Helping families living with autism

Motion

Mr Bernie FINN (Western Metropolitan) (16:23):

I move:

That this house:

(1) recognises:

(a) the vast and disparate needs of those on the autism spectrum and their families;

(b) that autism is regarded by many on the spectrum as a gift to be celebrated, allowing creativity and intellectual prowess to blossom;

(c) that families with a child on the spectrum often face particular challenges and difficulties and need assistance from government and private agencies;

(d) that siblings of those on the spectrum often struggle under the burden of the circumstances created by their unique situation;

(2) applauds teachers, therapists, physicians, researchers and many others working to enable those on the autism spectrum to achieve a standard of life that is self-satisfying, allowing them to reach their full potential; and

(3) further urges the government to conduct a watching brief to ensure services for those on the spectrum and their families are maintained at the necessary level.

Speech

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:04):

I am very pleased to be able to speak to this motion today—a motion which was a topic jointly determined by the crossbench and our new member, Mr Bernie Finn MP. It is absolutely something that many of us in this chamber are very passionate about. I will keep my contribution brief because I know we are very limited for time.

I would firstly like to acknowledge the tireless efforts of workers in the education sector, service providers and all those who work with those who live with autism and their families, and I think that Ms Bath articulated that so eloquently, but so did Mr Finn.

I have had the pleasure also a number of times of visiting the Mansfield Autism Statewide Services (MASS)— it is an extraordinary place. MASS provides assistance not only to children but to families right across Victoria. They are currently transforming a 40-hectare property into a residential complex and an onsite family camp. This camp provides an opportunity for families to spend time with their child in an environment and a setting that is so casual and so relaxed that it is so therapeutic not only for the children engaged in that education setting but for the families to be able to enjoy and see firsthand—

Those families see firsthand the smile on those children’s faces when they are engaging with the horseriding or feeding the chickens. It is an incredible farm, and I would encourage anyone to actually go and visit and see the work that they are doing. They hold a ‘rideathon’ as one of their key fundraisers, called Operation Gamechanger, and whenever I can I sign up to raise money to assist them in their endeavours to meet their target. I know the state government has contributed to the Mansfield autism school.

I have also had the great pleasure of visiting our very own Wangaratta District Specialist School. That provides educational support for children with a range of intellectual disabilities, including autism. I must say that meeting the staff, children and families in these settings really does have a profound impact on you when you go and meet and see these beautiful children. Some of them are non-verbal, and I was actually so inspired by the teachers, and how they find ways to communicate was exceptional. It is really difficult to articulate the importance of their work. I guess at the end of the day, when you have a child that is smiling and the next morning is still wanting to go back to school it says a lot for that individual school that they are attending.

I would like to say thank you to all the people who provide support to people living with autism and their families—to autistic people. As I said, it is an enormous commitment, and it is done with so much compassion and empathy and dedication. So many people I have met from the autism school in Mansfield—you could never imagine them doing any work other than the work that they do.

As this motion notes, autism has a spectrum, and so the needs of each person are different, as Mr Finn stated in his contribution. I appreciate and applaud the shift in seeing disability in conjunction with ability. We all have ability, and the difference that can make to our lives, recognising that ability, can make a significant difference to potential outcomes for each individual. For those living with disability and the challenges that this brings, recognising ability and potential should inform how support can be delivered, and I think that Ms Bath alluded to that as well. It should also contribute to bridging any divides in understanding and acceptance.

Part (3) of the motion recognises the important role of the government and private agencies in assisting families, and we have a long way to go to improve how schemes such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme really deliver what families need, not what the organisations believe they need. I realise that NDIS is a federal scheme, but ultimately people have little concern for which level of government has responsibility. They just want help. When systems like the NDIS fail, this can send a family into such a horrific crisis that they simply do not know where to turn. I know of the lived experiences of families right now who are really struggling to get the support that they need for their child. When it reaches crisis for them it results in calls to the police and often ambulance services, and no parent ever wants to have to make those calls. It is incredibly traumatic for the entire family, including siblings and the child that is suffering.

Once again I will talk about the early intervention that can help prevent a matter from leading to crisis, and we need to ensure that those supports are there at the earliest point of time. We almost need—and excuse my arrogance if it is already out there—some sort of Lifeline phone call where, when people are in that crisis mode, they can ring and they can find some sort of 24-hour access.

When you have nowhere to turn, sometimes you just need to pick up that phone and be able to remove yourself from a situation so that you can have someone help you to gather your thoughts and talk you through the process that you may know in your mind but at that particular time are just not able to gather your thoughts about, because you are so immersed in the crisis and the trauma that is happening around you and within your family.

Look, I will leave my contribution there and note that tomorrow there will be a briefing at Parliament on public policy issues impacting Victoria’s autism community. I certainly look forward to attending this briefing and welcoming the panel to Parliament. I thank the house and, as I said, Mr Finn for bringing this motion before the house, and I think it is an incredibly important topic that I hope will be continued in the very limited number of weeks that we have left before us here in this place.

Autism Connect – national helpline
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Protecting elders from abuse in care

Adjournment

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:55): (1987)

My adjournment is to the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, and the action I seek again is for the minister to detail how training in practice is being strengthened in state-managed aged-care homes in response to the sexual assault and abuse of residents.

On October 28 last year I raised an important adjournment matter concerning reports that abuse of residents by staff who commit a sexual assault could possibly be classified as non-urgent. This adjournment is still to be answered.

On June 14 — the day before World Elder Abuse Awareness Day — the campaign called #ReadyToListen was launched for 2022.

#Ready to Listen is aimed at building the skills and capacity of residential aged-care service providers so they can better respond to, and prevent, sexual assault in residential aged-care settings. Maria Berry, from the Older Persons Advocacy Network, is a loud and proud advocate for the rights and needs of older people in our communities. OPAN is one of the leaders of the #Ready to Listen project in partnership with Celebrate Ageing and the Older Women’s Network in New South Wales.

The statistic that 50 sexual assaults occur in residential aged care in Australia every week is horrifying. The fact that little has improved since the royal commission into aged care quality and safety (in 2021) continues the assessment of this issue as a source of national shame—and I am ashamed of this statistic for our older people. I am angry, and I fear for those who are vulnerable in settings where they deserve nothing but compassion, respect and safety.

When I raised this issue in October last year I noted a KPMG 2019 study found that almost 60 per cent of aged care staff considered a sexual assault survivor had experienced no physical or psychological impact after being raped or sexually assaulted. In one-third of cases incidents were resolved without any formal intervention.

The serious incident response scheme came into effect in April 2021 and requires every residential aged care service to have in place an effective incident management system for eight types of reportable incidents. This includes the use of unreasonable force, unlawful or inappropriate sexual contact and psychological or emotional abuse. It concerns me that the regulator asks staff to determine the impact on the victim and whether there are reasonable grounds to report an incident to police. This could mean that if staff deemed it to have no impact sexual assault might not be reported for 30 days or reported to police at all.

Victoria’s public health system is the largest provider of public sector residential aged care in the nation, and nearly 90 per cent of these homes are in regional and areas. As a leading provider the state government should be a model provider in leading the way and providing quality care that ensures the safety of residents. That includes ensuring that protective measures are in place to minimise the risk of sexual abuse and ensuring appropriate trauma-informed responses are there when required.

Gambling comes at a cost to all

Bill speech

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:41):

I rise to speak on the Casino and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. This bill is the next stage of the Victorian government’s response to the 2021 Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, which includes changes to the regulation of gambling in Victoria. I would like to make some general comments on the findings of the royal commission and the sad fact that there needed to be one in the first place.

Casinos are certainly big business. Gambling taxes are around the fifth-highest source of revenue for the state. The casino is one of the largest employers and a major tourist drawcard. For many people, gambling is a bit of fun—you have a bit of a flutter. Sometimes you win, but plenty lose. Casinos are associated with notions of glitz and glamour. They have been successfully marketed that way—think of James Bond in Casino Royale, the playgrounds of Monte Carlo, the lights of Las Vegas. Casinos cater for the wealthy. They appear a bit elitist, and they can be utterly tempting to those aspiring to quick riches.

The other thing that casinos have long, long been associated with is crime. We are not talking about small-time crime either, but serious organised crime. Organised crime costs Australia up to $60 billion every year—$60 billion per year. When I brought my motion on illicit tobacco for debate in September 2021, I spoke about the links between proceeds of organised crime and child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, firearm offences and general violence. Organised crime and money laundering are explicitly linked, and the dark underbelly of casinos includes money laundering on an epic scale, loansharking, junkets and drug dealing.

Crown was found to have blatantly ignored directives about criminal associations and a multitude of shady practices that occurred in plain sight over many years. The royal commission that was finally initiated after media exposés and the Bergin inquiry cost $5 million, and the government will now spend millions in funding reforms that respond to the recommendations. Nothing seems to have occurred at Crown for many, many years, and reports made up the chain by inspectors simply disappeared into oblivion. They said that over time their roles were undermined, funding was reduced, responsibilities were diverted and audits were either irregular or completely absent.

The harms from problem gambling were also well documented by the royal commission and include family violence, forced prostitution, debt, poverty and suicide. It noted that the prevalence of people who experience problem gambling at the Melbourne casino may be three times higher compared to all Victorian adults who gamble. On average there may be somewhere in the vicinity of 462 problem gamblers at the casino at any one time, yet on an average day there were only around four interactions in response. Many of these concerns were raised with Crown by the regulator, and in its sixth review the regulator noted that Crown Melbourne’s approach to responsible gambling had not changed since the review five years earlier. One of the examples that the commissioner noted as ‘horrific’ was a problem gambler who would regularly go home and assault his wife, blaming her for his bad luck and ultimately forcing her into sex work to repay his gambling debts.

The cost of problem gambling is not just personal, it costs this state financially. So while gambling taxes deliver $2 billion every year to the state’s coffers, problem gambling costs $100 million in crime and to the justice system, $1.6 billion in terms of emotional and psychological issues, $2.2 billion in relation to family and relationship problems and $600 million in lost productivity and other related costs.

We support this bill and ongoing efforts to return effective oversight of Melbourne’s casino and to wipe out to the criminal activity associated with it. The merging of gambling and liquor regulation was described by the minister as a failed experiment, and federal MP Andrew Wilkie described the Victorian gambling regulator as:

… a lapdog, not a watchdog.

So with the starting point that low, the only way from here is up. The separation of liquor and gambling regulation will only be a success if the new regulators are well funded and given the powers for effective oversight and the capacity to ensure the casino complies. This is effectively early intervention, something I talk about all the time in this place.

We have so many debates in this Parliament about IBAC and royal commissions, which deal with problems at the crisis end, once the damage has been done. In this instance if the regulator had been effective, as it should have been, there possibly would not have been the need for a royal commission. We need to ensure effective responses early across all our systems, because if we do not, we can see the ultimate cost—the economic cost, the personal cost—will far outweigh the revenue or any other benefit that one might espouse about having a casino in the first place.

Is Mildura passenger rail feasible?

Mildura is the only major centre in Victoria that remains condemned to very limited public transport options. I asked the Minister for Transport to undertake a feasibility study on returning passenger rail to Mildura.

Making parliament a safe workplace

As a place of high office, parliaments are expected to be a place of best practice and high standards. Unfortunately, the reality is sometimes quite the opposite, and I proposed a review of the workplace to ensure mechanisms are sufficient to respond to bullying and harrasment.

Proposed quarry is the pits

The government should listen to the loud voice of the community and reject the disastrous planning application for a quarry that is set to gut the connecting communities of Beveridge and Wallan.

Election commitments can shrink rural gaps

A lot rides on the big numbers touted in this year’s Victorian budget

Victims’ full expectations yet to be met

Speech

I am pleased to rise to speak on the Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance Scheme) Bill 2022.  This bill provides the foundation for a new scheme to support victims of crime and remove some of the frustration, trauma and limitations of the 25-year old Victims of Crime Assistance Act.

As the Minister for Victim Support said in her second reading speech, victims of crime have high expectations for reform of this scheme.  And they should have. The Victorian Law Reform Commission’s review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act made 100 recommendations for the reform of victim financial assistance. The 612-page report confirmed that the current model is not victim-centred or beneficial in its approach, because it prioritised procedure and evidentiary processes over the recovery needs of victims.

Many of the 100 recommendations are addressed – either fully or partially – in this bill, and I commend the government on its very thorough work to reform the scheme.  I also thank Minister Hutchins, her staff and the department providing me with a number of briefings on this bill, and discussions about what is needed to support victims, what is possible now and our aspirations for the future.

I caveat my commendation of this bill with some concerns that we still have around the operation of the new scheme. There are some  limited, but very important amendments I will propose in this debate and other questions I hope to ask in the committee stage to give further understanding or assurance about how the scheme will be designed, delivered and reviewed.

We absolutely welcome the shift from a tribunal system to an administrative one. We hope that the requirement within this bill to be expeditious in processing applications will see the end of the constant delays victims endure now.

Despite a recommendation from the VLRC to remove the existing hierarchy of victims and replace it with a single and comprehensive definition, the structure of primary and secondary victims remains in place, though I recognise it is expanded and improved.  A primary victim will now include someone who has tried to prevent an act of violence and children will be better recognised as a victim in their own right. 

Importantly, the time limits for making application for assistance and variations have been increased and this is appropriate.  I note there is some scope to do this further through regulation. The VLRC recommended that victims within the scheme be notified as they are nearing the end of this period so they can make a final application for variation if necessary, and we propose an amendment to include this in this bill.

Victims will be entitled to some legal support in making their application.  My colleague Stuart Grimley formally proposed the Victims Legal Service to this government in January 2021. The government saw its value and partly funded the establishment of a service in the 2021-22 budget. Our party view is that this scheme needs to be expanded, particularly for families of deceased victims who need independent legal support to navigate the broader justice system – from police to the Office of Public Prosecutions; understanding court and corrections processes such as adjournments, sentencing, parole; and particularly the plea bargaining process that can often leave families confused or devastated.

The caps on financial assistance have been raised and for related victims, assistance will not come from one singular pool which solves an issue that I have previously put to the government and I am sure was raised by others.

What is of continued concern for our party, having spoken with many victims over many years about their experiences and advocating for change, is that counselling provisions – while better than the former scheme – still remain limited by financial caps. 

The Centre for Innovative Justice conducted a review of Victims Services and recognised that the path of recovery is not a straight and continuous line. A guiding principle of this bill states that the needs of victims may vary. Without the right support at the right time, victims recovery can be compromised. I recognise that the scheme needs to be sustainable, but the preventative investment of counselling can avoid other burdens on our health and justice systems down the track.

Victim survivor Nina Funnell tweeted just yesterday that May 25 marks the anniversary of her assault. She said: ‘Assault anniversaries are strange things. They mark both the growth and distance we have achieved, while also plunging us right back in time’. [i] 

Michelle Skewes posted this week about her anniversary of the date she was cross examined in the courts to bring her abuser to justice. Michelle gave me permission to use her words in this speech today. She wrote: ‘The feeling of shatterdness that enveloped me that night, is indescribable….. Every person who goes through trying to hold their abuser to account, my hat is off to you. To every person who hasn’t yet, I get it’.

 Victims don’t want these anniversaries, these triggers. So when these anniversaries occur, when the triggers present – and it’s different for everyone – if they need support, it should be available.

It was heartbreaking to bring to this parliament an issue experienced by an applicant under the existing system, whose daughter had been murdered in her own bed. The mother was denied access to further counselling because funds, within a capped scheme, had been exhausted. That problem has not been resolved in this bill. 

I have suggested amendments for the Legislative Assembly to consider to remove the caps on counselling for this very reason. This is not something a victim will seek to exploit, but needs to be an ongoing provision to help their recovery.  I know that if these amendments pass it will require the bill to go back to the Assembly, but it is important to get this right.  There are still limitations within the scheme that will protect its viability and this should not wait for the two year review.  If the government has concerns about expenditure, there are other places that savings could be sought than limiting the counselling awards for victims of crime.

Stakeholders raised with us a concern that the scheme decision maker must refuse an application if they are satisfied that the act of violence was not reported to police within a reasonable time. Reasonable time is not defined and the government has said that this was deliberate to give more flexibility to decision making.  I think this will be an important area of focus when the Act is reviewed to make sure that the scheme is operating as intended in this regard.

Another concern raised by the sector is provision for the scheme decision maker to grant or refuse an application based on the character, behaviour or attitude of a victim at any time.  The government has indicated that it is not their intention that character or prior convictions will be considered outside of what may be directly relevant to an application.  For example, we know that trauma can lead to problematic drug use and it would be disappointing if a victim was denied further access to support because their behaviour does not fit the mould of a gracious victim.  On the other side of that coin, we recognise that there may be occasions where the character or history of an applicant may raise serious concerns about granting support.

Clause 37 of the bill can require an applicant to repay an amount of interim assistance and recover it as a debt if the final application is refused. This is in contrast to the VLRC review recommendation 34.  It is my understanding from discussions with the government that in recent times the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal has not forced applicants to repay any interim awards after having their final application refused. I think this should be done in very limited, exceptional circumstances.

Victims will welcome the opportunity to give an oral statement as part of victim recognition meetings. Victims can feel short-changed in court when their victim impact statement is redacted and while this bill doesn’t fix that particular issue, if victim recognition meetings are done in a genuine and compassionate manner they should help the healing process.

The final point I want to make, and to be honest I could talk endlessly on this bill because of its importance to me, and to Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, is about the importance of case management in the operation of the new financial assistance scheme.

The VLRC review recommended that case management be an essential component of the new scheme, and while the government has confirmed this will be part of the scheme’s design, this is not explicit in the bill. The VLRC report noted that case management is a key feature schemes in other jurisdictions including Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales and contributes positively to the recovery process and reduce the reliance on legal assistance to more complex matters [ii]

We think that case management should be explicit in this bill to protect the integrity of the scheme, as well as ensure that future governments cannot tinker and remove this key component in the future. 

In closing, I’d like to acknowledge the supportive comments from around this chamber in the past for victims of crime, including in response to the last motion I brought for debate.

Ms Shing said about the enduring pain of victims: ‘That in and of itself represents a tragedy that gives rise to our responsibility and our obligation as a Parliament, and as a community more broadly’, and agreed that victims of crime need access to varying levels of support at different stages of their trauma and recovery. [iii]

Dr Bach said that in the meetings and discussions he has had with victims of crime, it was apparent that they understand that ‘the government has no magic wand, no silver bullet, in order to deal with their travails, but nonetheless they want a fair system, a system that is flexible, a system that as far as possible meets their changing needs’.

Ms Patten said that anything we can do to address the system limitations and better meet victims’ needs for assistance is absolutely a good thing.

And Ms Taylor was absolutely correct when she said she could appreciate that it can take many, many years, if not a lifetime, to have any hope of recovery and healing from something that is inherently traumatic.

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to speak for them – this is to acknowledge the broad support for victims of crime in this chamber. 

And it is those victims of crime that I acknowledge most of all – all of them, their pain, their courage, their journey – and those who have found it possible in the midst of their own very personal recovery, to share their lived experience and contribute to policy debate and reform. 

Stuart Grimley MP and I are both very grateful for the close collaboration you have with us, but we know you also make valuable contributions to committees, such as the recent Legal and Social Issues Committee review of the criminal justice system, VLRC, Victims of Crime Commissioner, advocacy groups and more generally in the public space. Supporting you underpins the work of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. I hope this new scheme delivers what is intended, stays true to the principles that are in this bill and delivers the support that is needed for victims to recover.

I commend this Bill to the House.

Read my media statement


[i] https://twitter.com/ninafunnell/status/1529301770555404288?s=21&t=acRck2H6RbX04jId5H-UJA

[ii] VLRC Review – Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (10.129; 10.133)

[iii] http://taniamaxwell.com.au/victim-help-motion-wins-unanimous-support/

Batting for Hanging Rock talks

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:35): (1935)

My adjournment is to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change (Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio MP). And the action I seek is for the minister to facilitate a meeting for the Hanging Rock Cricket Club with the three traditional owner groups of the land on which the Hanging Rock Cricket Club currently stands and the Hanging Rock ministerial advisory group.

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the Hanging Rock master plan and Aboriginal cultural heritage and natural values as they apply to the plan and affect the cricket club. This needs to happen before the consultation period on the plan finishes.

On 5 April, 2022, I tabled a petition on behalf of the Hanging Rock Cricket Club who are pleading for local sport to stay within the Hanging Rock precinct. I am grateful to the minister for very promptly writing to me in response to this petition. I have enjoyed a very good working relationship with the minister to date, and I hope that this can continue in order to find a much-needed solution that will not break the hearts of Hanging Rock community sporting clubs.

We all recognise the iconic values of Hanging Rock, and I think we can be very genuine in saying there is a shared commitment to future planning that protects this special place while making sure it is available for the public to use and enjoy. Cricket has been played at Hanging Rock as far back as the tradesmen’s picnic of 1864. The Hanging Rock Cricket Club was formed in 1903, and this has always been the proud home of their club. This community is devastated by the prospects of being relocated. There is no doubt that Hanging Rock has significant historical associations. It is enjoyed by picnickers, for outdoor sports and has hosted some massive concerts.

The draft Hanging Rock master plan recommends the removal of the Hanging Rock Cricket Club from their current home. The cricket club cannot understand how horseracing and concerts, which can attract thousands of people, will not negatively impact the site’s Aboriginal cultural heritage and natural values—yet community cricket will.

Just recently the Minister for Regional Development (Hon. Mary-Anne Thomas MP) stated in Parliament regarding the government’s funding towards a sports precinct in Gisborne that: ‘Sport plays such a powerful role in the everyday life of our communities, and when sports clubs tell us they lack the facilities they need to play the sports they love it means that the effects are felt by everyone.’

Only local groups are being relocated under this draft master plan, and while I respect and acknowledge the assurances from the minister that this plan is still in draft and final decisions are yet to be made, the conversation seems to all focus on relocation, and I can understand how the sporting clubs involved feel that the writing is on the wall.

The sporting and environmental and cultural heritages can coexist in a supportive and respectful way in the same way they can for major events and tourism. I implore the minister to help ensure this community can retain its beloved local sport at Hanging Rock, and I look forward to a favourable reply which supports the club.

Regional projects need budget dollars

Statement on report

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:24):

I rise to speak on the 2022–23 state budget, and I will start with the good news and then move on to some projects we still hope to get over the line.

During the Legislative Council regional sitting in Bright in 2021, I first raised the need for redevelopment of the Bright hospital, and we held a joint meeting with the hospital to discuss its needs and master planning. I would like to thank the Treasurer and the Minister for Health for meeting with me to discuss the funds and processes required.

Suffice to say the community was delighted with the announcement of $1.52 million in this budget to progress the planning for a high-care public aged care facility. I also thank the Attorney-General and fellow member for Northern Victoria for meeting with Alpine Health at the time of the regional sitting. Getting everyone on board from all levels of government is helping Bright and the surrounding towns it services so that they can get what they need and deserve.

I look forward to working with Alpine Health in any way necessary on the next steps. Suffice to say we hope the federal government will open its chequebook and give their share of funding for the hospital and its Bright-by-name and bright-by-nature community.

Similarly, Mildura is thrilled with the commitment of $36 million to deliver a 30-bed residential alcohol and drug rehabilitation unit.

The use of most drugs is higher per capita in regional communities and contributes to family violence and general crime. Mildura is challenged by both social disadvantage and remoteness, something that I discussed with both Minister (Martin) Foley MP and local MP Ali Cupper in separate meetings to talk about the need for a local residential rehabilitation facility.

I was in Mildura only last week for its field days—and I love visiting Mildura. I had many conversations with local people and caught up with the Mildura Rural City Council chief executive Martin Hawson. We discussed future planning for the residential rehabilitation facility and also my hope that Mildura will be next on the list for a dedicated drug court. We know drug courts work, and the government has expanded them into Ballarat and Shepparton.

KPMG’s evaluation shows drug courts are cost effective and an alternative to imprisonment, and most importantly they help reduce recidivism and improve lives. I wrapped a drug court in with my pitch for the residential rehabilitation unit in my budget submission to the Treasurer this year. We have ticked off one, and now we will work together to try and get commitments ahead of the November election for the second important part of that package.

GOTAFE and Wodonga TAFE both have solid bids in with the government for Education First Youth Foyers in Wangaratta and Wodonga. While they were not part of the announcements in this budget, I am confident that the government is on board and recognises the value of youth foyers in helping young people at risk of homelessness to continue their education and build a positive pathway. Just shy of $25 million is needed across the two projects, and again, I have had positive discussions with the Treasurer and Minister Wynne on these two projects. I hope we will soon be celebrating good news with the Wodonga and Wangaratta stakeholders. My colleague Stuart Grimley was pleased to see funding continue for the Geelong project, and we would like to see the same model delivered in Wodonga, so I will keep that advocacy going this year.

I have consistently raised ambulance response times and associated health service issues in this Parliament. These issues are serious and enduring. They existed before COVID, but the pandemic has turned a bad situation worse. I hope the new investment of $457 million to employ 400 new triple-zero dispatchers will turn these issues around. I know it is not as simple as more money and more people, but that part is certainly necessary. Hand-in-glove with this is addressing hospital ramping and workforce shortages.

On that note I will leave my contribution there for when we debate the appropriation bills. But we will celebrate these wins, and I will keep advocating for other necessary funding for my electorate of Northern Victoria.