Campaspe planning breakthrough welcome

Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed a long-awaited move by the state government to allow Campaspe Shire Council to take the next step towards opening more land for housing in Echuca West.

The council is now exhibiting across the shire a proposed amendment to its planning scheme that, once approved, would re-zone 615 hectares for urban growth and 5000 houses.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said she had questioned the Planning Minister in Parliament on June 24 about Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning delays preventing the council from consulting its communities about the draft amendment.

“Housing shortages in rural and regional Victoria are a very significant issue,” Ms Maxwell said.

“This is the case in almost all of the communities I represent across Northern Victoria, but it’s especially so in larger centres like Echuca with all its attractions and where Campaspe Shire’s population across the next 15 years is forecast to grow 11.4 per cent to almost 43,000 residents.

“I took the Campaspe council’s concern to Parliament and asked the Minister to expedite the Echuca West planning scheme amendment after I became aware that DELWP had taken six months to respond to the draft on which the council had worked in partnership with the Victorian Planning Authority for more than four years.

“It’s good to see the government has taken action so the council can now get on with the next step and community consultation.

“I spoke today with Campaspe mayor Chrissy Weller about this and congratulated the council on its vision and persistence.”

Help improve our criminal justice system

July 7, 2021

The criminal justice system inquiry now underway in Victoria is the broadest in 30 years.

The inquiry has come about after horrific murders in Wangaratta in 2015 and 2016. A rapist on parole committed one of these crimes. The other was committed by a previously convicted violent offender who had just been released from prison for breaching parole.

These awful events spurred a community campaign called ENOUGHISENOUGH that led to my election as a parliamentarian. They’re also the reason why the inquiry’s first hearing opened in Wangaratta on June 30, this year.

The Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee – of which I’m a member with six other MPs – is conducting the inquiry.

The committee is chaired by Fiona Patten who, in this video with me and deputy chair Tien Kieu, talks about the inquiry’s terms of reference. These include:

  • Factors influencing Victoria’s growing remand and prison populations
  • Ways to reduce rates of repeat offending – known as 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.

The inquiry provides a clear opportunity for people throughout the state and especially in rural and regional communities to influence change. Voices that have long been lost in what can be daunting, complex system can now be heard. The committee wants to hear them. It also wants to host more hearings in regional communities.

So I really encourage people who’ve had both difficult and positive experiences in the criminal justice system to make a submission. This video sets out how the inquiry works, what it’s examining, and how you can participate.

Find out how to make a submission. Or if you need advice about the process you can call the committee staff on 03 8682 2869. My statement about the inquiry also provides more details.

Please have your say.

‘Green-light’ places without cases, Acting Premier

June 18, 2021

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party parliamentarians Tania Maxwell and Stuart Grimley have pressed Acting Premier James Merlino to keep places without COVID cases out of future lockdowns.

The pair wrote to Mr Merlino on June 16 to put the case again for rolling out in Victoria the COVID-risk management ‘traffic light system’ the government established early this year to limit travel from high-risk locations in NSW.

“I’ve also circulated the proposal to mayors across Northern Victoria and I’m encouraged by the upshot,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Here’s a workable solution that we first put to the government in August and reiterated publicly in parliament in September, last year.

“The government, in response to the Sydney COVID outbreak in January, subsequently set up the Victorian Travel Permit System that used public health advice to define levels of COVID risk in NSW local government areas.

“High-risk zones were designated red, at-risk zones orange, and low or no-risk zones green.

“People from red and orange zones wanting to enter Victoria were subject to travel, activity and stay-at-home restrictions and testing requirements, while people from green zones could carry on with their daily lives and come here simply by completing a declaration permit.

“It’s a system the government continues to use for all travellers from interstate.

“This week Stuart and I have again asked the government to adapt this system for use throughout Victoria in conjunction with robust trace management and testing.

“This would deliver for our communities an ‘an easy-to-understand traffic light system’, as Premier Dan Andrews described it in a media statement on January 11 during the Sydney outbreak.

“It would also enable the ‘places-without-cases’ communities that we represent to get on with recovery and rebuilding after our fourth statewide lockdown.”

Ms Maxwell and Mr Grimley acknowledged in the letter the government’s earlier adoption of other COVID management changes the pair had put forward, including specific exemptions from lockdown for border residents and differing restrictions between regional and metropolitan communities.

“But we’ve told Mr Merlino the government cannot continue to rely on hard lockdowns and sweeping restrictions to limit outbreaks of COVID-positive cases in Victoria,” Ms Maxwell said.

“If there’s either no risk or a very low risk of COVID spread in so many of our communities then these shouldn’t be locked down.”

Mr Grimley said using the traffic light system was “a no brainer”.

“Regional communities should not be lumped in with Melbourne COVID outbreaks,” the Member for Western Victoria said.

“Both Tania and I hear from regional businesses and organisations located more than 400 kilometres from Melbourne pleading to stay open. A traffic-light system will benefit our regional towns.

“I’m sure businesses would be more than happy to continue to check IDs to make sure their customers aren’t from ‘red zones’, especially if that means they can stay open during a Melbourne COVID outbreak.

“It’s hard to think that people in towns such as Nhill, Portland or Edenhope have to wear a facemask because a small group of people in Melbourne have contracted COVID-19. The traffic-light system could stop this from happening.”  

Ms Maxwell said the Justice Party wanted the proposal considered as a key part of a detailed, long-term plan for COVID management in Victoria.

“Since September we’ve openly said the government must also consult widely so Victorians can deal responsibly with COVID,” she said.

 “Stuart and I hear from our communities every day about the devastating financial, psychological and social impacts of impromptu lockdowns, particularly in places where there’s no, or low, transmission risk. 

“All parliamentarians should be actively encouraged to contribute to this plan for public recovery –one that at its heart is directed at restoring Victorians’ livelihoods, certainty and confidence.

“We look forward to the Acting Premier’s positive response.”

Fran Waterman nomination celebrates excellence

June 10, 2021

Fran Waterman is the principal of Yarrunga Primary School in Wangaratta and I’m very proud that she has is one of eight excellence awardees in the Australian Education Awards 2021.

Fran is an exceptionally positive and energetic leader who brings the best out of her team and students.

I had the pleasure of working alongside Fran in my former role as a youth worker and saw first-hand the incredible impact she had on her students, many of whom are vulnerable and at-risk.

Fran is well-known for her innovative and inclusive approaches to education.  She uses data to inform her practice, empowers her team and students, and her methods get strong results. 

Programs like pet-therapy have helped reduce school absenteeism and projects like billy-cart building provide play-based learning.

The Australian government schools principals of the year award will be announced at a ceremony in Sydney in August and I hope Fran will be able to attend.

Whatever the outcome, Fran is a winner in our eyes and our education system is richer as a result of her excellent leadership.

Congratulations and thank you, Fran Waterman.

IMAGE: Fran Waterman with Yarrunga Primary School students Jordan Woodrow (7) and Bella Hines (8). Photograph credit: Wangaratta Chronicle / Kieran Tilly

Gym operators, clients and event organisers out in the cold

Tania Maxwell MP says the government has a clear responsibility to help Victorian gym operators and regional event organisers hard-hit by COVID lockdowns.

June 8, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP says the government has a clear responsibility to help Victorian gym operators and regional event organisers hard-hit by COVID lockdowns.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said Wangaratta and Shepparton gym and fitness centre operators had made her aware of the devastating impact of current circuitbreaker restrictions that forced them to close from May 27.

“But unlike other businesses, gyms in our communities have not been allowed to re-open since restrictions in regional Victoria were lifted on June 4 and where we have no COVID cases,” Ms Maxwell said.

“The rules are completely inconsistent. You can go to a pub for a drink and dine-in with nine other people and there can be another 40 people in the same venue. You can shop with perhaps a hundred or more people indoors.

“But you can’t exercise indoors for your physical and mental well-being under the same distancing rules that apply in our hotels, cafes and supermarkets.

“As I’ve been told by Wangaratta gym owner Amber Kiker and Shepparton’s Tareke Le Lievre, gyms maintain strict hygiene standards subject to council health and environment inspection and mask requirements.

“They’re even prepared to be subject to law enforcement inspection.

“But right now they’re treated as suspect when there’s no substantial information from Victoria’s chief health officer about the proportionate risk of COVID-spread where indoor exercise takes place.

“I’ll be asking Health Minister Martin Foley why gyms in our COVID-free communities remain closed, which is also affecting physical and mental well-being.

“I’ll also encourage our gym operators to make sure they apply for the Business Costs Assistance Program for the full entitlement of $2500 per week while restrictions require them to close.

“But will employees who’ve lost work also be eligible for the federal government’s temporary COVID disaster payment?”

Ms Kiker, whose Fitness4Me women-only gym has been closed for much of the past year because of lockdowns, said keeping fitness centres shut when there were no COVID cases made no sense.

“It seems gyms have been targeted as COVID breeding grounds when hygiene is always our priority,” she said.

“The sector quite possibly has the cleanest of venues where spaces and equipment are always sanitised.

“But opening and shutting so often over the past 18 months has not just affected me and my staff. It’s put such doubt in clients’ minds that they find it difficult to commit to staying on their physical and well-being journey.”

Ms Maxwell said she was also concerned for many sole traders in the wider business community ineligible for Business Costs Assistance Program financial support.

“They won’t be able to apply for program support if they don’t have an Australian Business Number (ABN) and be registered for Goods and Services Tax (GST) because they don’t have a turnover of $75,000 or more,” she said.

Ms Maxwell said major events in regional communities were also affected by rolling lockdowns.

“Thousands of events were cancelled across Northern Victoria in the past year,” she said.

“This upcoming Queen’s Birthday long weekend would normally deliver an economic boost, but the King Valley’s ‘Weekend fit for a King’, while going ahead, has had to alter its format and Rutherglen’s Winery Walkabout has been put back five weeks.

“These forced changes have serious impacts, pushing costs onto organisers.

“Another is that future planning is put at risk because business and organisations cannot get either public liability or COVID-19 cancellation insurance.

“The events industry has been largely lost in this pandemic. Less than five per cent of business events are eligible for the Victorian Business Events Program and there is little support for those that organise agricultural shows, community days, fairs and other community events.

“I want government to offer short-term security for public liability and cancellation insurance that helps the regional events sector and community organisations to ensure these events continue.”

Prevention at heart of budget adolescent violence and mental help

Tania Maxwell MP says budget funding to tackle the jump in adolescent violence and support young people to access mental health counselling and advice in schools will be vital for rural and regional families and communities.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said Victoria’s Crime Statistics Agency reported a near-12 per cent increase in adolescent family violence incidents recorded by Victoria Police in the five years to February 2020.

“But what’s really alarming is the incidence of adolescent family violence in regional or rural Victoria, where it’s twice as high compared with major cities,” Ms Maxwell said.

“One of the most effective ways to lower this awful statistic is to support primary prevention and early intervention strategies in our schools.

“It is indeed ‘the smarter approach’ described by Treasurer Tim Pallas when he delivered the budget last week (May 20).

“The government’s $44.1 million commitment to help children affected by family violence and sexual assault, including adolescents who use violence at home, will be very welcome when this money hits the ground.

“Because if we don’t fund vital, available initiatives to support prevention we’ll continue to see young people entering the very last place they should be – the justice system.

“The Crime Statistics Agency’s research shows that 80pc of young people following their first aggressor incident go on to have some contact with the justice system, with 52pc shown to be an aggressor in a subsequent family violence incident.[1]

“I’ve worked with the Victorian government and especially with Family Violence Prevention Minister Gabrielle Williams, meeting her in October 2020, and liaised with her office to tackle this surge in adolescent family violence.

“I’ve also had productive discussions with the Australian National Research Office for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), and Caraniche and Berry Street – organisations that work to support vulnerable people and their families – about prevention and early intervention, and I’m looking forward to talking with the Minister again shortly.”

Ms Maxwell also welcomed government funding directed at alleviating homelessness, protecting children, supporting early childhood education, priority mental healthcare program roll-outs in rural areas, boosting the healthcare workforce and investing in emergency management.

“Many of these important initiatives are being funded in Northern Victoria,” she said.

Other key funding

North East

  • $65 million for Indigo North Health’s Rutherglen residential aged care redevelopment
  • $28.9m for Benalla’s new police station, scheduled for completion in 2024
  • $1m to support the early years care and education work of Benalla’s Tomorrow Today Foundation
  • Fast-tracked development of new, local walk-in mental health care service in Benalla
  • Wangaratta is among nine communities to share $17.4m for HOPE – Hospital Outreach and Post-suicidal Engagement – services to support mental health and well-being
  • Mount Beauty Primary School upgrade
  • Funding for new AOD (Alcohol and Other Drugs) residential and rehabilitation beds in Wangaratta

North Central

  • Echuca and Swan Hill are among nine communities to share $17m for new mental health care and outreach services
  • An additional $8.3m has been budgeted for a wellness centre in Echuca.
  • Shepparton teaching and leadership academy to be funded from a $148.2m allocation shared by seven regional centres
  • Shepparton GOTAFE upgrade
  • Cobram Primary School, Rushworth P-12 College and Kerang South Primary School upgrades
  • $6.4m Queensland Fruit Fly program strategy funding confirmed

North West

  • $2.1m for Mildura Base Public Hospital master-planning to prepare a business case for the hospital’s redevelopment
  • $48.7m to develop Swan Hill District Health hospital service
  • Mildura teaching and leadership academy to be funded from a $148.2m allocation shared by seven regional centres
  • Underbool Primary School upgrade
  • New Irymple Country Fire Authority station

Central Highlands, Goldfields

  • Bendigo teaching and leadership academy to be funded from a $148.2m allocation shared by seven regional centres
  • Bendigo Youth Prevention and Recovery Care Unit upgrade
  • Gisborne Secondary College upgrade
  • Woodend Black Forest Drive upgrade

South (Mitchell, Yan Yean and peri-urban)

  • Doreen Country Fire Authority facility refurbishment
  • New school site land purchase in Mitchell Shire
  • Mernda community hospital development

[1] https://www.crimestatistics.vic.gov.au/research-and-evaluation/publications/adolescent-family-violence-in-victoria

Image: ABC 2019 Law Report

Tan Maxwell welcomes Benalla police, education funding

Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed the state government’s $28.9 million budget commitment to build Benalla’s new Victoria Police station.

The Member for Northern Victoria said she had first called for funding to replace the “near-unworkable” existing station in August 2019 when she put a question in Parliament to Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville.

“The station was built in 1956 and described by Victoria Police in 2017 as ‘bordering on inoperable’,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Disrepair was obvious, with cracks in walls and ceilings and officers forced to work in portable buildings.

“What stood out for me particularly was the station’s lack of private rooms where victims could speak in confidence and safety.

“The new station will enhance policing capacity and capability in Benalla and the North East and support community safety.

“Like the police officers and staff who work there and people in the community who attend the station, I look forward to completion of the new building on schedule in 2024.

“The funding is a significant win for the Benalla community after 15 years of advocating for an effective policing centre.

“The next step is to scope out a new court complex as the current court house is no longer fit for purpose.”

Ms Maxwell also welcomed $1 million from the budget for Benalla’s Tomorrow Today Foundation.

“This organisation has done so much to build opportunities for families in Benalla and the Midlands through its Parents Early Education Partnership since 2002,” she said.

“Its approach to introduce young children to education and its advantages have been widely recognised, enhancing children’s school readiness with outstanding results.

“This latest funding will help its largely volunteer-led playgroup and early education programs to thrive across the next two years.”

Ms Maxwell in August 2019 invited Education Minister James Merlino, now Acting Premier, to visit Benalla and meet with Tomorrow Today Foundation and explore the potential to roll-out its education and care model in other communities.

Ms Maxwell said the budget also confirmed Benalla as one among 20 communities where a new, local service available to anyone seeking mental health care is to be fast-tracked.

Benalla was recommended because it had Victoria’s highest per capita level of suicide between 2011 and 2020, and one of the highest per capita levels of suicide attempts presenting to hospital emergency departments.

Tania Maxwell pushes more action on digital blackspots

Tania Maxwell MP has again called on the Victorian government to do more to fix mobile phone and internet blackspots in bushfire-prone communities.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria asked Digital Economy Minister Jaala Pulford at the Legislative Council sitting in Bright today about steps the government will take to solve longstanding, ongoing problems with internet connectivity and mobile reception in rural areas.

Ms Maxwell said the Minister’s recognition of citizens’ legitimate concerns and frustrations around coverage issues was welcome but reminded parliamentarians that the 2019-20 bushfires had brought digital communication gaps into sharp focus.

“Indigo Shire chief executive officer Trevor Ierino spoke about these problems very publicly last year when he said the lack of mobile service along major roads in and out of Beechworth, for example, made it near impossible for people in high-risk areas to receive even basic alerts, warnings or updates on conditions,” Ms Maxwell said. 

“The state government must ensure that emergency management considerations are the most critical priority when scheduling mobile blackspot and internet access fixes in Victoria.

“Community members who addressed the parliamentarians here, including Alpine Community Recovery Committee chair Fiona Nicholls, Alpine mayor John Forsyth and Bright P-12 student Claire Lock, pointed to the fear and uncertainty created by ‘app-gaps’ and then by rapidly changing information advising residents to evacuate or to stay put during the January 2020 emergency.

“I was very pleased to hear the Minister confirm that Emergency Management Victoria’s services provide the last piece of advice to government about where funding to fix black spots should be directed.

“I also welcome Minister Pulford’s commitment that regional and rural communities will be extensively consulted about where funding from the government’s $600 million broadband and mobile connectivity program announced in the last Budget, of which $300m is specifically to eradicate black spots, will close critical gaps.”

Justice Party seeks government help to speed housing fix in bushfire communities

Tania Maxwell MP will seek Victorian government support to alleviate the challenges and financial costs still faced by people who lost homes to last year’s Black Summer bushfires when the Legislative Council meets in Bright on April 29.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the regional sitting had been convened to acknowledge the fires’ impact in the North East and the serious business and tourism knock-ons from these disasters in communities that she represents, including Alpine, Towong, Indigo, Mansfield, Wangaratta and Wodonga.

“The Victorian government has worked hard to help people back on their feet, but we must be able to expedite rebuilding and recovery,” Ms Maxwell said.

“This includes finding ways to accommodate tradespeople so they can get the job done and families can move into their new homes.

“The fires had an enormous physical impact across our communities, especially in Towong, Alpine and East Gippsland local government areas.

“But mental trauma and stress brought on by these disasters continue for many families.

“Bushfire Recovery Victoria data shows 458 homes were destroyed or damaged in Victoria and almost 18 months later it’s estimated that fewer than three per cent of the people displaced have moved back into permanent housing.

“The motion I’ll put to the sitting encourages us as parliamentarians to recognise the devastation and distress suffered by people in our communities whose homes were destroyed or damaged, who have been living in temporary accommodation and who are going through the arduous process of rebuilding.

“At a practical level, I want Parliament to be keenly aware of the challenges delaying and compromising the re-housing effort.

“Often there are significant financial gaps between insurance pay-outs and the costs of building in a bushfire-prone area, particularly the spending needed so new buildings comply with Victoria’s Bushfire Attack Level ratings system.

“There’s also a severe shortage of readily available accommodation so builders, plumbers, electricians and other essential tradies can deliver what they’re engaged to do in the communities where this help is needed.”

Ms Maxwell said her motion would ask the government to consider urgent changes to policies and regulations to alleviate fundamental, ongoing problems.

“As an elected representative of communities that have been so seriously affected, it’s my job to make sure all parliamentarians understand the personal, economic and community impacts, and for the government to find ways to deliver swift and effective solutions,” she said.

Ms Maxwell said estimates of the fires’ economic impact in eastern Victoria showed:

  • $114-199 million decline across all industries in Alpine, Towong and East Gippsland
  • $79-181m decline across all industries in Indigo, Mansfield, Wangaratta, Wellington and Wodonga local government areas
  • $330-350m in tourism losses in bushfire-affected regions between December 2019 and March 2020.
  • 10,000 livestock lost
  • 742 properties required clean-up

Offering collaboration to reduce family violence

The state government last August committed $1.67 million to a 12-month pilot of the Perpetrator Accommodation Support Service, which allows for family violence offenders to be rehouse away from home for short periods while they receive professional help and supervision. I support the initiative but we need to find ways to make it work practically in rural and regional areas where there are housing and service shortages.