Chiltern CFA need a new fire station

Constituency question

May 12, 2022

My constituency question is to the Minister for Emergency Services (Hon. Jaclyn Symes MP) on behalf of the Chiltern community.

The Chiltern fire brigade is a busy, vital emergency service of more than 100 members, proudly supported by the community.

The brigade is under significant pressure to expand its premises. The current motor room does not meet occupational health and safety requirements – the building is too small for modern vehicles and too small for the safe movement of personnel. The meeting room, which also doubles as the CFA Local Command Facility, is very cramped and diesel fumes in the building are a concern.

A local landowner has offered to donate a parcel of land in Chiltern to establish a co-located Ambulance station and Chiltern fire brigade. CFA, Ambulance Victoria, Indigo Shire and Vicroads have discussed the establishment of the new site, and CFA has appointed a consultant to undertake a feasibility study.

So my question to the Minister is, will the government commit to providing the necessary funding of approximately $2million to establish a new facility for the Chiltern Fire Brigade?

Photo: With Chiltern CFA brigade lieutenant Geoff Perry at Chiltern fire station on April 12, 2022.

Return rowing to Nagambie for 2026 Games


May 11, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:45): (1908)

My adjournment is to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events (Hon. Martin Pakula MP), and the action I seek is for the government to expand the list of Commonwealth Games sports across regional Victoria and designate Lake Nagambie to host rowing for the 2026 games.

Northern Victoria covers more than 100,500 square kilometres, around half of the state. There are 27 local government areas in my electorate, and yet only one of those, Bendigo, has been earmarked so far as a venue for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. While the multi-city model is worthy of credit, much of my electorate has been overlooked to date.

A program of 16 core sports and four para sports have so far been agreed between the State of Victoria, the Commonwealth Games Federation and Commonwealth Games Australia. Typically there are 17 or 18 sports competed at the games, so I am hoping there is room for a couple of additions.

When the City of Greater Shepparton conceived a regional games concept back in 2017, it presented a vision of a regional cities model that included 11 cities. As well as the four already announced by the Premier (Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and a hub in Gippsland), the 11 included Shepparton, Mount Buller, Yarrawonga, Wodonga and Nagambie in my electorate.

The two-kilometre rowing course in Strathbogie shire is an example of an existing location ripe for the opportunity that the Commonwealth Games could present.

Lake Nagambie is the only 2km rowing course in regional Victoria. Last month the Australian Rowing Championships were relocated to this course with only eight days’ notice after the devastating floods in New South Wales. Around 2000 athletes competed, and Strathbogie shire and Lake Nagambie showcased themselves with high honours.

Strathbogie shire is a great tourism destination with fabulous food and wine offerings, well-established agriculture and equine industries, beautiful landscapes and wonderful potential. The mayor and council of Strathbogie have reached out to me for help to ask the government to consider flat-water rowing as an additional 2026 Commonwealth Games sport and to nominate Lake Nagambie as the location to host this event.

Rowing was part of the Commonwealth Games sporting program from 1938 until 1962*, when it was classified as an optional sport for the Commonwealth Games. Rowing is a popular sport in Australia—60,000 people participate, including more than 185 schools and 165 clubs. This is an absolute no-brainer for the government, and I know Nagambie and the Strathbogie shire would do Victoria proud in hosting a great rowing event.

I look forward to the government’s positive response, and I hope to see Strathbogie’s name on the list.

* Rowing returned for the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. It has since remained optional for host organisers.

Maxwell seeks Albury Wodonga Health funding

Question without notice

May 11, 2022

Tania Maxwell MP, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, asked the Attorney-General and fellow MP for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes MP a question without notice for Health Minister Martin Foley MP about funding for a new Albury Wodonga Health campus:

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:05):

My question is to the Attorney-General for the Minister for Health regarding the need for a new single-site hospital in Albury-Wodonga.

Albury Wodonga Health has completed a master plan that addresses the needs of the cross-border community. We know a new single-site hospital is desperately overdue. I have heard the call of local community leaders. They want focus on the dire health needs of the community and need a commitment from the Victorian government to deliver a new hospital.

I have worked collaboratively with the minister and you, Attorney, on health projects for our communities. The great news last week for Bright hospital is a prime example of that.

So my question on behalf of this community is: will the minister also find the necessary funding for this critical project in the $2.2 billion yet to be allocated in the current 2022–23 budget?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:06):

I thank Ms Maxwell for her question for the Minister for Health.

I too am familiar with the needs of that community. It is a hospital that is utilised by my family members as well. It has been a wonderful resource, providing great services to people in that region, and it is fair to say that we know that the infrastructure does not currently match the efforts of the hardworking staff up there.

In relation to your question, you referenced a completed master plan or completed business case. That is incorrect. It is still in progress, and I do commend Albury Wodonga Health along with NSW Health and our health department, who continue to have discussions in relation to that. Similarly to the question that Dr Cumming asked me yesterday in relation to the Melton hospital, there are a lot of processes that need to be undertaken.

You have referenced preference for a single site. I have received mixed advice from people on whether they think it should be in Albury or it should be in Wodonga, for example. So there are ongoing discussions about these important matters, and in order to fulfill a business case it has to be completed with an idea of what you need to provide in the way of funding and what type of services and staff will be required.

Not all of those questions are answered yet, but I know that it is a priority for that community and a lot of people have views. A lot of experts have views, which is much more important than hearing from politicians. And I know I have had advocacy myself from collections of health experts up there. All of those views are certainly welcomed by me, and I know that the Minister for Health is also very interested in progressing this project.

As I said, the master plan process is well advanced and underway, and in relation to more detail I think it is probably more appropriate from the Minister for Health, because of course most of my knowledge about this is not in my ministerial capacities but in my role as a member for Northern Victoria.

Ms MAXWELL (12:08):

Thank you, Attorney, for your answer.

A proactive group of community-minded leaders, including doctors and health workers, have established Better Border Health, a working group aimed at raising the profile of the urgent need for a new site for the hospital in Albury-Wodonga.

They would be very interested to meet with the minister, and so my question is: will the minister accompany me—and perhaps you, Attorney, given that this, as you said, is not within your portfolio but within your electorate of Northern Victoria—to meet with this group and hear their aspirations for a new hospital?

Ms SYMES (12:09):

I thank Ms Maxwell for her supplementary question, and I will pass it on to the Minister for Health for his response in accordance with the standing orders.

Wangaratta seeks garden funding mulch

With Wangaratta Community Garden’s Mary Daly and Eric Bittner (March 2022)

Constituency question

April 6, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:41): (1745)

My constituency question is to the Minister for Health (Hon. Martin Foley MP) on behalf of the volunteers at Wangaratta Community Garden.

The Wangaratta Community Garden was established in 1993, and it has relied on volunteers to bring together gardeners from diverse backgrounds of different abilities and ages who share an enjoyment of growing affordable and healthy produce. The evidence is growing that the relationship between gardening, mental health benefits and community resilience is strong.

Wangaratta Community Garden has room to welcome more but desperately needs funding for a full-time gardener and manager. Mary Daly and Eric Bittner are Wangaratta Community Garden’s co-ordinators. They are tireless, generous volunteers of their time and fierce advocates for the importance of community connectedness and personal wellbeing that come from the garden. However, the future of the garden cannot rely on volunteers alone.

My question is: will the minister consider funding $200,000 towards a garden manager and ensure that it can successfully continue to support the wellbeing of those people in Wangaratta who continue to utilise this market garden?

Money available for violent offender tagging trial

Questions without notice

April 5, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (11:40):

My question is to the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence in the other place, following the $20 million promised by the federal government to launch pilot programs in states and territories for electronic monitoring of serious family violence perpetrators.

This funding was announced on 18 March by the federal Minister for Women and follows the successful Tasmanian trial of electronic monitoring of family violence perpetrators called ‘Project Vigilance’. The evaluation of the trial showed a substantial reduction in high-risk behaviour such as stalking, assault and making threats.

Minister, can the government confirm if it will accept this funding from the federal government and launch a similar trial in Victoria?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (11:40):

I thank Ms Maxwell for her question. It will require a response from Minister Williams via Minister Stitt, who I am representing, and we will get an answer for you as quickly as possible.

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (11:41):

Thank you, Attorney. The evaluation of the Tasmanian trial suggested including perpetrators who were identified to have engaged in above-average breaches of intervention orders and those who stalk their victims.

In the absence of current electronic monitoring of those perpetrators, could the minister advise what monitoring is in place now to help keep families safe and perpetrators accountable?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (11:41):

I thank Ms Maxwell for her question. While I will pass on your question to the minister, I can advise that there is a Victorian Law Reform Commission interim report in relation to stalking.

You would have seen media reports yesterday of some of the work that police are doing in relation to that issue, making it easier for victims, through pilots, to report this conduct. This will be a topic that will be well canvassed in coming days in advance of a final report into stalking, which, as you know, is due midyear.

Although I will get you an answer, I reckon you are just a couple of days early for some of these issues to be well canvassed.

Nillumbik’s young people seek mental health care

Constituency question

March 22, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:16):

My constituency question is for the Minister for Mental Health (Hon. James Merlino MP) and concerns the need for local youth specialist services in the Nillumbik shire.

Nine hundred young people participated in the council’s 2021 Young Minds: Your Voice, Our Future engagement process. They identified mental health as the most important issue facing young people in the shire.

There are no direct service providers based in the shire, and information from key regional service organisations shows that young people in Nillumbik are not accessing available mental health services despite high levels of anxiety and concerning disengagement rates from education. Nillumbik shire seek an engaging and targeted youth outreach service for their region to provide early intervention and support for their young people.

My question to the minister is: what specific resources will be provided to the Nillumbik shire to meet the mental health needs of their young people?

What future for committal hearings?

Question without notice

March 22, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (11:59):

My question is to the Attorney-General. On 16 September 2020 the Victorian Law Reform Commission tabled its review of pre-trial procedures to make the system less traumatic for victims and improve efficiency in the justice system.

A key recommendation from the VLRC—number 3—which has been supported by the Director of Public Prosecutions is to abolish the test for committal. The commission said the test is unnecessary because the accused is discharged in only one or two per cent of cases. The DPP says it will reduce the time a matter takes to get to trial and will mean most victims will not have to endure being cross-examined twice. Attorney, what is the government’s position in response to this recommendation, and do you intend to abolish the test for committal?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:00):

I thank Ms Maxwell for her question—again an extremely complex area of the law, of the justice system, and a lot of vexed views in this space.

The committal process serves several purposes in criminal trial processes. It gives the defence an opportunity to test the prosecution before a trial commences, it can facilitate early disclosure of prosecution evidence and it also enables a narrowing of the issues, which ensures that efficiencies can be delivered through to the courts and of course to the parties involved.

There have been calls for changes in this space including, as Ms Maxwell has identified, from the DPP, and the law reform commission considered it in 2020, but it is fair to say it is far from settled. The VLRC did not recommend abolishing pre-trial cross-examinations, and it noted that it was one of the most polarising issues that was raised during consultation.

The strength of views on this issue definitely indicates that it is not a straightforward issue. It is certainly something that is difficult for me to acquit in the short time during question time, and I am more than happy to have further conversations with the member as appropriate, but I did want to bring to her attention some of the reforms that we have done in the committal hearing space: prohibiting cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses, including children and cognitively impaired persons, in sex offence cases; and allowing vulnerable witnesses to give evidence in a different way—using remote facilities, via prerecorded AV or with a support person. And reforms to allow for prerecorded evidence can also operate to reduce trauma by reducing or removing the need to give evidence twice, which, as the member indicated, has that retraumatising factor.

So I am conscious of the flaws and I am conscious of the views against. I think some of those reforms would indicate to the member that the government is certainly conscious that there could be improvements, and we want to achieve those. I have not ruled out changes. It will also be something that the department is advising me on in relation to our response to the VLRC report on sexual offending, because it is very relevant in those cases. So I cannot give Ms Maxwell a commitment to implement a recommendation from 12 years ago, but I can give her an indication that work on this issue is far from over. It is ongoing and it is evolving, and I can have a more thorough discussion with her, perhaps offline, if she would like.

Ms MAXWELL (12:02):

Thank you, Attorney. I am grateful for some of the reforms that the government is actually making to further support victims.

The DPP has also recommended a model that includes an issues hearing to ensure the proper disclosure of the prosecution case and resolution discussions instead of the existing committal test. This is supported by the victims of crime commissioner, who said it would strike an appropriate balance. Can the Attorney advise the government’s position on this recommended model?

Ms SYMES (12:03):

Ms Maxwell, again there are various views on the different tests and procedures and processes that should apply.

I think what is particularly useful for me is to view these suggestions and these recommendations from people that work on the ground every day through the prism of responding to the VLRC report, because it is about the most poignant cases that can benefit from changes. So again, pretty much the same answer that I gave to the member’s substantive question.

Yarra Ranges needs recovery dollars

Constituency question

March 8, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:15): (1663)

My constituency question is to the Minister for Emergency Services on behalf of the Yarra Ranges council.

It is eight months since the storm event that caused extensive damage and traumatised much of this community. Yarra Ranges is still very much in the response phase, and it estimates recovery will take five years and cost $65.4 million.

Funding support has not come through and local government capacity is severely challenged. The council has been advised recovery funding will be announced through the state budget so have to make plans without knowing how much they will be allocated.

The top issues that immediately need addressed include $2 million from the Council Support Fund to secure and continue key roles, $3.5m for the two main community groups helping private property clean-up and timber salvage, and just over $3m for resilience employment support and broad-scale geo-technical assessments.

So my question is: will the government confirm and provide this immediate support to Yarra Ranges council?

Child abuse evidence changes underway

Question without notice

March 8, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (11:53):

My question is for the Attorney-General. In March 2020 I raised an adjournment for the then Attorney-General, Ms (Jill) Hennessy MP, about the model bill for uniform evidence law following agreement between all federal, state and territory attorneys-general to allow juries in child abuse trials to hear evidence of an accused’s prior convictions and interest in children.

The response to this confirmed the government’s commitment to the model bill, and I hoped this would be introduced as soon as possible, ideally in 2020.

Given this bill is yet to be introduced, I ask the Attorney-General if she can advise what is holding up this legislation.

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (11:53):

I thank Ms Maxwell for her question in relation to tendency and coincidence proposals that my predecessor agreed to at the Council of Attorneys-General—as I think it was known as then; it is now the Meeting of Attorneys-General—in relation to the uniform evidence acts. That remains government policy.

As outlined in the recent annual report to Parliament, Victoria has done a power of work in relation to the implementation of the recommendations that were made by the royal commission.

It is my understanding that New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory have legislated. My advice is that, particularly in the case of NSW—which led this work—they deviated from the model that was agreed to at CAG, and they have recently announced a review and we will be receiving advice in relation to that in September. So we will use some of that information to inform our policy development.

It is fair to say that the work has commenced in Victoria, but it is very complex. We want to make sure we get it right, and learning from the experience in NSW will be a good way to do that.

Ms MAXWELL (11:55): Thank you, Attorney. Attorney, given the Council of Attorneys-General approved a draft model bill in 2019 and it was noted in the Victorian government report in 2020, I am just wondering: why is it that there is no mention of the model bill in the 2021 report tabled in the last sitting week?

Ms SYMES (11:55): I think, Ms Maxwell, as I have indicated, work has commenced. There have been concerns raised in NSW with stakeholders in relation to those reforms. As is always the case in the justice space, there is always room for reform.

You will note that we continue to bring forward legislation to bring about positive changes, particularly for victims, in the justice system, but you always want to get it right. So we will await the September advice from New South Wales in relation to their experience before we proceed further with a bill for Victoria.

Flying doctor needs Echuca injection

Constituency question

February 23, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:43):

My question (1646) is to the Minister for Regional Development (Hon. Mary-Anne Thomas MP), and it is regarding the need to upgrade the Echuca aerodrome’s airstrip.

The Echuca aerodrome is heavily used by the Victorian and New South Wales air ambulances, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the police air wing and other emergency service aircraft.

The length and width of the main runway, taxiways, aprons and associated infrastructure, including lighting and drainage, need to be extended. Without it, the new fleet of aeromedical service aircraft cannot access the facility and the community will be denied access to critical medical treatment.

Campaspe Shire Council has already done the planning and assessments necessary in seeking matched funding of $2.1 million to progress the project to construction.

My question is to ask the minister if she will accompany me to inspect the aerodrome and meet with stakeholders to discuss this important infrastructure and how the state government can help with this matter.

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