Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party opposes Victoria’s pandemic-specific Bill

Joint statement: Stuart Grimley MP and Tania Maxwell MP

October 27, 2021

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party will not support the Victorian government’s pandemic-specific Bill introduced to Parliament yesterday.

If passed, this Bill will give the government unprecedented powers over Victorians. Further, it would not even require a public health threat threshold test to determine pandemic risk before its powers were used.

We are elected Members of Parliament, yet we found out about the Bill’s introduction and its contents from the media. The two of us represent more than a million enrolled electors, but we’ve been told we were not briefed on the bill because we opposed the state government’s State of Emergency Bill in March last year and its extension five months later. What sort of a democracy is that?

If the intent of the Bill is to protect the public, then Victorians should be alarmed, as we are.

Additionally, this Bill allows the government to exclude unvaccinated people from entering certain venues, workplaces and events. In effect, it takes people’s jobs from them. It must also be recognised that there are some people in our communities who are medically exempt from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. We need to come together during a crisis and ensure that the most vulnerable are not alienated under any circumstances.

The Bill also allows the government to make decisions about ‘certain classes of people’ currently protected under the Equal Opportunity Act and to exclude them from certain activities and opportunities because of their race, gender, disability, political beliefs or other characteristics. We can’t agree with this.

We instead believe that health advice to a government about a future pandemic threat should be answered with legislation tailored to it, and to that alone.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party supports vaccination. We are vaccinated by choice, as are our staff. But as NSW moves to become ‘one society’ on December 1 – with no restriction between those who are vaccinated and those who are not – Victoria is heading in another direction. We’re likely to achieve 90 per cent vaccination by November 24. Which begs the question, if we’re vaccinated and doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, why should we be giving the Premier and the (current or future) government unfettered new powers?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen issues time and again with one person having exceptional power over Victorians. Further, the official advice handed to the government for the past 19 months has never been made public, and still we do not know if the government followed it or has made up restrictions as it decided.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party prides itself on reviewing all legislation thoroughly and making informed decisions in the best interests of our constituents. We also pride ourselves on making the right decisions based on the principles and policies of our party, particularly around justice.

We know that’s what all Victorians expect, and that’s why it’s the right thing to do.

Move to stamp out illegal tobacco

October 27, 2021

I welcome the Victorian government’s decision to request a review by the Commissioner for Better Regulation of the state’s regulatory framework for the sale of tobacco products.

The retail sale of illegal tobacco trade is widespread. Organised crime profits from it, not only funding illicit production and distribution, but funnelling proceeds into other serious criminal pursuits, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, drug, firearm and human trafficking, cyber-crime and violence.

On September 9, I put a motion to Parliament that called on the government to rein in this insidious trade. I briefed Minister for Business Regulation Danny Pearson MP ahead of the motion, which passed unopposed, and I’ve since met with him and Commissioner Anna Cronin to shape terms of reference for this regulatory review.

The Minister recognises that Victoria needs a robust regulatory and compliance framework to limit, contain and stamp out the importation, production and sale of illegal tobacco. Too much of it funds crime. It’s sale also effectively steals from our communities – because illegal resellers don’t pay millions in excise that Australia uses to fund health and education services, and because they compete with retailers who sell tobacco lawfully.

As I’ve made clear to the government, Victoria and Queensland are the only jurisdictions in Australia without a regulated licencing scheme for the sale of tobacco. Yet Victoria regulates gaming and the sale of alcohol and firearms to enable the state to decide who are fit and proper people to conduct these activities, the conditions by which they must operate and the penalties for breaching these.

When the Commissioner’s review is complete, I’ll be pressing the government to make retail tobacco licencing mandatory. Only when the state equips law enforcement with strong investigation and compliance powers will Victoria begin to butt out this illegal trade.

Hub steps up to vax verification demand

Constituency question

October 26, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, proposes to ask this constituency question of Minister for Government Services Danny Pearson MP in the Legislative Council today – October 26:

My question is to the Minister for Government Services regarding the massive demand in my electorate for people needing to set up proof of vaccination.

The Wangaratta Digital Hub is doing a fantastic job helping members of our community who might not have the technology, or sufficient digital access or literacy, to set up a MyGov account, download the Services Vic app and link everything together to get the green vaccination tick they need to access a lot of venues. Hubs like this operate for limited hours due to funding and cannot keep up with demand.

So, my question is, with only a few days until the ‘vaccinated economy’ ramps up, what urgent support will be provided to ensure help is available for people who need to set up their digital verification?

Give Northern Victoria tourism a head start

Media statement

October 21, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP has encouraged the state government to give regional tourism a head-start by allowing Melbourne residents to book accommodation and to travel to the North East, Central Victoria, Murray, Mallee and Sunraysia from October 29.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria put the request in a letter to Health Minister Martin Foley this week following representation from hospitality businesses hit hard by bushfire and COVID-19 lockdowns since January, last year.

“As a snapshot, the cumulative impact of the 2020 bushfires and pandemic restrictions that followed shortly afterwards is estimated by Tourism North East to have cost Wangaratta, Benalla, Indigo, Alpine, Towong, Mansfield, Murrindindi, alpine resorts and local communities at least $1.5 billion in the 16 months to June, this year, let alone the on-going cost of COVID restrictions since July,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Allowing Melbourne residents to travel and stay in our regions from October 29 – the Friday before what many enjoy as an extended weekend ahead of the Melbourne Cup – would give our tourism sector and many small hospitality and retail businesses a great head-start towards recovery.

“It would help them set out on the path towards rebuilding cashflow that’s so critically important in all our communities after 20 months of severely restricted business. 

“With Victoria’s population aged 16 and over today achieving 70 per cent double vaccination almost a week ahead of target, it seems reasonable to expect the 80pc target should be met ahead of November 5, the date forecast in Victoria’s road-map.

“Many accommodation providers in the regions, and especially in Victoria’s east, rely heavily on a mix of metropolitan markets, including Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, and they stand to lose the advantage offered by the closest market if Melbourne people are unable to make bookings in regional communities for what is usually a boom weekend ahead of the Melbourne Cup.

“While I encourage everyone to stay COVID-safe, I hope Mr Foley and the Health Department will recognise the opportunity that strong vaccination uptake offers to make the weekend a winner for our regional communities and tourism businesses.”

Image: Concrete Playground 2018

Excluding parliamentarians excludes our electors

Speech

October 14, 2021

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:25): I rise to speak on the government motion on compulsory COVID-19 vaccination of members of Parliament. I must start by saying that never did I imagine us debating measures to exclude elected representatives from this Parliament in such circumstances. I guess none of us ever did.

I will start by noting that Mr (Stuart) Grimley MP and I are both fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a decision we took individually and voluntarily, and I wonder if that declaration is enough proof to allow us to continue attending Parliament and our electorate offices. I would also like to place on the record that Mr Grimley and I encourage people to be vaccinated. We are not anti-vaxxers and, I will say it again, we encourage people to be vaccinated.

We are here in this place, as are those in the other place, to serve the people of our electorates. We are here to represent them as citizens and eligible voters, and that only works when we speak for them and on their behalf here in this Parliament. We need to be conscious that excluding any one of us from Parliament is to exclude those who elected us to represent them.

Yes, the house is enabled to manage its own business, but not in such a way as to undermine or change the privilege of its members and certainly not to remove these privileges altogether. So, does a motion to compel members to be vaccinated and for each to provide evidence of vaccination to the house in order to continue to represent their electorates go against the principles of our democracy?

I have spoken to so many people from across my electorate during the course of this pandemic. I have received thousands and thousands of emails, as have you all, regarding their financial hardship and their psychological distress. Victorians have had their everyday choices removed from them—the right to work, to go to school, to go out in public, to see their family, to cross an interstate border five minutes from their home. They have been frustrated by inconsistencies in restrictions and by the severity of mandates. Employers are now being forced to mandate the vaccination of their staff or effectively terminate them. There are privacy and legal concerns about this that are yet to be tested, and some businesses will have to close their doors while they recruit and train replacement staff. People who are not vaccinated face unemployment, further financial hardship and possibly homelessness, and we all know the crisis in the lack of available housing in this state at the moment.

We recognise the demands and limitations placed on the community and perhaps the opinion that members of Parliament should not be treated any differently. There are many other jurisdictions around the world using alternatives such as rapid testing to avoid widespread and prolonged restrictions. This has not been offered here or for a host of other settings. It does not appear that any other parliament in the world has deemed it necessary to mandate its elected representatives to prove their vaccination status in order to do their job. We recognise this may set a very dangerous precedent for the future.

We are disappointed that that health advice has not been provided nor consultation been offered with the chief health officer in relation to this motion. We also question whether these measures are even necessary given that the inoculation rate for members of this chamber sits at approximately 97.5 per cent if the media reports are true. If you include the clerks and other staff that enter this chamber, presuming they are vaccinated, the rate would be more like 99.5 per cent. This house should consider other reasonable means to ensure the safety of this chamber, such as rapid testing, and we will support amendments to that effect.

We believe in everyone in this place being safe, and we are very keen to get back to our normal, regular sittings so we can represent our constituents and hold the government to account. On this basis we will support this motion despite its flaws and noting our concerns that we want to have placed on the record.

Government motion (Attorney General Jaclyn Symes MP)

That —

  • In order to protect the health and safety of Members and parliamentary staff and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, this House requires Members of the Legislative Council attending the Chamber or the parliamentary precinct to have received —

(a)       their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by 15 October 2021, or have an appointment to receive their first dose between 15 October and 22 October 2021 and subsequently receive that dose by 22 October 2021; and

(b)       their second COVID-19 vaccine dose by 26 November 2021.

  • In order to protect the health and safety of electorate officers and community members, this House requires Members of the Legislative Council attending their electorate offices to have received COVID-19 vaccinations as set out in paragraph (1).
  • Members must provide proof of vaccination, proof of a vaccination booking or proof of a valid exception to the Clerk by the dates set out in paragraph (1).
  • If any Members do not meet the requirements set out in paragraph (3), the Clerk
    will —

(a)       as soon as practicable, notify each Member of the House which Members have not met the requirements; and

(b)       report the details to the House on the next sitting day.

  • Unless otherwise ordered, any Member who has not complied with the requirements set out in paragraph (3) is determined to have failed to comply with an Order of the House and therefore —

(a)       is suspended from attending the Chamber and the parliamentary precinct until the second sitting day of the 2022 Parliamentary year; and

(b)       will have their Parliamentary precinct security access pass revoked for the period of the suspension at the direction of the Clerk.

  • If a Member who is suspended under paragraph (5) provides proof of a single dose of vaccination between 15 October and 26 November 2021 or a second dose after 26 November 2021, or proof of a valid exception to the Clerk, their suspension is immediately lifted, and the Clerk will advise Members and the House accordingly.
  • For the purposes of this resolution —

(a)       COVID-19 vaccine means a vaccine to protect a person against SARSCoV-2 that, as at the date of this resolution, has been registered or provisionally registered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration or as been approved by a comparable overseas regulator, as determined by the Therapeutic Goods Administration under regulation 16DA(3) of the Therapeutic Goods Regulation 1990 of the Commonwealth;

(b)       proof of vaccination means information about a person’s vaccination status and includes a letter from a medical practitioner, a certificate of immunisation or an immunisation history statement obtained from the Australian Immunisation Register;

(c)       proof of a valid exception means written certification from a medical practitioner that the person is unable, due to a medical contraindication to receive a dose, or a further dose, of a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • The Clerk —

(a)       must ensure all information provided under this resolution remains confidential and is stored securely;

(b)       must not disclose any information except as authorised by this resolution; and

(c)       must destroy all information provided under this resolution at the end of the session or an earlier time determined by the House.

  • The House may agree to further resolutions to —

(a)       vary or amend this resolution; or

(b)       provide for arrangements for sittings in 2022 based on the epidemiology and progress in the roadmap to implementing the national plan at the time.

Grant steps Alpine Health towards redevelopment goal

Media statement

Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed a $934,000 grant for Alpine Health to upgrade vital services at Bright, Myrtleford and Mount Beauty hospitals and fund a feasibility and business case to redevelop Bright Aged Care.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria appealed to the Victorian government in March, this year, to support redevelopment work at Bright hospital, starting with a master plan update to ensure designs for the service were fit-for-purpose to meet Alpine communities’ future needs.

Ms Maxwell also co-ordinated a meeting between senior government minister and Northern Victoria colleague Jaclyn Symes MP and Alpine Health after the Legislative Council met in Bright late in April.

“This Rural Health Infrastructure Fund grant is great news for our Alpine communities and it answers Alpine Health’s hard work to bring the Victorian government’s attention to its goal for re-development, particularly at Bright hospital,” Ms Maxwell said.

“The hospital was built in the 1970s and 1980s and Alpine Health reviewed its capacity in 2012 and 2015 with feasibility studies and master planning, but redevelopment did not go ahead after those reviews.

“So the delivery of local services at the hospital continue to be constrained by outdated buildings, separate waiting and care areas, shared bathrooms that limit the hospital’s capacity to manage highly infectious patients, and a lack of consultation space for visiting specialists and proper security.

“At the same time, Alpine communities have grown strongly, with Myrtleford, Bright, Mount Beauty, Harrietville, Wandiligong, Porepunkah and local villages now home to almost 13,000 people plus a much bigger seasonal visitor population.

“The shire’s population growth rate doubled between 2015 and 2016 and again between 2019 and 2020. The number of people older than 60 has also increased more than 18 per cent since 2011.

“A dramatic landscape, cool climate and wonderful attractions ensure these communities are more and more becoming a big drawcard, so it’s vital that Alpine Health has the proper infrastructure, equipment and staff capacity to meet local needs now and into the future.

“This grant helps it to take the next step towards a redeveloped service with contemporary facilities and also pays for up-to-date nurse call systems at the Myrtleford, Bright and Mount Beauty campuses and upgrades to air systems in the Bright and Mount Beauty operating theatres.

“Alpine Health’s board, chief executive officer Nick Shaw and staff have worked hard to get this money delivered, and I’ll be advocating with the community for government investment so redevelopment works can get underway when the planning funded by this grant is complete.

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Border communities need business, not brokers

Wangaratta’s Cafe Pre Vue is usually brim with customers on a warm spring morning – but not today (Sep 14) because of unviable patron limits at regional hospitality venues.

STATEMENT

Comments by Tania Maxwell MP, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, in response to the Victorian government’s September 13 statement: ‘On-the-ground support for Victoria’s border communities’ –

September 14, 2021

I find it appalling that this is being done now when it would be plain common sense to allow border zone residents to travel both sides of the Murray, and for our many twin communities to operate, as usual, as one.

Our small businesses and cafes, clubs and pubs in places without cases just want to open for normal trade while observing COVID-safe settings. Similarly, skilled farm workers should be able to travel across the zone as seasonal work demands, heeding common rules.

No amount of money put up to activate on-ground ‘border broker’ support will bring small and sole trader business that depend on cross-border commerce back from the brink of bankruptcy, or re-open those which have closed. Nor nor will it provide revenue to fund staff wages.

Today, pub, club and cafe operators indicate they have floorspace capacity for more patrons and yet last week’s new rules say they can seat just 10 people indoors, regardless of venue size. With miserable weather forecast this weekend, how can these businesses remain viable?

Let’s use our respected Cross Border Commissioners to reinstate commerce and common rules in the border zone so places without cases can get back to work.

Lockdown lift welcome, but hospitality venue limit not viable

With The Other Place Rutherglen cafe owner Cyril Cox after the June lockdown.

September 9, 2021

I welcome the Premier’s decision to lift lockdown restrictions in regional Victoria from 11:59pm today.

But what’s really welcome is his common-sense commitment that lockdowns for any future COVID outbreak in a regional community will be locally-targeted.

I’ve been advocating a local government area traffic-light system for more than year so people in places-without-cases can get on with their daily lives and community and business recovery.

There have been no cases in our communities and they’re achieving some of the highest vaccination rates in the state. Great work by Alpine, Indigo, Wangaratta, Benalla, Mansfield, Moira, Euroa, Buloke, Yarriambiack, Mount Alexander, Hepburn, Macedon Ranges, Strathbogie, Gannawarra, Nillimbik and Towong communities which have achieved first dose vaccination rates between 70 and 74 per cent for those 15 years and older.

But despite this strong response the new hospitality limit of 10 people seated indoors and 20 outdoors at cafes, restaurants and hotels makes little sense.

Venues in my communities tell me it’s simply not viable – a point I made to the Premier’s office on Wednesday. They should be allowed to apply the usual COVID-safe density rules and open, just as supermarkets can.