Border communities mark winter solstice

Member’s statement

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (09:46): 

This year’s winter solstice was last night, Tuesday, 21 June, a time when people from Albury and surrounding areas gathered at QEII Square in Albury to speak about the grief of losing a loved one and to comfort each other.

The Winter Solstice was created to encourage conversations, to assist in de-stigmatising the issue of suicide and to provide an event where people could come together in a supporting environment. They gather on the darkest night of the year to share stories, to talk about their memories and to remember those they have lost.

Nine Australians die every day by suicide; 75 per cent of those who take their lives are male. More than 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt every year. These are horrendous statistics.

Many of us have been touched in some way by losing someone to suicide, and it often leaves those left behind feeling a sense of guilt, bewilderment and great sadness. I urge anyone out there today and from this day forward to reach out if you have suicidal ideation. Your pain can be alleviated in other ways. You are worthy, and you can seek the support you require to empower your fragile mind. Let us all continue these important conversations and encourage people to speak up and speak out, for we have lost far too many lives already.

Finding Terry Floyd

Terry Floyd went missing on 28 June 1975. The 12-year-old boy left the Avoca post office to find a ride back to Maryborough. To this day Terry’s body has never been found.

Healing music yields 33,000 notes

Member statement

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (09:42):

It gives me great pride and pleasure to speak about Project 365’s U Can Cry and the performances of an incredible group of 15 musicians over the Mother’s Day weekend to raise awareness for mental health and funds for Into Our Hands Foundation.

Pete Rourke wears his heart on his sleeve, and 12 months ago he decided to publicly share his own battles with mental health and bring together 15 musos to deliver a message of hope and encouragement, and that he did.

COVID restrictions limited the rehearsal opportunities of the band to only 13 gatherings over 12 months, and what they produced in this period was quite simply remarkable.

As someone said on the night: ‘U Can Cry is a group completely absent of ego and full to the brim with talent’. More than 800 people enjoyed the project’s performances across two shows, and it left the community feeling uplifted and wanting more.

Project 365 was supported by the Wangaratta Grit and Resilience project and some proactive locals. The event raised more than $33,000 for the Into Our Hands Foundation and delivered the most important message that it is okay not to be okay and that you are not alone.

Congratulations to everyone involved. Your community is very proud of you—I sure as hell am. And thank you, Pete Rourke, for getting this off the ground.

Report targets better victim support

Statement on report

May 11, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:16):

I rise to speak on the Legal and Social Issues Committee report on the inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system*.

With more than 50 per cent of people incarcerated in Victoria going on to re-offend and 6pc of offenders being responsible for more than 44pc of crimes reported to Victoria Police, there was a solid case for evaluating how we break the downward spiral of offending and try to limit the suffering of those who are victims and survivors.

In retrospect, given how broad this inquiry was, I probably would have preferred that the examination of the criminal justice system was separated into two parts: first, how we address serious and violent offending, and then a separate consideration of lower level offending.

In considering factors that increase the risk of engagement with the criminal justice system, the inquiry confirmed that adverse childhood experiences have a significant impact and that support for children and young people should be community led, place based and focused on education and employment.

How we implement early interventions and primary prevention strategies that address the root cause of offending, particularly where it relates to disadvantage, trauma, childhood neglect and family violence, is an ongoing challenge and a responsibility. This was strongly reflected in the report and is a key focus of the regular discussions I have with ministers about our justice system.

While the inquiry gave a general recommendation to raise the age of criminal responsibility, I acknowledge the answer the Attorney-General recently gave to a question in the chamber about this very matter.

I am very supportive of the Attorney’s response that the focus should be on holistic programs that stop children from being caught up in the justice system in the first place. How we support at-risk children and, importantly, their families with appropriate, trauma-informed services that are implemented early with intensity and consistency must be a priority.

This inquiry considered diversion programs and the important role they have to play in providing alternative pathways to prison whilst keeping our community safe.

Victoria Police issue around 130,000 cautions and diversions every year, and Drug Courts are another judicially-supervised pathway that is proving effective and worthy of expansion. There are various recommendations about data and the importance of evaluations and transparency. Some will be difficult to implement and require further unpacking with key stakeholders before progressing.

Three chapters of the inquiry report are dedicated to victims of crime, their experience and support. Some of the recommendations made by the inquiry have progressed quite recently, including a new financial assistance scheme, which will go a long way to assisting victims of crime, something I have been advocating for since my first day in Parliament.

While I made a deliberate decision not to submit a minority report, I will put on record my strong opposition to any watering down of practices or laws relating to high-risk offenders, or that may rush major law reform without evidence-based early interventions in place that are well-funded, evaluated and working.

This makes it clear that our justice system should ensure that presumptions against bail are targeted to serious offending and serious risk. It also recommends that any review of practices should take the views of victims and law enforcement into account. I will note that offences subject to strict circumstances in the granting of bail include serious charges such as murder, manslaughter, threats to kill, rape, incest, family violence, drug trafficking, home invasion and committing offences while on parole. These are not trivial offences, and they are certainly not victimless.

We cannot forget the six people killed and 30 injured at Bourke Street Mall (on January 20, 2017). We cannot forget the families who suffer after their loved ones have been killed by someone on parole or bail. This did not just happen once. It happened to Jill Meagher, to Karen Chetcuti, to Zoe Buttigieg, to Courtney Herron, to Masa Vukotic. Before the Coghlan review more than 20 Victorians were killed by serial offenders who should have been in jail—20 offenders.

With more than 800 pages and 100 recommendations there will continue to be much to say about the justice inquiry. I look forward to the government’s consideration of the recommendations made and the continued debate it will no doubt generate as we continue to endeavour to make our community safer.

* The report was tabled in the Legislative Council on February 24, 2022.

Violet Town police officer commended

Member statement

May 11, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (09:49):

I wish to commend Leading Senior Constable Pat Storer, who recently retired from Victoria Police.

Leading Senior Constable Pat Storer, known to many as simply Pat, proudly served in the Victoria Police for 44 years. Fourteen of these years have been dedicated to local service as the officer in charge at Violet Town police station.

I recently attended a community celebration for Mr Storer that was hosted by local Chris Raeburn and the Country Fire Authority, who set up a great guard of honour to farewell and thank him for his service. A lot of community members were in attendance to give their well wishes and thanks.

In speaking with local people, a consistent message was how these are going to be hard shoes to fill. Indeed many of them joked that they had trained Pat so well they would have a tough job ahead to train a new officer in the ways of their community.

I get a sense that a caravan is going to be a key part of Mr Storer’s next chapter, and I wish him all the best in his retirement with his beautiful wife, Kate.

Tania Maxwell bats with Hanging Rock

Media statement

April 8, 2022

Tania Maxwell MP has implored Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio to allow small Macedon Ranges communities to keep playing sport at Hanging Rock oval.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said there was no justification to stop the 120-year-old local cricket club from fielding all-age competition on the historic ground but allow concerts, car rallies and fairs in its place and horse racing to continue around its perimeter.

Ms Maxwell made the appeal after she tabled in the Legislative Council on April 5 a petition signed by 1103 people calling on the state government to amend a draft master plan so local sporting clubs can still use the picturesque oval below the Rock.

“The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s draft master plan for the Hanging Rock precinct flies in the face of the aspirations and traditions of the people of Newham, Hesket, Carlsruhe, Cobaw and Rochford,” she said.

“It seems also to be at odds with a 2018 strategic plan for the precinct and the views of local MP and Regional Development Minister Mary-Anne Thomas.

“Ms Thomas recently spoke in Parliament about much-needed sporting facilities in nearby Gisborne, saying: ‘Sport plays such an important role in the everyday life of our communities. And when sports clubs tell us they lack the facilities to play the sports they love, it means that the effects are felt by everyone…’.

“Well, a go-ahead for this master plan will be felt by everyone who uses and enjoys the oval for community sport.

“Local people feel devastated by the prospect that the master plan, as written, would remove cricket without offering a new home for the local kids, young people and adults who love it.

“The game’s been played here since 1864, Hanging Rock Cricket Club has more than 100 members, and this past season it fielded four junior and three senior teams including girls and women.

“Compared with horse-racing, concerts and similar big visitor events, local cricket must be the activity with the lightest touch on the precinct’s environment.

“But bureaucrats haven’t seemed to grasp the cricket club’s common-sense claim on this vital point.”

Ms Maxwell said the Rock’s Aboriginal cultural heritage was clearly significant.

“There’s so much great work going on in Victoria to advance everyone’s understanding and awareness of First People’s culture,” she said.

“In the same spirit as expressed by the cricket club, surely environmental, cultural and sporting traditions can co-exist in a supportive and respectful way in this wonderful place.”

Comments by Hanging Rock Cricket Club officials and players:

“The last couple of years have been tough enough. Keeping the kids and other players at the club safe and healthy and active through three COVID lockdowns has been an exhausting effort from dozens of volunteers, many of whom were hit hard financially during that time. In the middle of that, the club rooms were broken into and wrecked by vandals. We’ve only just managed to complete those repairs. And now the government is kicking us out without a skerrick of support, or any plan for the future. It’s a death sentence for the club.”
Stephen Mitchell, Vice President

“Since joining the club in 2015, it has provided me with a vital outlet, a chance to play sport and give me a sense of community. My partner and I moved to the Macedon Ranges in 2015 and the club has helped provide that rooting to the local community. The club location is what first inspired me to join, and Hanging Rock has since become a second home, so much so that my partner and I are planning to one day tie the knot there. If the club was to move, then it will not only lose that presence in the local community, but it will also lose its identity. It is after all the Hanging Rock Cricket Club!”
Clinton Sterlson, Secretary

“Hanging Rock Cricket Club is all about families and community and giving girls and boys a fair go. The government could have the decency to look after those kids but instead they’re chasing tourist dollars.”
Peter Walsh, President

“It’s pretty humble. And we don’t take up much room. For us not to be a part of the proposal I see as a bit of an oversight.”
Matt Shanahan, player and parent of three junior players

“We’re the Heelers, we’re at the Rock, and we love it here. We don’t want it to be anywhere else.”
Felix, 12, player

“My daughter came to cricket as an observer before Christmas, and we pointed out at each training session the other girls who were participating. After the Christmas break the amazing coach of the U11s group met Lucy and asked her to join in, his partner introduced their daughter to her, and she joined in. In Lucy’s words after the training session, ‘That was so much fun, I’m going to join in every week and play the games too when I’m bigger. It is amazing we get to play here with the Rock’.”
Lucy, 7, and her mum

“Cricket is a real team game, we get to talk on the ­field with our friends.”
Ben, 9, player

Petition – read into Hansard (Legislative Council) Tue, April 5, 2022: 1103 signatures

Link

The Petition of certain citizens of the State of Victoria draws to the attention of the Legislative Council that the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s (DELWP) draft Master Plan for the use of Hanging Rock (the Rock) has significantly shifted focus towards events and tourism at the expense of community involvement and recreation.

Children and adults in the area will have their local sport and recreation facilities taken from them and DELWP is proposing no viable alternative. In particular, the Hanging Rock Cricket Club, established in 1893, has a membership of 100 people with three senior teams, four junior teams and a proud record of supporting women’s cricket.

The Cricket Club provides a safe place for children to play sport in a rural environment where venues for such recreation are limited. Losing access to much needed open space will have a significant and detrimental effect on the tight-knit community around the Rock, which is expanding with many young families.

Removal of a well-supported club from a vital recreation space reflects a desire to maximise profits from a popular and iconic location. In doing so, it sacrifices the wellbeing of the community and abandons the youth of the area.

The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Council call on the Government to amend the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s draft Master Plan for Hanging Rock to allow local sport within the Hanging Rock precinct.

March4Justice walks strong against violence

Member’s statement

March 10, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (10:14):

On 27 February (2022) I joined with victim-survivors and supporters for a society free from violence at the March4Justice rally in Albury-Wodonga.

A few days earlier Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party lodged our submission in response to the federal draft National Plan to end violence against women and children.

Our vision is one of fair, just and safe communities.

In our submission we noted that any plan can only be as good as the actions that follow. Our state and national response to violence must be victim-centred, provide appropriate interventions to address the cause of violence and ensure offenders are held to account for their actions. The process of challenging and changing societal norms which reinforce violent behaviours must be reflected by changes in our public institutions, including the response to and support of victim-survivors.

We advocate for greater recognition and understanding of the seriousness of conduct offences, a strong response to the ever-increasing use of technology to perpetrate abuse and the opportunities technology presents to keep perpetrators accountable. We should elevate the rights and voices of children, older persons and those with a disability.

I pay tribute to the inspiring speakers at the March4Justice, including Pat Catteo, Jen Tate, Liz Marmo, Tammy Campbell and Judy Langridge for standing strong against violence.

Trauma training a must for all teachers

Member statement

February 24, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (10:18):

Last year during the debate of legislation to establish the Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership, I spoke about the importance of trauma-informed training within the teaching profession. This is something I think should be foundational training for all teachers.

Dr Anne Southall is a university lecturer with La Trobe and a child trauma expert who has spearheaded the development of a special six-week program to provide teachers with tools to better support the mental health of students. The first time I met Dr Southall I felt she was something of a kindred spirit, and we had a fantastic discussion about the importance of a trauma-informed lens on education.

Dr Southall’s trauma-informed education program is home-grown in Bendigo and combines both theory and best practice to give teachers a helping hand in supporting students, including understanding how trauma impacts brain development and establishing a sense of safety and the practical interventions and responses that work. This is unashamedly an advertisement, because the first course launches next month—a fantastic opportunity for all teachers and something that I hope will be ongoing. By providing trauma-informed responses we can better support young people from the very early years.

I wish La Trobe and Dr Southall the very best.

Image: Dr Anne Southall – ABC News

Good work, but child safety gaps remain

Statement

February 23, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:38):

I rise to speak on the Commission for Children and Young People Report 2020-21.

First, I would like to congratulate the commissioner on her continued advocacy for the safety and well-being of young people, particularly the most vulnerable in our society.

I have had a number of meetings with the commissioner and always find them very informative and extremely collaborative. The commissioner’s approach is one of understanding and empathy for the complex nature of working with vulnerable children and families, but firm on the standards that must be upheld to ensure a child’s safety and understanding that transparent oversight is integral to improving the system.

I note the commissioner is publishing the status of progress of the recommendations, including the government’s response. This is important for transparency. The state coroner has recently done the same, and this is something I would like to see more of across all government agencies. The commission has a significant role in monitoring the safety and well-being of children and young people in contact with the justice system. Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party was recently briefed by the department on the youth justice strategy, and there are a number of markers that are moving in the right direction. Of course some still have a way to go.

The number of isolations imposed due to staff shortages has decreased in youth justice centres by around half in Parkville and Malmsbury. The number of isolations due to a child’s behaviour has also decreased significantly in both facilities, as has the number of assault incidents and behaviour-related incidents.

There is a shift to an intensive case management approach and diversions through the Children’s Court Youth Diversion Service. The commissioner continues to advocate for appropriate mental health and therapeutic supports for young people, particularly those in residential care. I spoke of this approach in my contribution to the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Child Protection) Bill 2021.

The out-of-home care system must be based on therapeutic and trauma-informed responses. It is fundamental to the care of these children and their families. It should also be a key feature of the youth justice system. The Out of Sight inquiry recommended embedding trauma-informed responses across care providers, child protection and police. It also recommended the statewide roll-out of the child sexual exploitation enhanced response model, and a similar model to combat criminal exploitation.

The commissioner did not review prosecution rates or policy as part of that inquiry, but stakeholders suggested that directing resources to disrupting offenders is an important part of this work. I hope the Victorian government will accept all recommendations when responding to the commissioner’s report.

There continue to be systemic gaps and failures that compromise the safety of children in contact with Child Protection (Department of Families, Fairness and Housing). We have a committed workforce, but the frameworks for communication, information sharing, risk assessments and response desperately need further reform. Some of this work is advancing and will make improvements to a system that has been described by so many as broken.

There are some systemic issues that still need to be urgently addressed. Examples where children are the subject of multiple reports to Child Protection over time yet do not have an active case open despite serious concern for the safety are simply baffling. The In Our Own Words report recommended that the department establish mechanisms for workers to have caseloads that allow for regular face-to-face contact with children and young people. There should be a single point of contact for children in care, and the commissioner notes little progress in those areas.

Similarly, patterns of repeated early case closures and a failure to follow up disengaged families is something that must be prioritised. This work has not progressed, and the department is still unable to track whether referrals to Child First, Orange Door and intensive family support result in families engaging with these services.

Urgent, too, is developing practice advice for children involved with child protection who are identified as at risk of suicide, as well as a suicide-prevention strategy. Flexible support for mental health and substance use is needed for people who have left care. The government says new local mental health and well-being services will address this need with a $40.4 million investment.

I imagine that there will be more sobering reports to come from the commissioner’s future inquiries, but this important work must continue and be embraced by the department. As the commissioner said: ‘While progress continues to be made, we cannot accept that better is good enough—the stakes are just too high’.

Anything less than supporting these children and their families is simply not enough.

Image: Australian Institute of Family Studies

Victims’ experience can bring telling reform

Adjournment

December 3, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:18): (1693) My adjournment is to the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence (Hon. Gabrielle Williams MP), and the action I seek is for the minister to meet with a group of victims and victim-survivors of coercive control and family violence regarding the review into coercive control that was discussed in my motion last week.

I was very grateful last sitting week to have three people visit this Parliament as part of their call for a strengthened response within our justice system to the evidence and impacts of coercive control. Each of these individuals was in their own way subjected to horrendous violent offences involving someone in a position of intimate trust. Michelle Skewes’ husband was convicted of nine charges of rape against her during their marriage. Jay was subject to repeated violent attacks throughout her marriage, often in the presence of her children. Lee Little lost her daughter who attempted to leave her relationship in circumstances that were treated as murder until the charges were plea-bargained down to a driving offence.

Having gone back over Hansard from the debate, the government in speaking to my motion indicated that coercive and controlling behaviour can already constitute an offence in Victoria. Hansard shows Ms Terpstra saying all these forms of abuse or control can interact and all form part of coercive control or be singular offences in and of themselves. I think it is important to note that there is not a stand-alone offence of family violence but that charges arise under contravention of a family violence intervention order or some other offence like assault or stalking. With regard to coercive control, it is the experience of many victims I have spoken with that coercive control was given very little consideration in hearings relating to their intervention order applications, nor was it given much consideration when they faced court on charges of physical violence.

So there is a range of things to consider in this review, and I am very grateful for the productive dealings that I have had with the minister’s office to date on these important issues and also very encouraged from the support across the Legislative Council.

The individuals who attended Parliament last week, along with others, have experienced coercive control and are very keen to invite the minister to meet with them and discuss when and how the review will occur. I think this will give a great opportunity to take the next steps with victims and victim-survivors, to include them in these discussions and to empower them in the process. I would also like to say—and unfortunately he has left the chamber—that these victims of crime felt so honoured that (my Northern Victoria colleague) Mr (Mark) Gepp MP actually went out and spoke to them and listened to their stories, and they were extremely appreciative and very grateful for his time.