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Growth strains Wangaratta sewerage

Constituency question

November 18, 2021

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:49): (1533)

My constituency question today is to the Minister for Water (Hon. Lisa Neville MP), and it is about the pressing need to extend sewerage and water provisions in Wangaratta.

Wangaratta is one of the highest growth areas in the state, with a 23 per cent increase over the year to September 2021. There has been a 45 per cent increase in approvals for water and sewerage connections in the past three years, which has left the north-east water system at capacity.

North East Water will need approximately $200 million to meet the housing needs of Wangaratta in the future, with $50m required in the short term.

Any delay will further affect the existing pressures on affordable housing and rental shortages, so my question is: what urgent support will the government be willing to provide to that development and growth so that we can have a continuation of that development for residents in Wangaratta?

Image: North East Water Wangaratta sewage treatment plant

Old courts should not leave regions short-changed

Adjournment speech

October 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mandatory vax order challenges local business

Constituency question

October 12, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP (Northern Victoria, 15:52):

My question is the Minister for Industry Support and Recovery (Hon. Martin Pakula MP):

My office was contacted yesterday by a retailer in Wangaratta who is going to lose 50 per cent of their staff because they are hesitant to be vaccinated. There is no mandate that people entering their store, which supplies food, have to be vaccinated. They can’t deny entry to unvaccinated customers, but their staff will not be able to attend work, despite other COVID-safe measures being put into place.

Minister, this business will struggle to advertise, interview, appoint and train new staff in one week. The COVID hotline told them to close their doors until this process is completed, but they couldn’t tell them if they’d be given any financial assistance. So, what financial support will be given to this constituent and others in these circumstances?

LINK

COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination (Workers) Directions (October 7, 2021)

Gym operators, clients and event organisers out in the cold

Tania Maxwell MP says the government has a clear responsibility to help Victorian gym operators and regional event organisers hard-hit by COVID lockdowns.

June 8, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP says the government has a clear responsibility to help Victorian gym operators and regional event organisers hard-hit by COVID lockdowns.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said Wangaratta and Shepparton gym and fitness centre operators had made her aware of the devastating impact of current circuitbreaker restrictions that forced them to close from May 27.

“But unlike other businesses, gyms in our communities have not been allowed to re-open since restrictions in regional Victoria were lifted on June 4 and where we have no COVID cases,” Ms Maxwell said.

“The rules are completely inconsistent. You can go to a pub for a drink and dine-in with nine other people and there can be another 40 people in the same venue. You can shop with perhaps a hundred or more people indoors.

“But you can’t exercise indoors for your physical and mental well-being under the same distancing rules that apply in our hotels, cafes and supermarkets.

“As I’ve been told by Wangaratta gym owner Amber Kiker and Shepparton’s Tareke Le Lievre, gyms maintain strict hygiene standards subject to council health and environment inspection and mask requirements.

“They’re even prepared to be subject to law enforcement inspection.

“But right now they’re treated as suspect when there’s no substantial information from Victoria’s chief health officer about the proportionate risk of COVID-spread where indoor exercise takes place.

“I’ll be asking Health Minister Martin Foley why gyms in our COVID-free communities remain closed, which is also affecting physical and mental well-being.

“I’ll also encourage our gym operators to make sure they apply for the Business Costs Assistance Program for the full entitlement of $2500 per week while restrictions require them to close.

“But will employees who’ve lost work also be eligible for the federal government’s temporary COVID disaster payment?”

Ms Kiker, whose Fitness4Me women-only gym has been closed for much of the past year because of lockdowns, said keeping fitness centres shut when there were no COVID cases made no sense.

“It seems gyms have been targeted as COVID breeding grounds when hygiene is always our priority,” she said.

“The sector quite possibly has the cleanest of venues where spaces and equipment are always sanitised.

“But opening and shutting so often over the past 18 months has not just affected me and my staff. It’s put such doubt in clients’ minds that they find it difficult to commit to staying on their physical and well-being journey.”

Ms Maxwell said she was also concerned for many sole traders in the wider business community ineligible for Business Costs Assistance Program financial support.

“They won’t be able to apply for program support if they don’t have an Australian Business Number (ABN) and be registered for Goods and Services Tax (GST) because they don’t have a turnover of $75,000 or more,” she said.

Ms Maxwell said major events in regional communities were also affected by rolling lockdowns.

“Thousands of events were cancelled across Northern Victoria in the past year,” she said.

“This upcoming Queen’s Birthday long weekend would normally deliver an economic boost, but the King Valley’s ‘Weekend fit for a King’, while going ahead, has had to alter its format and Rutherglen’s Winery Walkabout has been put back five weeks.

“These forced changes have serious impacts, pushing costs onto organisers.

“Another is that future planning is put at risk because business and organisations cannot get either public liability or COVID-19 cancellation insurance.

“The events industry has been largely lost in this pandemic. Less than five per cent of business events are eligible for the Victorian Business Events Program and there is little support for those that organise agricultural shows, community days, fairs and other community events.

“I want government to offer short-term security for public liability and cancellation insurance that helps the regional events sector and community organisations to ensure these events continue.”

Justice Party wants budget primary prevention boost

Tania Maxwell MP has called on the state government to invest more in drug, alcohol and family violence primary prevention and early intervention through school and community safety programs in its May 20 budget.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said public funding for prevention and intervention was not significant enough to drive down the current costs of the state’s policing, courts and corrections systems.

“A month ahead of the scheduled release in June of national crime statistics for 2020, we know that 101 people in Victoria became victims of homicide and related offences in 2019 – an increase of 19 per cent,” Ms Maxwell said.

“While the number of victims of sexual assault dropped 2pc to 5829, 37pc of them (2149) were assaulted in family or domestic settings, and almost 40pc of all victims were children or young people under 19 years old.

“There were 3149 victims of robbery, up 29pc, and more than half of all perpetrators were armed[1].

“At the same time the number of criminal incidents classed as drug offences increased 7pc (to 16,775)[2].

“Early intervention is the key to reducing crime and these numbers tell me that we need to be directing much more into preventative programs and services to see positive change, and that’s what I’ve asked the government to do in productive meetings I’ve had with the Treasurer and other Ministers.

“I welcome progressive steps the government’s taken, especially its support for my call in June, last year, for a parliamentary inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system that’s now underway.

“This inquiry will enable us to examine the factors that have led to growing remand and prison populations and to recommend ways to reverse those trends.

“There is so much more to do in this area and I hope the inquiry will provide some thought-provoking recommendations for the government to consider.

“The government in the 2020 budget also directed $335 million, which I advocated, towards programs for young people, including out-of-home care support, life-skills development, keeping families together and helping those who’ve come apart to reunite.

“But we need to see this money delivered on the ground in the rural and regional communities that I represent, together with significant investment in affordable housing, including social housing, education, skills training, work and digital access, mental and other health services, and alcohol and other drug treatment programs.

“These are initiatives that can have a positive, collective impact and I look forward the government’s clear commitment to this approach in Thursday’s budget.”

Ms Maxwell said other Budget funding priorities identified with Justice Party leader Stuart Grimley MP included:

  • Funding to reduce the caseload backlog in Victoria’s court system (the government last week committed $210m to speed court and tribunal hearings held up because of COVID-19).
  • Up to $23.4m, plus operational funding, to develop Education First Youth Foyers at GOTAFE Wangaratta and Wodonga TAFE so young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness can access integrated accommodation, education and well-being support to become job-ready.
  • $15m to co-fund development of the Mernda Health and Wellbeing Hub to support services for a community projected have 65,000 residents within the next 17 years.
  • $9.4m to fund Sunraysia Mallee Port Link – a project to shift significant volumes of farm produce from road to rail in north west Victoria. (SMPL was formerly known as Ouyen Intermodel.)
  • Upgrades to Victoria Police stations at Benalla, Cobram, Euroa and Rochester to improve policing capabilities and safety in these communities.
  • Urgent, regionally-targeted action to ensure ambulance service effectiveness. Recent funding announcements are positive, but communities need to know bottlenecks, such as hospital ramping, will be fixed and preventative measures to reduce demand.
  • $1.9m over four years to model and establish a Defence Dogs Program in Victoria to support defence veterans living with post-traumatic stress injury.
  • $465,000 to replace Koondrook CFA’s 32-year-old – and only – fire truck as a first step to improve local fire-fighting capability and volunteer skills.

Image: University of Melbourne (Family Violence Prevention)

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics: 45100DO001_2019 Recorded Crime – Victims, Australia, 2019

[2] https://www.crimestatistics.vic.gov.au/crime-statistics/latest-victorian-crime-data/recorded-criminal-incidents-2

Justice Party seeks government help to speed housing fix in bushfire communities

Tania Maxwell MP will seek Victorian government support to alleviate the challenges and financial costs still faced by people who lost homes to last year’s Black Summer bushfires when the Legislative Council meets in Bright on April 29.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the regional sitting had been convened to acknowledge the fires’ impact in the North East and the serious business and tourism knock-ons from these disasters in communities that she represents, including Alpine, Towong, Indigo, Mansfield, Wangaratta and Wodonga.

“The Victorian government has worked hard to help people back on their feet, but we must be able to expedite rebuilding and recovery,” Ms Maxwell said.

“This includes finding ways to accommodate tradespeople so they can get the job done and families can move into their new homes.

“The fires had an enormous physical impact across our communities, especially in Towong, Alpine and East Gippsland local government areas.

“But mental trauma and stress brought on by these disasters continue for many families.

“Bushfire Recovery Victoria data shows 458 homes were destroyed or damaged in Victoria and almost 18 months later it’s estimated that fewer than three per cent of the people displaced have moved back into permanent housing.

“The motion I’ll put to the sitting encourages us as parliamentarians to recognise the devastation and distress suffered by people in our communities whose homes were destroyed or damaged, who have been living in temporary accommodation and who are going through the arduous process of rebuilding.

“At a practical level, I want Parliament to be keenly aware of the challenges delaying and compromising the re-housing effort.

“Often there are significant financial gaps between insurance pay-outs and the costs of building in a bushfire-prone area, particularly the spending needed so new buildings comply with Victoria’s Bushfire Attack Level ratings system.

“There’s also a severe shortage of readily available accommodation so builders, plumbers, electricians and other essential tradies can deliver what they’re engaged to do in the communities where this help is needed.”

Ms Maxwell said her motion would ask the government to consider urgent changes to policies and regulations to alleviate fundamental, ongoing problems.

“As an elected representative of communities that have been so seriously affected, it’s my job to make sure all parliamentarians understand the personal, economic and community impacts, and for the government to find ways to deliver swift and effective solutions,” she said.

Ms Maxwell said estimates of the fires’ economic impact in eastern Victoria showed:

  • $114-199 million decline across all industries in Alpine, Towong and East Gippsland
  • $79-181m decline across all industries in Indigo, Mansfield, Wangaratta, Wellington and Wodonga local government areas
  • $330-350m in tourism losses in bushfire-affected regions between December 2019 and March 2020.
  • 10,000 livestock lost
  • 742 properties required clean-up