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.

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

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.

Sustainable native timber should be supported

Northern Victoria’s native timber industry is important and sustainable, but Labor’s Bill puts the sector and its people at great risk

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.

Victorians should be able to take Parliament sitting for granted

Joint statement

By Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Leader and Member for Western Victoria Stuart Grimley MP and Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell MP:

August 29, 2021

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party is extremely disappointed and frustrated that Parliament has once again been adjourned.

We made our views known last sitting week when we voted down the government’s motion to defer Parliament and supported changes to allow all MPs to participate in a COVID-safe way.  

Last year, when sittings were adjourned because of COVID, MPs were able to put questions to Ministers, have them answered, and for these actions to be reported in Hansard – the Parliamentary record.

Without even this basic procedure, there are few options for us to keep the government to account unless we go to the media.

As a matter of urgency, this lockdown shows why Parliament must be able to meet virtually – as federal Parliament is demonstrating – so we can represent our communities and scrutinise the government and its legislation, as we’re elected to do.

Making sure Parliament can meet – in person in a COVID-safe way, or virtually – is the one thing the people of Victoria should be able to take for granted in these challenging times.

IMAGE: Parliament of Victoria Legislative Council chamber

Apply for lockdown cash support now

I encourage small and medium-sized business, sole traders and people who have lost work to lockdown to seek the maximum cash support available from government.

COVID hardship fund

This fund offers a $14,000 payment where revenue has dropped more than 70 per cent since May 27, 2021, for small and medium-sized business ineligible for other support programs.

You must be able to show the drop for a minimum of two consecutive weeks compared with the same period in 2019. If you weren’t trading in 2019 alternative arrangements are available.

You must also have an Australian business number (ABN) and be registered for goods and services tax (GST). Find more information here.

Business costs assistance program

Regional business which received a Business Costs Assistance Program payment in round two and the subsequent July extension will receive $5600, or $2800 per week, during the August 21-September 2 lockdown period. You do not need to re-apply.

Licensed hospitality venue fund

Licensed hotels, restaurants, cafes and clubs which received a payment of $5000 to $20,000 per week, according to patron capacity, will receive the same payment during the current lockdown.

Alpine resorts winter support program

This program will also provide payments of $5000 to $20,000 per week to eligible businesses.

Check the latest information for each of these programs listed above.

COVID-19 disaster payment

If you lost or lose work during lockdown you can apply for a COVID-19 disaster payment of $450 or $750 for every seven-day period that COVID restrictions prevent you from working.

Sole traders who don’t have an ABN or aren’t registered for GST can also apply for this payment.

In regional Victoria, you can claim the disaster payment for these periods:

  • August 6-12 (apply before September 2)
  • August 20-26 (apply before September 16)
  • August 27-September 2 (apply before September 23)

Check your eligibility before you apply.

Contact me

Please email tania.maxwell@parliament.vic.gov.au or call 03 4700 1787 if you need help, or if your applications keep being rejected. My office is open 9am-5pm weekdays.

Time to butt out Victoria’s illegal tobacco trade

Media statement

August 19, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP wants the state government to crack down hard on Victoria’s widespread illegal retail tobacco trade by shifting compliance responsibility from local council environmental health officers to law enforcement.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said Victoria Police or a new agency should instead be given robust powers to disrupt and halt illicit production and under-the-counter retail sales estimated to cost Australia more than $820 million a year in unpaid tobacco tax.

“It’s a very shady trade that also costs our communities, the state and the nation in ways that go well beyond lost revenue,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Law enforcement has established strong links between the smuggling and sale of illicit tobacco and organised crime syndicates.

“Most concerning to me is how profits are funnelled to other serious criminal pursuits, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, drug, firearm and human trafficking, cyber-crime and violence.

“As Illicit Tobacco Taskforce commander Greg Lindsell told The Sydney Morning Herald just a few weeks ago: ‘Removing illicit tobacco from crop to shop creates a level playing field and helps to stop organised crime syndicates from funding other activities’.”

“It’s an insidious trade across our communities, too – ranging from the waterfront, where Australian Border Force every year intercepts millions of illegal cigarettes, to more than 400 shopfronts throughout Victoria selling contraband tobacco products.

“Just this year there have been seizures of illegal cigarettes, loose tobacco or crops in the ground in Euroa, Shepparton, Mooroopna, Yarrawonga and Beverford.

“In March, a joint taskforce of NSW and Victoria Police, the Tax Office and Border Force raided three properties either side of the border on the lower Murray and seized 45 hectares of illegally-grown tobacco worth up to $84 million in excise payable to the federal government had it been sold legally.

“But at a retail level it’s local councils that are currently responsible for checking that cigarettes and other tobacco products sold in local shops have been lawfully produced and manufactured.

“This means environmental health officers are usually those carrying out inspections.

“But they have no training in surveillance, search and seizure and do so at considerable personal risk because of the very nature of this black-market trade.

“Local government also tells me that there are no substantial infringements that would be of any real consequence to an offender, yet one council reported it spent 12 months and $50,000 to get a conviction.”

Ms Maxwell said Victoria and Queensland were the only Australian jurisdictions without a regulated licencing scheme for the sale of tobacco.

“Victoria regulates gaming and the sale of alcohol and firearms that enables 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,” she said.

“But we stop short of doing the same for those who deal in tobacco products.

“This is completely at odds with the huge investment we’ve made in public health campaigns to limit and reduce smoking and the cost to the health system and people’s lives, estimated at $137 billion by the National Drug Research Institute.

“By strengthening enforcement and introducing a licencing scheme with robust powers, Victoria’s tobacco control system would better align with those in other states and at a national level, provide effective support for legitimate tobacco retailers, bolster public health messaging, minimise harm and rein in crime.

“I’ve had productive conversations about these proposals with Health Minister Martin Foley, Local Government Minister Shaun Leane and acting Police Minister Danny Pearson in recent weeks.”

CIGARETTE IMAGE: Australian Border Force