Places without cases deserve a green light

June 9, 2021

I’ve asked Victoria’s Health Minister, Martin Foley MP, to tell the Northern Victorian communities I represent what modelling the government has done so that future COVID lockdowns are targeted where coronavirus breaks out.

Constituents in my electorate – where there’s not been a single case – deserve to know, because a targeted approach is what we need to ensure regional communities, business and local economies survive.

I’ve advised the minister that retailers and service providers from Corryong to Ouyen and Kinglake to Echuca are reporting substantial losses from the state government’s state-wide ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown imposed from May 28. But we have no cases.

A constituent last week wrote to me wondering if the government would shut down metropolitan Melbourne if three cases were reported in Mildura? It’s a sharp question.

Last year I proposed a traffic light system that would allow us to go about our daily life, work, school and sport, with prudent levels of alert, when cases or exposure sites emerge.

I was assured this was being considered.

In January, the Premier introduced just such a system to identify COVID-risk local government areas interstate. Combined with a permit system, these ‘lights’ prevented travellers from red zones and limited those from orange zones coming to Victoria.

Surely, we could adapt this for use inside our own state. But here we are again, places without cases, wearing the impact.

It’s time to give us the green light.

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.”

Northern Victoria needs more vaccination hubs and rapid business help

Tania Maxwell MP says Northeast Health Wangaratta’s public vaccination hub opening tomorrow will give North East residents more opportunity to be immunised against COVID-19.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said she was concerned when Victorians were last week placed in statewide-lockdown for a fourth time that only three public vaccination hubs across her 100,500-square kilometre electorate – in Wodonga, Shepparton and Bendigo – were listed as open on Victoria’s official coronavirus website[1].

“With Northeast Health Wangaratta opening tomorrow, Albury Wodonga Health re-opening its Wodonga High Street walk-in hub and Swan Hill open as a Bendigo sub-hub, there will now be six public vaccination centres available, together with private GP clinics,” Ms Maxwell said.

“These are welcome additions but we still don’t have enough public hubs across this vast region and I think it’s extraordinary that larger regional communities like Mildura and Echuca don’t have public hubs.

“At the same time, I remain very concerned that people trying to follow the government’s advice and book an appointment at one of these public hubs using the official 1800 number have found it very difficult to get through since lockdown began on Thursday night.

“Surely it must be straightforward for the government to set up an online booking system which gathers your name, contact points, location and Medicare number and then generates an appointment time at the nearest hub that’s sent as a text message to your smartphone or email.”

Ms Maxwell also said business owners and managers had been frustrated by government delays in getting detailed information about its business support package, announced on Sunday, and eligibility criteria, published on-line.

“As I said on Friday, the government and its agencies should by now have a workable ready-reckoner in place so an affected business can calculate with confidence the financial support it can expect when a sudden ‘circuitbreaker’ forces a trading shutdown,” she said.

“Businesses have just 21 days from tomorrow to apply for payments of $2500 or, if a licensed hotel or restaurant, $3500.”


[1] https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/vaccination-centres

Lockdown business deserves confidence and security ready-reckoner

Beechworth’s Ford Street, usually packed with vehicles and shoppers, all but deserted since the ‘circuitbreaker’ lockdown announced on May 26, 2021.

Tania Maxwell MP says business deserves to know it will be supported when the state government calls a snap lockdown to contain a COVID-19 virus outbreak.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the government and its agencies should by now have a workable ready-reckoner in place so an affected business can calculate with confidence the financial support it can expect when a sudden ‘circuitbreaker’ forces a trading shutdown.

“Yesterday’s announcement of a week-long closure of all but authorised work is the fourth lockdown that business and retail operators have had to wear since March 2020,” Ms Maxwell said.

“I understand that circumstances will vary, and that outbreaks are unpredictable, but it’s imperative that business owners and managers know they can rely on a publicly-funded, straightforward system that compensates them for loss of trade and keeps staff paid when there’s a shutdown.

“Business can no longer fall-back on JobKeeper after the federal government closed this program on March 31, and after the impacts of the past year many small businesses are still trying to get back on their feet.

“My office has spoken with the Treasurer’s office this morning and we’ve been told it’s ‘hopeful’ that a new support package will be announced during the weekend.

“But the point I want to bring home to the government is that we’ve been here before – three times.

“As I’ve raised in Parliament consistently in the past year, the near-constant enforcement of restrictions on all Victorians continues to create a host of wider problems.

“These include economic and social impacts, especially in our tourism, hospitality, fitness, events and retail sectors and for the employees who work in them.

“I know of many businesses in the Northern Victorian communities that I represent that will stand down staff for as long as this fourth lockdown lasts.

“But in most of these communities we have no COVID-19 cases.

“So while a statewide shutdown is imposed on all of us I think it’s only fair that businesses forced to close should be compensated so staff can still be paid and costs met.”

Sexual assault in universities

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) May 26, 2021: (12:00)

Universities are a hot topic today.

My question is to the Minister for Higher Education, Ms Tierney. It follows journalist Richard Ferguson’s front-page story in the Weekend Australian on 21 May highlighting multiple very serious failures in the University of Queensland’s responses to complaints from students about incidents of stalking and sexual assault committed by someone employed by the university.

Minister, in the wake of these very disturbing revelations, have you asked or would you ask for any form of audit or even an updated assessment of the robustness of the current structures and processes for the reporting and investigation of stalking and sexual misconduct allegations within Victorian universities?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:01): 

Obviously universities do have their own processes. Of course that does not stop anyone from also reporting incidents to police. There are also support services on campuses to provide counselling and other support mechanisms to victims.

It does not matter whether you are male, female or whatever, the fact of the matter is that there are supports there. But, Ms Maxwell, I do thank you for this question, because it has raised a discussion particularly in my office about whether there is suitable regulation.

I can inform you that the University of Melbourne is undertaking a study at the moment and has written to all staff and students asking for their input. It is my intention once I receive that report to then have a discussion with the vice-chancellors at the vice-chancellors forum about what else might need to be done in this area, so it is a very active topic. It is active in the media, but it is very active in terms of the discussions that are happening with key stakeholders in the sector.

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:03):

Thank you, Minister.

Minister, there has been a considerable amount of anger about the University of Melbourne’s response to recent incidents of sexual assault and harassment. These include its handling of the allegations of serious sexual misconduct upheld in 2019 against its former dean of science Peter Rathjen, who I have mentioned previously in this place. Information about Rathjen’s offending was allegedly not even passed on to the University of Adelaide, where he was vice-chancellor before later leaving the position in disgrace following further sexual misconduct.

So I ask: during this term of Parliament has the Victorian government asked the University of Melbourne to improve its handling of sexual misconduct complaints, including by directing it to comprehensively and publicly respond to the allegations that it failed to disclose the findings against Rathjen to the University of Adelaide?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:03):

Obviously the safety of students is absolutely paramount, whether they be on university councils, in schools, at TAFEs, wherever—absolutely.

I do have a great personal interest in this area, Ms Maxwell, as you might know, but the fact of the matter is that in terms of my powers, they do not go to operational matters as such. But that is why I am taking a particularly keen interest in the work that the University of Melbourne is undertaking at the moment, and as I said, I look forward to having a wider discussion with the university community about what else can be done and what things might be able to be tightened so that the things that have happened in Queensland and elsewhere cannot happen again.

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 welcomes budget’s victims’ legal service funding

Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed the $7.3 million Budget announcement to establish Victoria’s first-ever Victims’ Legal Service.

The Member for Northern Victoria said she and Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party leader Stuart Grimley MP had long advocated for such a service to ensure victims could be represented in criminal proceedings.

“It’s a very proud day for Stuart and me,” Ms Maxwell said.

“We have heard frequently that crime victims not only fail to have their needs and interests reflected in court but encounter great difficulty accessing the lawyers and legal advice they need to begin understanding and navigating the criminal justice system.

“The establishment of this new service should make a crucial difference for those who have been largely voiceless.”

The VLS concept was developed by Mr Grimley with barrister Michelle Zammit, who has worked with – and represented – countless victim survivors throughout her professional career.

This proposal came about partly as a result of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s 2016 Report into The Role of Victims of Crime in the Criminal Trial Process.

Ms Maxwell has also welcomed the government’s recognition of early intervention, especially directed at alleviating homelessness and supporting mental health, to drive down costs in the state’s policing, court and corrections’ systems. It’s a call she made earlier in the week and reported in the Wangaratta Chronicle on May 19.

“As Treasurer Tim Pallas said in his Budget speech, it’s ‘a smarter approach’,” she said.

“Investing in these initiatives, including a start-up focus on rural and regional communities for the roll-out of the $200m School Mental Health Fund and money for mental health care and outreach in Wangaratta, Echuca and Swan Hill, will enable us to measure the benefits.”

Justice Party wants budget primary prevention boost

Tania Maxwell MP has called on the state government to invest more in drug, alcohol and family violence primary prevention and early intervention through school and community safety programs in its May 20 budget.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said public funding for prevention and intervention was not significant enough to drive down the current costs of the state’s policing, courts and corrections systems.

“A month ahead of the scheduled release in June of national crime statistics for 2020, we know that 101 people in Victoria became victims of homicide and related offences in 2019 – an increase of 19 per cent,” Ms Maxwell said.

“While the number of victims of sexual assault dropped 2pc to 5829, 37pc of them (2149) were assaulted in family or domestic settings, and almost 40pc of all victims were children or young people under 19 years old.

“There were 3149 victims of robbery, up 29pc, and more than half of all perpetrators were armed[1].

“At the same time the number of criminal incidents classed as drug offences increased 7pc (to 16,775)[2].

“Early intervention is the key to reducing crime and these numbers tell me that we need to be directing much more into preventative programs and services to see positive change, and that’s what I’ve asked the government to do in productive meetings I’ve had with the Treasurer and other Ministers.

“I welcome progressive steps the government’s taken, especially its support for my call in June, last year, for a parliamentary inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system that’s now underway.

“This inquiry will enable us to examine the factors that have led to growing remand and prison populations and to recommend ways to reverse those trends.

“There is so much more to do in this area and I hope the inquiry will provide some thought-provoking recommendations for the government to consider.

“The government in the 2020 budget also directed $335 million, which I advocated, towards programs for young people, including out-of-home care support, life-skills development, keeping families together and helping those who’ve come apart to reunite.

“But we need to see this money delivered on the ground in the rural and regional communities that I represent, together with significant investment in affordable housing, including social housing, education, skills training, work and digital access, mental and other health services, and alcohol and other drug treatment programs.

“These are initiatives that can have a positive, collective impact and I look forward the government’s clear commitment to this approach in Thursday’s budget.”

Ms Maxwell said other Budget funding priorities identified with Justice Party leader Stuart Grimley MP included:

  • Funding to reduce the caseload backlog in Victoria’s court system (the government last week committed $210m to speed court and tribunal hearings held up because of COVID-19).
  • Up to $23.4m, plus operational funding, to develop Education First Youth Foyers at GOTAFE Wangaratta and Wodonga TAFE so young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness can access integrated accommodation, education and well-being support to become job-ready.
  • $15m to co-fund development of the Mernda Health and Wellbeing Hub to support services for a community projected have 65,000 residents within the next 17 years.
  • $9.4m to fund Sunraysia Mallee Port Link – a project to shift significant volumes of farm produce from road to rail in north west Victoria. (SMPL was formerly known as Ouyen Intermodel.)
  • Upgrades to Victoria Police stations at Benalla, Cobram, Euroa and Rochester to improve policing capabilities and safety in these communities.
  • Urgent, regionally-targeted action to ensure ambulance service effectiveness. Recent funding announcements are positive, but communities need to know bottlenecks, such as hospital ramping, will be fixed and preventative measures to reduce demand.
  • $1.9m over four years to model and establish a Defence Dogs Program in Victoria to support defence veterans living with post-traumatic stress injury.
  • $465,000 to replace Koondrook CFA’s 32-year-old – and only – fire truck as a first step to improve local fire-fighting capability and volunteer skills.

Image: University of Melbourne (Family Violence Prevention)

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics: 45100DO001_2019 Recorded Crime – Victims, Australia, 2019

[2] https://www.crimestatistics.vic.gov.au/crime-statistics/latest-victorian-crime-data/recorded-criminal-incidents-2

Government needs to fix ambulance response times

Letter to the editor

Many readers will be aware of recent reports about more distressing delays in ambulance arrivals at emergency incidents in some Victorian communities.

I’ve advocated repeatedly for more ambulance resources in the rural and regional areas that I represent.

I’m also continuing to push for a concerted effort by the state government, Department of Health and Ambulance Victoria to fix bottlenecks caused by practices such as ‘ramping’.

This occurs when hospital emergency departments are extremely busy and instruct paramedics to keep a patient on board until given the go-ahead to deliver them.

I’m prompted by the Heart Foundation’s Heart Week (May 3-9) to reiterate the clear need for a sustainable, permanent fix.

In the past year, ambulance response times have been under the spotlight – especially in Indigo, Loddon, Mansfield, Mitchell and Hepburn shires.

I’ve been working with these councils and taking their communities’ very real concerns to Parliament and the government so the disturbing delays that some people experience will become a thing of the past.

Earlier this year I welcomed the government’s additional $14.8 commitment to support regional ambulance services, but recent incidents show we’re not yet at the point where we can be confident that a fast, reliable and effective ambulance service will be available in emergency situations in our communities.

I’ve also been talking with Ambulance Victoria about ways we can each contribute to a solution.

Preventative health is one of them. Heart and brain health are things we can manage with good diet, exercise and regular check-ups, but heart attack and stroke still make up a substantial number of Ambulance Victoria call-outs.

The GoodSAM (Smartphone Activated Medic) app, where someone with basic first aid knowledge can be alerted to help at an incident nearby until an ambulance arrives, and the placement of defibrillators in communities, are also vital assets.

But proper resourcing that enables paramedics to attend rapidly to emergencies remains the best solution, and I’ll keep pressing the government to make sure that our Northern Victorian communities’ expectations can be met.

Tania Maxwell MP
Member for Northern Victoria, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party
Wangaratta