. Di McDonald is still living every day with the impacts of trauma from a stalker who pursued her for more than three years.

Behavioural training for police and technology come together in SASH to deliver a powerful tool that can make our communities safer.

Stuart Grimley MP:

We welcome the pilot of SASH in Victoria which we’d recommended in our submission to the VLRC’s stalking inquiry last year.

It’s crucial that we have better training and education for police in this area, as well as a modern system created to detect an offender’s risk.

We look forward to seeing the government’s response to the stalking inquiry after it has been tabled but welcome the proactiveness of Victoria Police to start making cultural and procedural change as a matter of urgency.

Victims’ strength and bravery seeks to change justice system

Media statement

March 24, 2022

Tania Maxwell has recognised victim-survivors’ strength and bravery for putting changes to Victoria’s criminal justice system in an eight-month parliamentary inquiry initiated by the Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party MP.

The Member for Northern Victoria – welcoming today’s release of the inquiry report by the Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee – said its recommendations were influenced by victim-survivors’ submissions.

“I stand here today to say I hear you, and this report is for you,” Ms Maxwell told victim-survivors seated in the Legislative Council gallery.

“I hope the recommendations in relation to victims of crime support will be accepted and implemented by the government as soon as possible.

“Some of the these are not new to this Parliament and focus on the recurring theme that prevention and early intervention is essential for fair, just, safe communities.

“Some will require further debate, and while I made a deliberate decision not to submit a minority report, I will put on record my strong opposition to any watering down of practices or laws that protect our community from high-risk, violent offenders.

“We must make sure that any reforms brought about by this inquiry reduce risk, support community safety and balance the rights of victims over those of offenders.

“Otherwise, we may simply reduce statistics without actually reducing crime or the harm that accompanies it.”

Ms Maxwell said victim-survivors’ decisions to share their experiences with the committee revealed deep and enduring suffering that usually flows from the impact of crime.

“When I brought my referral motion to Parliament in June 2020, I noted that significantly driving down crime has to be a goal that we all share,” she said.

“With more than 50 per cent of people incarcerated in Victoria going on to re-offend, I wanted the committee to investigate the drivers of recidivism, how we safeguard our community against violent offenders, and also ensure our corrections system is sufficiently ‘corrective’ in its action and outcomes.

“This required considering the justice system across all stages and in its totality, from supporting at-risk and vulnerable children before they’re born, to crime prevention, policing, corrections and courts.

“We examined the opportunities for reform to break what is often a downward spiral of offending for those caught up in crime, and ultimately how we can limit the lifetime of suffering for those who are victims and survivors.

“I look forward to the government’s careful consideration of the 100 recommendations in this report and I will continue to advocate for their implementation, especially the 31 directed at better supporting victims of crime.”

Ms Maxwell also drew attention to apparent consensus in submissions by legal services and other stakeholders advancing an increase in the age of criminal responsibility to the committee.

“While this is something that may be considered by the government, I would emphasise that without the implementation of evidence-based early interventions and primary prevention frameworks, this would not be a sensible or practical initiative at this time,” she said.

“The report discussed diversion programs and other alternatives to incarceration for young people and I hope that those opportunities will be strongly considered by this government.”

NOTE

The Legislative Council on June 3, 2020, supported the referral of Tania Maxwell’s motion for an inquiry in Victoria’s criminal justice system to the Council’s Legal and Social Issues Committee to examine:

  • Factors influencing Victoria’s growing remand and prison populations
  • Ways to reduce rates of repeat offending (recidivism)
  • How to ensure judges and magistrates have appropriate knowledge and expertise when sentencing and dealing with offenders, including an understanding of recidivism and the causes of crime; and
  • Appointment processes for judges in other jurisdictions, especially reviewing skill sets required for judges and magistrates overseeing specialist courts.

Visit Legal and Social Issues (parliament.vic.gov.au) for the inquiry’s specific terms of reference.

The first of the inquiry’s public hearings was held in Wangaratta on June 30, 2021.

Image: Victim-survivors Cathie Oddie (centre), Di McDonald (back left), Tracie Oldham (obscured), Lee Little and Thomas Wain, and inquiry chair Fiona Patten MP at a media conference following the inquiry report’s release at Parliament on March 24, 2022.

Justice inquiry puts victims first

Speech

March 24, 2021

Legal and Social Issues Committee

Criminal justice inquiry report tabled

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (10:17):

It gives me great pleasure to speak to this report tabled today for the Legal and Social Issues Committee inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system. This is something that I have intended to do since the day I was elected to this Parliament.

First, I would like to thank the chair and committee members as well as Lilian Topic, Matt Newington and other committee staff for their support throughout this enormous inquiry.

The physical size of the report, as you have seen, is an indication of the work required, including background research, compiling information from the 170 submissions and evidence from 50 public hearings through to supporting the deliberations and drafting of the final report and recommendations.

I pay tribute to the many victims that contributed to this inquiry, both through written submissions and in hearings, and I welcome some of them who are in the gallery today.

The sharing of their experience demonstrates the deep and enduring suffering that comes from the impact of crime. My referral to the committee was born from these experiences, and I stand here today to say: I hear you, and this report is for you—sorry, I am so emotional about this. I also thank the organisations who work across the broad justice space, who dedicate themselves to difficult and important work.

When I brought my motion to the Parliament back in June 2020 to refer this inquiry to the Legal and Social Issues Committee, I noted that significantly driving down crime has to be the goal that we all share—that and supporting victims of crime. With more than 50 per cent of people incarcerated in Victoria going on to re-offend, we simply must stop this.

I wanted the committee to investigate the drivers of recidivism—how we safeguard our community against these serious violent offenders, but also ensure our corrections system is sufficiently corrective in its actions and outcomes. We have considered the opportunities for reform to break what is often a downward spiral of offending for those caught up in crime, but also how to limit the lifetime of suffering for those victims and survivors.

Motion agreed to.