Yarra Ranges still chasing storm help

Constituency question

October 27, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:44):

My constituency question is to the Minister for Local Government (Hon. Shaun Leane MP), and is to ask what funding will be provided by the state government to the Yarra Ranges to help recovery efforts following the storm that hit the community in the middle of this year.

It is more than four months since the significant storm event damaged 135 homes, leaving 74 of them uninhabitable. The estimated cost of storm recovery is $65 million, and I am concerned by reports that council has only received $3.5 million to date by way of support.

There are multiple issues with telecommunications across the affected area, and there is a lot of work to do in collecting green waste, road rehabilitation and helping residents clean up ahead of the fire season. This community needs assurance and a flow of funds to support their recovery efforts.

Cover image: The Guardian 2021

Old courts should not leave regions short-changed

Adjournment speech

October 26, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:59):

My adjournment is for the Attorney-General, and the action I seek is for the Attorney to detail how many courts in regional Victoria are being considered for closure based on information in the Victorian Auditor-General’s audit of Court Services Victoria.

Court Services Victoria (CSV) is responsible for 75 buildings in 66 locations and a budget of more than $691 million. The conclusion reached by the auditor was that after seven years, since CSV was established as an independent body, it cannot demonstrate if its service actually supports the courts to perform their functions. That is simply remarkable.

The responsibility for this failure does not just rest with CSV given the failings of its governing body, the Courts Council, to provide sufficient directional, guided strategy. It does seem that years of problems are being ironed out with their strategic plan, approved in September.

Many court facilities across Victoria are not fit for purpose and demand remodelling, showing the court system requires a 70 per cent increase in physical facilities in Melbourne CBD, metropolitan region and regional courts to meet future needs. A 2019 inspection audit found that $550 million was required by 2024 to bring facilities up to standard and maintain them. The budget for CSV is approved each year by the Attorney-General, so while CSV operates as a separate authority, there is clear fiscal responsibility for this government. A number of courts across northern Victoria have had great investments, such as Shepparton and Bendigo. Other courts, like Wangaratta and Benalla as examples, are very run down. Fit-for-purpose courts may be costly, but I would be concerned that courts in rural areas might be closed simply because they have been left to rot.

If every court service is economised into regional centres, it may leave some residents at severe disadvantage, be they victims, plaintiffs or defendants. Victims of crime often report to me their frustration of mentally gearing up to a court date only to have their offender fail to appear. This is re-traumatising for victims and costly to our court system, so making offenders accountable to appear might save some money that can be reinvested in regional courts.

People in regional areas live with the reality of delays and obstruction to a whole range of services, but cutting court numbers for the purpose of economising without due consideration for equity of access should not leave our regions short-changed.

Firefighters deserve inclusive compensation rights

October 26, 2021

Forests Amendment (Forest Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation) Bill 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:02):

I am pleased to speak today on the Forests Amendment (Forest Firefighters Presumptive Rights Compensation) Bill 2021. The bill implements an occupational cancer presumptive rights compensation scheme for forest firefighters modelled on the scheme that passed this Parliament in 2019 for Fire Services Victoria and CFA members. Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party supports this bill with a small but significant amendment.

The link between exposure to fire and cancer is an enormous risk to the health and safety of firefighters and a huge personal cost to those that protect our property and people. I stand here today very proudly as a CFA volunteer. We know the devastating bushfires Victoria faced in the summer of 2019–20 required the massive efforts of every firefighting resource our state could muster. Resources came from interstate and internationally to help. Fighting bushfires requires the cooperative efforts of career, volunteer, forest and industry fire crews with heavy machinery from timber and industry contractors. It is a multi-agency effort and exceptionally dangerous work. The exposure to every fire increases the risk of cancer, and quite a lot of research has been done, though the samples are often skewed by gender.

It is not just about research and statistics, though. At the end of every statistic is a person, and when contemplating these kinds of legislative changes we must have at the forefront of our minds the personal stories of those who are ultimately affected. At the time the presumptive rights legislation was passed in this Parliament for CFA and FRV firefighters we welcomed news that the government would implement a similar scheme for forest firefighters. Presumptive legislation is available in many jurisdictions around the world in varying forms. They include a common list of cancers, but that list is being expanded in response to emerging information.

Before speaking about this aspect in more detail, I will note contact from industry representatives who are concerned that the presumptive rights do not include industry brigades or independent contractors.

It is a requirement for plantations to have their own fire crews and they work hand in hand with the CFA on fire prevention activities and emergency fire response. There are 23 forest industry brigades registered across the state, representing about 800 people, with around 15 per cent of those being female. Hancock Victorian Plantations told me that from the summer of 2019–20 bushfires on their land alone there were 50 people eligible for the national emergency medal. These people are heroes but will not be eligible. I hope more work is done in the future to find ways to recognise the risk of exposure for these cohorts and how to extend them appropriate presumptive rights.

We do have an amendment today, which seeks to include female-specific cancers on the schedule list. If it is appropriate, I would ask for it to be circulated.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party amendment circulated by Ms MAXWELL pursuant to standing orders.

Ms MAXWELL: I said earlier that there are people at the end of the terrifying statistics linking exposure to fire with increased risk of cancer, but let us look at statistics for a moment. A substantial study of nearly 37,000 firefighters between 1972 and 1999 in Florida found significantly increased incidents of bladder, testicular and thyroid cancer for men. Female firefighters had significantly increased incident rates of overall cancer, cervical and thyroid cancers and Hodgkin’s disease. Women comprised around 5 per cent of the sample, so while the findings were significant the sample size was too small to be conclusive. Regardless, the suggestive data was frightening, with cervical cancer incidence more than four times higher in women firefighters. More generally, firefighters have a 9 per cent higher chance of developing cancer in their lifetime and are 14 per cent more likely to die. A study by Bates found testicular and prostate cancers were of high incidence in male firefighters.

In addition to studies on cancer risks, a growing body of research is emerging regarding exposure to toxic chemicals, including carcinogens and hormone disrupters. This is not just on the fireground but extends to stations and on firefighting gear. Medical oncologist Dr Kenneth Kunz suggests cancer rates in female firefighters run higher than the general population in Canada, predicting that female firefighters get a minimum 20 per cent more cancers than the general population. He suggests that 65 per cent of female firefighters will eventually get cancer and 45 per cent of them will die from cancer.

These predictions relate to Canada, where a number of provinces have recently expanded their presumptive rights to include female-specific cancers. Female firefighters are caught in a catch 22 in terms of research. They represent low numbers, compared to men, so they lack the scientific and media attention. Female firefighters in Canada and the United States are pushing for parity for gender-specific cancers. For them, if male counterparts are covered for testicular and other cancers, like prostate, why is there not a reasonable and good faith provision to include female-specific cancers?

It is disappointing that there is so little data specific to women and the impact on their reproductive organs from exposure to fire. While their numbers are only around 4 per cent in Australia, women have been involved in the fire responses for more than a century. Encouragingly, forest firefighters have a greater representation of women, at around 25 per cent, which makes this amendment even more important.

So while the science might not be able to demonstrate the same level of proof, women should not be penalised for this, and we believe that the suggested data should be enough to provide presumptive rights for reproductive cancers in women that are similar to those afforded to men.

Victoria prides itself on being progressive in terms of gender equality, and in fact the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning commissioned research back in 2016 to improve gender diversity in fire and emergency management. This research was led by Women’s Health Goulburn North East, from my electorate, and focused on how DELWP and networked emergency organisations might increase their capacity through diversity.

In all simplicity, gender equality is about creating a level playing field. This state has sometimes gone well beyond—extended levelling the playing field—in the name of gender equality, sometimes in ways I have completely agreed with. But it has not been prepared to put things in place ahead of the curve so that women are not left behind. I hope we do not wait years for data to confirm what we would reasonably conclude now—that the elevated risk in cancer we see in male reproductive organs is probably going to be the same tragic fate for women. This is not just about presumptive rights either. Recognising the probable increase in risk is important for the overall approach to health and safety for firefighters, whether that relates to protective gear, processes or other means to reduce the risk.

I do want to thank the government for actively engaging with me about this and for their undertaking to do further work on expanding these provisions. I look forward to this, and I hope provisions will be considered for FRV and CFA firefighters as well.

In closing, I said earlier that presumptive rights are not just about statistics but are about the individuals affected. A good friend of mine is a recipient of the support offered by the presumptive rights scheme for firefighters. He was and is a proud and effective CFA firefighter. My friend Mick Daws is a great man. And while I wish his cancer away with all my might, I am glad the presumptive scheme was there to give him some much-needed financial assistance and moral support. On that note I commend this bill to the house.

Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Suburban Development, Minister for Veterans) (18:42): 

Thanks, everyone who has made a contribution on the second-reading debate. It is very interesting that it is an issue that is very close to Acting President Melhem’s heart—and his involvement in the development of where we have got today.

It is an unfortunate reality that recent research findings show that firefighters experience a higher rate of certain cancers than the population at large, and therefore it is a reasonable presumption that firefighters due to their dangerous and necessary occupation are more vulnerable to certain cancers. This bill shifts the burden of proof to access compensation in favour of our forest firefighters. It establishes a presumption that for eligible firefighters certain cancers will be treated as workplace injuries unless there is proof to the contrary. It does this by creating a scheme model very close to the one for career and volunteer firefighters under the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Act 2019.

This bill makes use of recent research and evidence on the risks to firefighters to underpin the very significant change to the workers compensation scheme. It is based on our best assessment of the risks and the costs of care, but the validity of those assumptions will need to be tested over time. The bill covers the categories of firefighter and the types of cancer for which the data and relative risks and eligibility requirements are clear and compelling.

I understand that Ms Maxwell has proposed an amendment to include three additional cancers under the scheme that primarily affect women. I think this whole chamber shares Ms Maxwell’s aspiration to ensure the scheme is supportive of women in our fire and emergency services.

This government is committed to increasing the representation of women in our fire and emergency services. Recently the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has established a women in fire emergency services management program through which they have undertaken research to understand the barriers to increasing the number of women in fire and emergency services leadership roles and to improve their recruiting and training processes to ensure a diversity of representation. I know that the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Minister D’Ambrosio, and Minister Symes in her role as Minister for Emergency Services are both very passionate about this and are making sure there are more women taking up positions in the fire services.

However, this bill is written to cover cancers in which we have the highest degree of confidence based on scientific evidence currently available globally. The cancers listed in this bill are those that governments across Australia are most confident are diagnosed more frequently in firefighters. At this present time we cannot say with any confidence that firefighting increases the risk of contracting other cancers. A recent report out of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency has noted that very few studies have so far been conducted linking elevated incidence of the types of cancer that Ms Maxwell’s amendment is concerned with. Our government agrees that further research is needed and notes that there are a number of studies ongoing. The government will continue to monitor scientific evidence that evolves to ensure the scheme provides for all firefighters. This bill is about ensuring quality of protection across our different streams of firefighting services—for our career and volunteer and now forest firefighters. Any amendment to this scheme, including extending the scheme, would want to be considered holistically and acknowledge the importance of equal protection for those who put themselves on the front lines to keep Victorians safe.

In saying that, I want to thank Ms Maxwell again for raising this important matter regarding her amendment today. I note that Ms Maxwell with this amendment will not go into a division, but we thank her for raising this today. The Minister for Emergency Services, Jaclyn Symes, is a massive advocate for women in the emergency services and those on the front line, and I understand the Minister for Emergency Services has given Ms Maxwell a commitment to undertake further consultation and take into account the medical and scientific advice before we proceed with any reforms that Ms Maxwell may be suggesting. The emergency services minister is happy to involve Ms Maxwell when speaking to women this will affect and those on the ground. I am happy to provide in the chamber this commitment to Ms Maxwell to involving her in this development, and I know this is an area Minister Symes is really interested in exploring.

Motion agreed to – Read second time – Committed.

Committee deliberation

Clause 1 (18:49)

Ms MAXWELL: I have just a couple of quick questions, if I may, to the minister. Minister, you spoke in your speech about the research to ensure that there is further investigation and research done in relation to having these particular cancers for female firefighters, as is intended by my amendments. I am just wondering: how do we achieve those statistics if we are not ultimately encouraging female firefighters to take on that career role? These amendments were done as a guide to support women and encourage women to go into that role knowing that they would have potentially the same opportunities should they end up with cancers which are proven to have been caused by their firefighting career.

Mr LEANE: Well, the answer to Ms Maxwell is there is a commitment, and the Minister for Emergency Services, with the carriage of the other bills that we have passed around the CFA and FRV firefighters, is committed to exploring—well, there are couple of things that she is committed to. She is committed to increasing the number of women in the fire services, but she is also committed to working with the women that are currently in the fire services—to working with them and accessing with them and involving them in any research. I appreciate Ms Maxwell’s concern; I think the whole chamber does, as far as what she has brought to the house goes. As for this bill, it is a bill that the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change has carriage of, as far as the Victorian forest firefighters go. I know it is nothing to really brag about, Ms Maxwell, but the forest firefighters are actually 25 per cent female, so there is probably a better snapshot of what we can work with there as well. I am sure the minister for environment is happy to work with the Minister for Emergency Services and also Ms Maxwell, which is the commitment that Minister Symes has given.

Ms MAXWELL: Thank you, Minister. Look, I would just like to leave this with a comment and just say that while I am disappointed that the amendments are not going to a vote, I am incredibly excited, and I thank the minister for his commitment and particularly Attorney-General Symes for giving this commitment. I really look forward to us working together to ensure that female firefighters are encouraged both to work in the field and to feel that there will be further research done to ensure that there is equality and that for those cancers that are listed for men, women will feel that they have that same right afforded to them. Once again, I thank the minister for his responses and for that commitment.

Clause agreed to; clauses 2 to 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 (18:54)

Ms MAXWELL: I move:

1. Clause 9, after line 27 insert—

  • 13 Primary site cervical cancer 10 years
  • 14 Primary site ovarian cancer 10 years
  • 15 Primary site uterine cancer 10 years

I would just like to speak on that amendment, if I may. I think I probably covered off most points in my contribution earlier, but I will reinforce our view that female firefighters should not be disadvantaged from support simply because their demographic is currently too small to provide for conclusive studies. I would like to thank everyone again who has engaged with me and my office on the proposed amendment, including the government, the opposition shadow minister and most of the crossbenchers.

The markers are there, and we should pay attention. Women are as susceptible to elevated risks of cancer as men. Men have significantly elevated risks to their reproductive organs, including testicular cancer, and indicative statistics, though small in number, show the incidence of cervical cancer to be more than four times higher in women firefighters. Yes, the studies are inconclusive on female reproductive organs, but it is a reasonable bow to draw. Quite simply, what is good for the goose is good for the gander—or in this case, the other way around. There are jurisdictions around the world recognising this very point and including women-specific cancers out of good faith and caution. While that might not be enough to make this change today, I am very hopeful that this amendment will be incorporated into future legislation and extend these presumptive rights to all female firefighters.

Mr LEANE: I just quickly reiterate the commitment from Minister Symes to working particularly with Ms Maxwell on this issue and working actually with the women that are currently in the services, but also the commitment of Minister (Jaclyn) Symes and Minister (Lily) D’Ambrosio about increasing the number of women that are in this part of the emergency services—a very important part of the emergency services. I think we agree to work together into the future, but this particular amendment we will not be supporting at this point.

Amendment negatived; clause agreed to; clause 10 agreed to.

Reported to house without amendment.

Reforms help students on job path


October 26, 2021

I am pleased to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Senior Secondary Pathways Reform and Other Matters) Bill 2021.

This Bill implements recommendations 1 and 10 of the Firth Review, which proposed reforms to make vocational and applied learning in schools more relevant, higher quality and accessible to students.

There is no doubt that education is a key interest of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. Countless studies link a good education to a better pathway in life, simply because it provides greater opportunities for employment, which then provides stability, fulfilment and endless opportunities

I only want to make a couple of quick points on this bill, because much has already been covered by other speakers.  So for me, for Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, it’s natural to look at this bill through the justice lens.

We know that schools are integral to the emotional and social development of our young people. For at risk children, they play a pivotal role in intervention. Breakfast clubs help children obtain food where they otherwise might not, welfare teams link children and families to external supports; and schools are often the first to detect and report serious concerns about absenteeism, neglect and abuse.

It is generally accepted that keeping young people in school for longer reduces their risk of becoming involved in crime. At a very basic level, it provides time for emotional development and role modelling of positive choices and risk-aversion. For young people on the edge of leaving school, alternate learning settings like Borinya in my electorate are really important in keeping young people engaged for as long as possible.

A study more than 10 years ago by Latrobe University found that 46 per cent of young offenders in custody in Victoria had a previously undiagnosed language disorder[i]. There is a strong link between the severity of offending and the severity of disordered language skills. Building the basic capacity to read is incredibly important to improving the life trajectory of a young person. Intervention is needed at the earliest point, which is the early years of school.   La Trobe’s Professor Pamela Snow described this as needing to ‘meet children at the school gate’.

I say that in relation to this bill, because transforming careers education in Victoria’s schools has to link back to identifying children at risk in the early years, and making sure the support and intervention is available at the earliest possible point.  That way, the reforms this bill makes, in providing more diversity across the curriculum and capturing more pathways for senior students, will have even greater effect.

These reforms seek to lift the quality and perception of vocational education and applied learning and I certainly hope that this will be achieved over time.  Our society is heavily reliant on people with vocational skills – there are great jobs out there and we need to ensure young people are connected to those opportunities. Our regional areas are often challenged by a lack of vocational teachers, so implementing these reforms will require strategies to address the shortages and ensure vocational courses are high quality and engaging for students.

Much of this bill sets the framework and authority for transitioning to the new setting, so I will leave it there, with a quick shout out to students across Victoria, especially in my electorate of Northern Victoria who have just finished their formal senior studies in the last week.  The senior years for students in the last couple of years have been doing it tough, most learning has been done remotely and students have missed out on activities and opportunities that usually make their senior years unforgettably special. I know it has been tough for teachers too, in trying to find engaging and practical ways to teach remotely. I hope students will have a much smoother year in 2022. So, to all of the graduates of the Class of 2021, congratulations! To VCE students, I send my best wishes for your exams and more generally for the future.

I commend this bill to the House.

Image: Wangaratta GOTAFE

[i] https://www.latrobe.edu.au/nest/poor-reading-writing-feeds-school-prison-pipeline/

Hub steps up to vax verification demand

Constituency question

October 26, 2021

My question is to the Minister for Government Services (Hon. Danny Pearson MP) 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?

Excluding parliamentarians excludes our electors


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.

Great work, Youth and Prize participants

Member statement

October 14, 2021

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (16:37):

This year’s Youth Parliament sitting week brought together bright young minds from across the state to debate key issues as a culmination of the Youth Parliament program run by the YMCA Youth Services.

This program educates youth on how our Parliament operates and encourages their participation. Congratulations to everyone who joined in the sitting day program, including those from Mildura, Castlemaine, Bendigo and Whittlesea in my electorate.

I had the pleasure recently to be one of the judges of this year’s Parliament Prize.

More than 600 video entries were received from Victorian students highlighting what they would say in Parliament if they were an MP, and there were many outstanding entries. I hope that we will see some of these young people elected into this place in the years to come.

View the judges’ comments and the winners’ responses. Girton Grammar School student Lily Ivey, from Central Victoria in my electorate, won the years 10-12 category prize with her speech about ‘Eating disorder education’. Congratulations, Lily!

Is the Albury-Wodonga Regional Deal on track?

Constituency question

October 14, 2021

Tania Maxwell (Northern Victoria, 15:42):

My constituency question is to the Minister for Regional Development (Hon. Mary-Anne Thomas MP) regarding the Albury-Wodonga Regional Deal.

The Albury-Wodonga Regional Deal was announced in 2019 and touted as a game-changer for this cross-border community.

The deal should deliver opportunities to streamline planning between the two communities – public transport is just one example.  Different state laws and party politics on each side of the border can complicate cross-border services.  Throw in the overlay of federal politics, and it is no wonder a formalised deal is needed.

A Statement of Intent was agreed between the three levels of government in 2020, but nothing seems to have progressed since.

And so I ask the Minister: can she advise when the Victorian government will formally sign off on the Albury-Wodonga Regional Deal?  

Ensuring violent offenders leave home

Adjournment speech

October 15, 2021

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (00:13): (1593) My adjournment is for the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence.

The government committed to keeping more victim-survivors of family violence safe in their homes, and the action I seek is for the minister to detail the number of perpetrators in my electorate of Northern Victoria who have been removed from the home as part of this program.

On August 17, 2020, the government announced it was directing more than $20 million to keeping perpetrators in full sight and victims in their home. As part of this, the program was to enable 1500 perpetrators of family violence to be moved into short-term or long-term accommodation and provide intervention and behaviour-change programs. This included support for the growing issue of adolescents using violence in the home.

The latest crime data ending June 30, 2021, shows family violence remains at an all-time high. More than 19,000 incidents of family violence in Northern Victoria occurred in the past 12 months. There were more than 5000 breaches of family violence orders and 1794 reports where the affected family member was a child. The coronavirus restrictions have placed some families into settings of increased isolation and risk. For children experiencing family violence, school is often the only safe space they have and provides a critical opportunity for them to get a break from the chaos and the stress of home and to connect with welfare staff at school.

For some vulnerable children, school might be the only place where they have access to food. Schools have remained open for vulnerable children, but we know not all at-risk children have been attending.

The only way to keep families safe is to stop perpetrators from offending. My colleague, Mr (Stuart) Grimley MP, referred very recently to the report of the family violence reform implementation monitor which said 500 men could be waiting to access a program at any one time. Many finished their community correction order without even completing the core program, which is meant to address their offending.

Keeping perpetrators of family violence out of the homes while they work to change their behaviour is certainly a step in the right direction. I suspect the critical shortages in affordable housing, particularly in regional areas, may complicate this policy rollout. But the shift from ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ to ‘Make him leave’ is a very important statement for the rights of victims and moves the onus of responsibility to where it should be, which is absolutely with the offender.

Victims support assistance open to question

Question without notice

October 13, 2021

  • Asked by Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party state leader Stuart Grimley MP for Tania Maxwell MP, in her absence:

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (15:07): My question is to the Minister for Higher Education and Minister for Training and Skills, representing the Minister for Victim Support.

Minister, it is nearly five years since the government asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to consider changes to the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal and the victims’ assistance program. The VLRC made 100 recommendations, which were accepted by the government and included establishing a new state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims of crime.

Minister, what is the status of this new assistance scheme, and when can victims expect it will be delivered?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (15:08):

I thank Mr Grimley for his question and his ongoing interest in and support for victims. I will refer it to the Minister for Victim Support, Minister Hutchins, and expect a response as per the standing orders.

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (15:08):

Thank you, Minister. My colleague, Ms Maxwell, raised in this Parliament the difficulties that victims of crime face in accessing support through the current scheme, particularly as a result of the classification system.

My supplementary question is: will the government initiate any interim changes to the current scheme so that the recommendations of the VLRC are available to victims until the new act is in force?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (15:09):

Again, thank you for the question, Mr Grimley. I am sure Minister Hutchins will respond as per the standing orders. This is a key area of interest that she has in her portfolio.