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Put places-without-cases on COVID road-map

Adjournment speech

September 16, 2021

My adjournment is to the Premier, and the action I seek is for the government to share with regional Victorians the new plan for a localised approach instead of blanket COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Regional Victorians were relieved to hear the Premier’s commitment last week – and yesterday – of a more localised approach to future public health measures.  I have been advocating this for a year, with calls to adapt the traffic-light system for our regions to define the COVID risk and restrictions.

In this situation, ‘places-without-cases’ would be designated green and have the least intrusive restrictions that could see children back in classrooms, venues with lower density limits, a more open local economy and greater social freedoms. Orange zones, of moderate risk, would have tighter measures, leaving the tightest of restrictions – for those with outbreaks – designated red.

I think our regional communities might have more resilience if such a system had been implemented in Victoria a year ago.

The Health Minister last week noted regional communities’ deeper sense of ownership and engagement with their health services and public health efforts.  This has been well-demonstrated by the people of Shepparton in recent times.

Regional restrictions eased last week, providing hope and uncertainty. Each time restrictions shift, without consistency, business is further disrupted.

The new, inflexible limit of 10 people seated inside a hospitality venue has proved unviable for most cafes, clubs and pubs.  It is unclear why, in places without cases, this can’t be adjusted to a density limit of one person every 4 square metres.  I reached out to the Premier’s office immediately with this feedback from my electorate. 

Regional communities are baffled by inconsistencies in restrictions. For example, if horse-racing meets can happen freely during the strictest of lockdowns, why can’t places without cases remain open for business?

In the border bubble, health advice appears to be different depending on what side of the river you are on. Our regional communities have some of the highest vaccination rates in Victoria, well ahead of most Melbourne local government areas, and the border zone worked very well before Victoria designated NSW as a place of extreme risk.

Yet, in the past two weeks we have seen local government areas like Buloke evicted without notice or explanation and residents still unable to cross the border for daily life. Border brokers don’t offer much confidence for the times ahead.

Premier, in releasing the roadmap on Sunday, please provide clarity for our regions that are ‘places without cases’.

Border communities need business, not brokers

Wangaratta’s Cafe Pre Vue is usually brim with customers on a warm spring morning – but not today (Sep 14) because of unviable patron limits at regional hospitality venues.

STATEMENT

Comments by Tania Maxwell MP, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, in response to the Victorian government’s September 13 statement: ‘On-the-ground support for Victoria’s border communities’ –

September 14, 2021

I find it appalling that this is being done now when it would be plain common sense to allow border zone residents to travel both sides of the Murray, and for our many twin communities to operate, as usual, as one.

Our small businesses and cafes, clubs and pubs in places without cases just want to open for normal trade while observing COVID-safe settings. Similarly, skilled farm workers should be able to travel across the zone as seasonal work demands, heeding common rules.

No amount of money put up to activate on-ground ‘border broker’ support will bring small and sole trader business that depend on cross-border commerce back from the brink of bankruptcy, or re-open those which have closed. Nor nor will it provide revenue to fund staff wages.

Today, pub, club and cafe operators indicate they have floorspace capacity for more patrons and yet last week’s new rules say they can seat just 10 people indoors, regardless of venue size. With miserable weather forecast this weekend, how can these businesses remain viable?

Let’s use our respected Cross Border Commissioners to reinstate commerce and common rules in the border zone so places without cases can get back to work.

Lockdown lift welcome, but hospitality venue limit not viable

With The Other Place Rutherglen cafe owner Cyril Cox after the June lockdown.

September 9, 2021

I welcome the Premier’s decision to lift lockdown restrictions in regional Victoria from 11:59pm today.

But what’s really welcome is his common-sense commitment that lockdowns for any future COVID outbreak in a regional community will be locally-targeted.

I’ve been advocating a local government area traffic-light system for more than year so people in places-without-cases can get on with their daily lives and community and business recovery.

There have been no cases in our communities and they’re achieving some of the highest vaccination rates in the state. Great work by Alpine, Indigo, Wangaratta, Benalla, Mansfield, Moira, Euroa, Buloke, Yarriambiack, Mount Alexander, Hepburn, Macedon Ranges, Strathbogie, Gannawarra, Nillimbik and Towong communities which have achieved first dose vaccination rates between 70 and 74 per cent for those 15 years and older.

But despite this strong response the new hospitality limit of 10 people seated indoors and 20 outdoors at cafes, restaurants and hotels makes little sense.

Venues in my communities tell me it’s simply not viable – a point I made to the Premier’s office on Wednesday. They should be allowed to apply the usual COVID-safe density rules and open, just as supermarkets can.

Outbreak response shows Shepparton’s resolve

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (09:15):

It was just over a year ago when I spoke in this house about the incredible community response to a COVID-19 outbreak in Shepparton.

This community faced another significant challenge in recent weeks with an outbreak that put approximately one third of the town into isolation. The disruption to essential goods and services was severe, and the health service, supermarkets and other suppliers battled with staffing shortages.

I pay tribute to the team at Goulburn Valley Health, led by chief executive officer Matt Sharp. I know in previous discussions with Mr Sharp and other leaders that our regional health services have worked closely together in planning and giving operational support to each other. I thank and acknowledge Greater Shepparton City Council and the myriad local groups and businesses that pulled together to help the community response: the local Red Cross, GV Cares—Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project, Shepparton Food Share, Rumbalara, Food Link and Shepparton Family and Financial Services.

Finally, to other members of the community, from local businesses, friends, neighbours and strangers who pitched in where they could to check in and help, I say thank you. This was another gold standard response from one of our regional communities, and I could not be prouder.

Border communities deserve respect and reward, not eviction

Letter to editors

September 6, 2021

It’s ironic that five of the Northern Victorian local government areas cut from the border zone on September 2 have at least two things in common.

First, Buloke, Yarriambiack, Benalla, Loddon and Greater Bendigo are places without COVID cases.

Second, the member-communities that comprise these council areas have achieved some of the highest vaccination rates in Victoria, with Buloke’s population recording the state’s top rural count of both first and second doses in the latest Commonwealth local government area vaccination report*.

So, I share the deep disappointment of communities, mayors, councillors and staff whose councils have been dumped from the bubble without consultation or explanation from the state government.

Like the rest of us, they were left to make sense of this statement from Victoria’s Health Department:

‘With over one thousand cases per day, and a trajectory of exponential growth, the risk that NSW poses to Victoria is bigger than ever. That’s why we are reducing the number of communities in the border bubble from 11.59pm on…2 September.’

The border bubble has proved a relief for Northern Victoria’s communities after months and months of disruption.

It’s enabled people to go to work and medical appointments, visit their families, play sport and contribute to their communities in very difficult times. They’ve responded to the pandemic, lived by the rules, gone out and got tested, and kept COVID-safe.

It’s a lesson in risk management that deserves respect, engagement and reward, not eviction.

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

* First and second dose vaccination % (population aged 15 and over) by local government area

  • Benalla 66.7, 43.8
  • Buloke 71.6, 48.4
  • Greater Bendigo 62.0, 40.7
  • Loddon 62.7, 35.8
  • Yarriambiack 67.0, 41.3

Source data [August 28, 2021]

Victorians should be able to take Parliament sitting for granted

Joint statement

By Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Leader and Member for Western Victoria Stuart Grimley MP and Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell MP:

August 29, 2021

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party is extremely disappointed and frustrated that Parliament has once again been adjourned.

We made our views known last sitting week when we voted down the government’s motion to defer Parliament and supported changes to allow all MPs to participate in a COVID-safe way.  

Last year, when sittings were adjourned because of COVID, MPs were able to put questions to Ministers, have them answered, and for these actions to be reported in Hansard – the Parliamentary record.

Without even this basic procedure, there are few options for us to keep the government to account unless we go to the media.

As a matter of urgency, this lockdown shows why Parliament must be able to meet virtually – as federal Parliament is demonstrating – so we can represent our communities and scrutinise the government and its legislation, as we’re elected to do.

Making sure Parliament can meet – in person in a COVID-safe way, or virtually – is the one thing the people of Victoria should be able to take for granted in these challenging times.

IMAGE: Parliament of Victoria Legislative Council chamber

Apply for lockdown cash support now

I encourage small and medium-sized business, sole traders and people who have lost work to lockdown to seek the maximum cash support available from government.

COVID hardship fund

This fund offers a $14,000 payment where revenue has dropped more than 70 per cent since May 27, 2021, for small and medium-sized business ineligible for other support programs.

You must be able to show the drop for a minimum of two consecutive weeks compared with the same period in 2019. If you weren’t trading in 2019 alternative arrangements are available.

You must also have an Australian business number (ABN) and be registered for goods and services tax (GST). Find more information here.

Business costs assistance program

Regional business which received a Business Costs Assistance Program payment in round two and the subsequent July extension will receive $5600, or $2800 per week, during the August 21-September 2 lockdown period. You do not need to re-apply.

Licensed hospitality venue fund

Licensed hotels, restaurants, cafes and clubs which received a payment of $5000 to $20,000 per week, according to patron capacity, will receive the same payment during the current lockdown.

Alpine resorts winter support program

This program will also provide payments of $5000 to $20,000 per week to eligible businesses.

Check the latest information for each of these programs listed above.

COVID-19 disaster payment

If you lost or lose work during lockdown you can apply for a COVID-19 disaster payment of $450 or $750 for every seven-day period that COVID restrictions prevent you from working.

Sole traders who don’t have an ABN or aren’t registered for GST can also apply for this payment.

In regional Victoria, you can claim the disaster payment for these periods:

  • August 6-12 (apply before September 2)
  • August 20-26 (apply before September 16)
  • August 27-September 2 (apply before September 23)

Check your eligibility before you apply.

Contact me

Please email tania.maxwell@parliament.vic.gov.au or call 03 4700 1787 if you need help, or if your applications keep being rejected. My office is open 9am-5pm weekdays.

Justice Party MPs oppose Parliament shutdown

Statement

August 18, 2021

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party parliamentarians today opposed the Victorian government’s shutdown of the Legislative Council following yesterday’s announcement by the Premier that Melbourne’s COVID lockdown would be extended to September 2.

Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell MP and Member for Western Victoria Stuart Grimley MP said the communities they represent rightly expect them to be in Parliament:

We did not support the government’s adjournment motion.

Parliament is safe. We are socially-distanced. Except when speaking we wear masks, we keep to our offices, we avoid contact with others, we’re not allowed visitors, and we have minimum staff to help us with our work.

Yes, COVID presents very serious risks. But Parliament is an authorised provider and can open under restrictions. We have COVID-safe plans, a check-in system and extensive security. If there was an outbreak, we’d be in a very good place to trace contacts.

It’s very frustrating to be told that by doing our job and coming to Parliament we would be breaching health advice.

What health advice are they talking about? We don’t know. We’ve not seen it. Instead, we received late yesterday a three-paragraph letter from the Chief Health Officer’s delegate telling us “all parliamentary business… should not be conducted in person”.

On this day, last year, we had a seven-day average of 257 active COVID cases. Yet we sat in Parliament. We sat on August 4, too. On that day, last year, Victoria recorded 700 new cases. So why can’t we do our jobs now?

The health advice in relation to ‘authorised workers’ currently states: “If you can work from home, you must”. But the reality is that we cannot.

We’re here because we’re elected law-makers.

Our constituents expect us to be here, as do the people of Victoria. They expect their elected representatives to be in Parliament, speaking for them, representing their views, debating issues, and passing laws.

They also expect us to be here to hold this government to account. There has never been a more important time for us to do this.

Court backlogs delay justice

Question without notice

August 4, 2021

My question is for the Attorney-General and relates to the enormous case backlog facing our court system.

Attorney, as a preface to my question, I cite a media report of July 17 (2021) in the Warrnambool Standard of an alleged offender seeking an adjournment.  This article reported the magistrate suggesting it was a delay tactic by the alleged offender so they didn’t have to stop driving, saying,a nd I quote: “The court doesn’t like being taken as a fool”[i]. A seven-month wait was noted in terms of the next available (court) date and the magistrate noted that it costs about $10,000 to run a one-hour plea hearing. 

Attorney, what public data is available from government that details the number of adjournments granted in our courts, and the associated cost to Victoria, to understand the impact on court backlogs?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Resources) (12:22): I thank Ms Maxwell for her question, and indeed in relation to the numbers of adjournments I am happy to take that on notice. I have had a similar question from Mr Grimley in relation to adjournments. I happened to have on hand the number when he asked me the question, but I do not have that at hand today—but I can confirm that the numbers are low. A lot of adjournments exist in our system for a variety of reasons—the availability of people, the health of people participating. Not all of the adjournments during the last 15 months were connected to the pandemic. In relation to the Warrnambool matter, I cannot comment on the specific nature of that matter, but I am more than happy to get some adjournment figures for you because I have received that data from the court before and I can get an update.

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:23): Thank you, Attorney; that would be greatly appreciated.

As at July 2020, 80,000 criminal matters had been adjourned due to coronavirus restrictions, and as of April 2021 there were over 132,000 matters pending in the Magistrates Court. The Victorian government provided $23.1 million in December and another $210m from July to reduce court backlogs. But can the Attorney advise the backlog figure now and what systemic changes are being considered in response?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Resources) (12:24): I thank Ms Maxwell for her question and ongoing advocacy and interest in these matters. Thank you for mentioning the $210m funding boost that was made available in the most recent state budget, designed to drive down the court backlogs that are obviously the direct result of restrictions in order to keep Victorians safe from COVID.

The busiest court, obviously, is the Magistrates’ Court, and the court backlog did reduce by about four per cent in May compared to the previous month, representing a reduction of 5700 cases. I would be more than happy to seek the latest figures in relation to what we can obtain from the court.

I can say that I visited the Magistrates’ Court about two weeks ago and had a bit of a tour of the online Magistrates’ Court area, which is going to be a fantastic asset in dealing with cases—not only to deal with backlogs, but ensuring there are less adjournments and the like. It manages to bring people together to ensure that cases can keep going and the wheels of justice— (Time expired)

Time for border common sense

Adjournment

August 3, 2021

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:31): My adjournment is for the Minister for Health, and the action I seek is for the government to consult and engage with regional communities when considering restrictions before the end of the state of emergency and the pathway out of this pandemic.

Over the past year I have asked the government to consider a traffic-light system for restrictions in Victoria to allow places without cases to operate at a level proportionate to their absence of case numbers, and to provide some measure of flexibility and certainty within regional areas.

Regional Victoria has been subject to restrictions for at least a third of the past year. We are emerging from lockdown number five, and communities are worried about how they will get through lockdowns six, seven and so on. In border communities there is confusion, anger and frustration about the substantially tightened cross-border rules. The (Victorian) border zone is home to 573,000 people, and in recent weeks there have been five active cases, all suppressed. Across the border (in NSW) there are no cases north, west or south of Goulburn. Albury-Wodonga has had over 300 days of zero cases. That is not to say ‘Let it rip’, but contact tracing has enormously improved and vaccination numbers are building, and we should have confidence in that.

Albury-Wodonga media was briefed on the border bubble restrictions, but there was no interaction by the government with border mayors. Wodonga mayor Kevin Poulton told ABC Goulburn-Murray yesterday: ‘We just seem to get forgotten in the whitewash’. The Gannawarra Shire Council recently passed a motion to call on the government to assess any restrictions on a local government area basis with input from the local council. Other regional councillors in conversation with me, or publicly, have shared their support for a response that is much more nuanced.

Regional communities have proved that they will stand up in response to any outbreaks and take local and individual responsibility. Industry groups are frustrated that their proactive proposals for protocols to manage risks are given no feedback. Many local businesses are near broke and in substantial debt. Their psychological resilience is spent, their children’s learning is constantly disrupted, their other health needs are being pushed to the side, and they are beyond frustrated.

There is a need for stronger and collaborative engagement with regional communities, including in the four-phase plan agreed between states and the federal government that maps the pathway out of repeated lockdowns.

Places-without-cases deserve a fair go, and I ask the government to talk with us, listen and use some common sense.