Community views ignored in Labor’s ‘lock and leave’ VEAC report

The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) has released its final Central West Investigation report into public land use at Victoria’s Wombat, Wellsford, Mount Cole and Pyrenees Range forests and it raises more questions than answers.

The Liberal Nationals support a broad and diverse system of national, state and regional parks and reserves throughout Victoria and it is critical that all public land is given the resources required to ensure it is not left to become weed infested and inaccessible.

However, the report’s recommendations, if implemented, will significantly limit the activities of long-term bush users such as fire wood gatherers, recreational miners and prospectors, horse riders, four wheel driving enthusiasts, hunters and bush walkers, particularly in Central West Victoria.

Comments attributable to Shadow Minister for Environment, David Morris:
“It is crucial that we get the balance right about using public land, and that the Andrews Labor Government listens to the community and doesn’t just dictate to them.”
“Public land management must balance accessibility and environmental outcomes; they do not need to be mutually exclusive.”

Comments attributable to Shadow Assistant Minister for Public Land Use, Melina Bath:
“The Andrews Labor Government has lost sight of the concept that public land is exactly that – for the public.”
“The overwhelming majority of submissions were in favour of greater access to public land and Daniel Andrews must listen to these views.”

Petition to widen the intersection to increase lanes at Mornington-Tyabb Rd & Racecourse Rd

DAVID MORRIS MP: “This intersection is in urgent need of an upgrade to improve safety and to ease congestion.”

To the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, the petition of the residents of the Electorate of Mornington, draws to the attention of the house, the urgent need for improvements to the Mornington-Tyabb Road & Racecourse Road intersection, Mornington.

The petitioners therefore request:
Immediate funding for VicRoads to widen the intersection through the duplication of lanes at the Mornington-Tyabb Rd & Racecourse Rd intersection roundabout.

Petition to improve bus coverage in Mount Eliza

DAVID MORRIS MP: “The current bus services in Mount Eliza are simply not up to standard and in need of an urgent expansion”

To the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, the petition of the residents of the Electorate of Mornington, draws to the attention of the house, the urgent need for improvements to bus coverage in Mount Eliza, east of Nepean Highway.

The petitioners therefore request:
An urgent expansion of bus services in Mount Eliza, east of Nepean Highway.

State Budget 2019

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (16:21:53): Just listening to the member for Nepean, I think two points come to mind. He said something about there having not been an ALP member of Parliament on the peninsula for a century or so. Apparently he does not know David Hassett, who was the member for Dromana in this place from 1982 to 1985, part of the first Cain government. I am sure David, if he is still around, would be rather mortified to know he had been forgotten that quickly.

The other point I wanted to make on the remarks from the member for Nepean is that he apparently does not recognise that the Labor Party in Victoria has been in government for 16 of the last 20 years, so if there has been a problem with funding services and funding infrastructure on the peninsula—and I agree with him, absolutely; there has been a big problem with funding services and infrastructure on the Mornington Peninsula—it is down to the government that holds the purse strings, and for 16 of the last 20 years that has been the Labor Party.

Can I say that this is a fascinating budget. Of course it was delayed on purely political grounds. It was delayed to play games and attempt to achieve a better outcome for Bill Shorten in the federal election. That did not work, as it should not have. Then it was brought in, and it was shoved through, because we had to deal with it incredibly urgently—it just had to go through—and we are now left, many weeks after the event, dealing with this take-note motion.

It is interesting, though, that the manner in which the government approached the budget was, you would have to say, rather different to previous years. We are all used to the blizzard of media releases that come out—40, 50, 60 media releases over a few days. With this budget there was one, two or three, perhaps. That was about it.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the budget disappeared without a trace the day after the Treasurer’s speech, and that is not at all surprising because when you go through the detail of the budget there was next to nothing new in it.

Almost every announcement, or concealed cut—and there were plenty of those—was well and truly known before the budget day and in most cases well and truly known before election day. So there was absolutely nothing new in this budget despite the fact that we are now six months on from the election.

I did want to comment on the process around the budget and particularly the scrutiny of the budget. Those that have been around will recall that in 2014 the then shadow Attorney-General put out a media release that was headed ‘More government scrutiny under Labor reform plan’: Labor will repair the Victorian Parliament’s most powerful Government watchdog after years of Napthine Government cover-ups. … Under Labor’s reforms the Estimates hearings will become a true exercise in holding the Government to account. … an Andrews Labor Government will not be afraid of genuine scrutiny, and as such we’ll be happy to subject ourselves to this far reaching accountability reform. We will: … Ensure ministers are not asked so-called Dorothy Dixer questions with rehearsed answers. We will: … Enforce an equal number of Government and non-government members on the Committee.

Well, five years after that release, where are we? Well, we have got a government-dominated committee and we sure as hell have Dorothy Dixers—they were much in evidence over the last few weeks of estimates.

And we had a schedule—I am not sure where the responsibility for the schedule lies—perhaps it is with the former chairman of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee; I am sure the government would like to think that that was the case anyway. But a schedule was agreed to, and agreed to by the majority of government members, that meant we had the education portfolio dealt with between 5.30 and 7.00 p.m. on a Friday night; we had training and skills and higher education, which has been an ongoing contentious area in estimates, dealt with between 8.00 and 9.30 on a Friday night; small business and local government, again critical areas but apparently not worthy of serious scrutiny because they were on at almost 8 o’clock on a Tuesday night; regional development and resources—and we know the Premier says the state is running out of concrete so we cannot build the east–west link—examined by PAEC between 7.40 and 8.40 on a Wednesday night; and then of course child protection, which is again a critical and often controversial area, on between 7 and 8 o’clock at night.

Wherever the blame lies, it is simply not good enough to conduct the estimates process in the way in which it was conducted—it is simply not good enough. There were significant cuts to the time available for specific areas. In 2014 the Minister for Energy fronted the committee for an hour and 15 minutes. The Minister for Environment and Climate Change fronted the committee for 1 hour and 30 minutes, so the combined total of those two portfolios was 2 hours and 45 minutes. This year the energy, environment and climate change minister, who has carriage of both those portfolios, was just 2 hours before the committee. So that is a cut of almost 30 per cent in the time available to examine a minister in a critical portfolio area. That is apparently what this government calls better and more government scrutiny. It is a joke—it really is a joke.

I know many government members are unhappy with the secretive nature of this government. I know they are unhappy with the way these hearings have been conducted. I also understand that you cannot publicly criticise your ministers and the direction of the government, but I do urge them to take every step that they can—behind closed doors, whenever the opportunity arises—to do something about the way the estimates process has been neutered, because it has absolutely been neutered.

It is an absolutely critical part of our democracy that the Parliament scrutinises the expenditure plans of the executive. In this Parliament the only vehicle to achieve that outcome is the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, and that process, as I say, has been neutered. It is simply not good for our democracy to have a situation where that capacity is taken away. In all seriousness, it is a real issue.

Speaking of PAEC, the minister’s presentation—I must say that while we all of course are using Microsoft products constantly, you would have to say that PowerPoint is really not the greatest advance in terms of political debate; but anyway—was a vehicle for a series of what I consider to be hollow boasts as well as some claims that might be considered at best interesting. The minister talked about unprecedented investment. She talked about new funding for a range of initiatives. She talked about the detail that was there.

I have got to say that I am extremely concerned, particularly with the environment aspects of the budget, that the various outputs that make up the environment section of this portfolio—climate change, environment and biodiversity, statutory activities and environment protection, management of public land and forests, Parks Victoria, fire and emergency management—in total have received a significant cut.

In the 2018–19 revised budget those outputs total $1208.7 million. In the budget that has been tabled this year they total $1179 million. Almost $30 million has been cut directly out of those outputs for the year. If you consider that CPI is running on the latest figures at around 1.2 per cent, that is effectively a $45 million cut for the year to date.

Of more concern though to me is that when you get down into the detail and you look at the way the initiatives that are contained in chapter 1 of the budget are funded from these outputs, you see that there is an additional $6.1 million required from the department to fund the initiatives in the climate change portfolio, so that is $6.1 million the department does not have to go about its usual business in that output.

In terms of the environment and biodiversity output, that is not too bad. You get to the statutory activities and environment protection, and goodness knows we need that, and there is $28.7 million more coming out of that output in initiatives than has been done previously, so the department in that output has almost $30 million less to spend on their day-to-day business. That is concerning.

Similarly with the management of public land and forests, $32.9 million extra is coming out for government initiatives rather than the day-to-day business of the department. Parks Victoria is not too bad, but fire and emergency management really does take the cake: $68.4 million of initiatives is no longer available to the department to go about their normal business.

Once you see that $30 million has been cut from last year and the impact of initiatives is another $68.4 million, there is almost $100 million less available to the department to go about their business in terms of the outputs in this budget.

I am very, very concerned about the capacity of the department to achieve the level of service it needs to achieve with the funding cuts it is having to deal with.

This is not a good budget. This is probably one of the worst budgets I have seen in my almost 13 years in this house.

Queens Birthday Honours 2019

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (09:47:17): I rise today to congratulate five citizens of the Mornington electorate who were recognised for their service to the community in the Queen’s Birthday honours.

Mr Ken Rowe was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for service to the communities of Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula over many years in a number of capacities.

Dr James Lucas was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his service as one of our leading paediatric dental specialists and for his service to professional organisations.

I am also delighted that three people I know well were recognised in this year’s list, all three being awarded the OAM.

Ms Helen Gordon was recognised for her service to community health and to physiotherapy;

Lieutenant Colonel Alan McDonald, a Korean War veteran and a former councillor colleague of mine at the old Shire of Mornington, was recognised for his significant service to veterans;

and Mr Alex Anderson, who also served his country, was recognised for his considerable contribution over many years to Legacy and to Rotary and particularly as a bail justice, frequently called from his bed in the middle of the night to provide that vital service.

All are worthy recipients, and I congratulate them on behalf of the community of Mornington.

A disgraceful, partisan attack on our Volunteer Firefighters

MR MORRIS (Mornington) (16:29:57): Normally I would say it is a pleasure to rise to join a debate, but I have got to say it is not a pleasure to join this debate, because the bill before the house has very, very few redeeming features.

Some elements of the bill certainly are welcome, but they are very, very few and far between, and of course I am referring to sections that relate to presumptive rights. If the government had followed the lead of the coalition parties for now a very long time, presumptive rights would have been in place and operating—all done. Indeed that aspect of the bill certainly still has our support, as was affirmed by the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber just a few minutes ago.

The rest of the bill is a disgraceful attack on one of the pre-eminent volunteer organisations not just in this state, not just in this nation but around the world. It is a disgraceful attack. It is in fact I think as close to corrupt behaviour as I have ever seen in public life in Victoria because it is a blatant payback to the United Firefighters Union (UFU) for the support they provided—the aggressive support they provided—for the now Premier of Victoria and his colleagues in 2014.

I say ‘aggressive’ very deliberately, because it was aggression in a physical sense. It was not just enthusiastic support; it was aggression in a physical sense.

Victoria has a world-class fire service. This is a bill that sets out to systematically dismantle that world-class fire service, and the consequences are potentially catastrophic. At a minimum this bill will compromise the capacity of the state to respond to major fires.

I want to make it clear that I have genuine enormous respect for both the courage and the competence of our firefighters, be they career firefighters or volunteer firefighters—absolute respect for their courage and for their competence.

But it seems to me that too many career firefighters are being used by their union and being used by the government for a series of goals that have really nothing to do with running a world-class service, because the end goal is to destroy an organisation that the union and the government see as being a barrier to a unionised fire service—because they see here an opportunity to expand the public sector, to expand the power base of a relatively small union and to boost union membership at the expense of the Victorian community.

Right from the start this has been a campaign of lies and a campaign of intimidation. The first we saw of this campaign really was way back in 2014, and that was the intent of the leadership of the union through dint of numbers to intimidate the Parliament during the estimates hearings. We had then Minister Wells at the estimates hearings, and we had the gallery absolutely jam-packed. We had the area outside the hearing chamber at the top of the stairs on the Legislative Council side absolutely jam-packed and what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to corral the minister in the hearing room. It was absolutely disgraceful.

Of course we know about, and we have heard about frequently, the intimidation of coalition booth workers during the 2014 campaign, sometimes physical but certainly with no veil on the aggression—not at all. And then of course there was the lie of the fake fire uniforms.

And it did not improve when the government changed. Very, very early in the piece, early in the life of the government, we saw the draft enterprise agreement prepared by Peter Marshall. We know the drawbacks with that, and I certainly do not intend to go into them again this afternoon.

The CFA board of course stood up to the union, and they were sacked. The minister stood up to the union and she was forced out. And that was just a few of the many, many people that have tried to stand up to this union, tried to stand up to this government, and they have been forced out of the fire services. They are lost to the fire services in this state.

When finally the bill arrived in the Legislative Assembly I do not think even at that point, had the government proceeded reasonably, the matter would have been capable of resolution. But the government of course continued this bullying, aggressive approach. They forced the bill through this chamber. In the other place the government refused to pair a known opponent of the bill. They then kept the house sitting through the night into Easter. They tried to bully the bill through the Parliament and of course they failed—as they should have, as they deserved to do.

Now we have a new bill, a bill that will not be implemented until next year at the earliest, a bill that is not in any way urgent, but again the government has not only set aside the accepted practices of this house but, far more importantly, set aside the opportunity for the community to have a say about this legislation before it is dealt with by this house by concealing the bill until the last possible moment.

It could have been brought in last week, it could have been brought in in March, it could have been brought in in February, but it was not. It was concealed, and now the government are trying to ram it through with as little scrutiny as they can achieve.

And I will tell you what, I will guarantee there will be no consideration in detail on this bill. I really would like to ask members opposite, though, ‘Why are you really so scared of allowing the public to scrutinise this bill? What are you trying to hide?’. It is absolutely disgraceful.

The minister suggested yesterday there had been consultation. The fact is the volunteers’ representatives were briefed this week. They have had no time to consider the views of the membership. They have had no time to allow proper input into discussion on the future of their organisation—and it is their organisation. It is an organisation for the volunteers.

We know that Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria issued a media release last week on the basis of the first-reading speech because, like everyone else in the state apart from the cabinet, they were not aware of what was in the bill. They indicated last week that they were continuing to caution the government that the proposed changes would weaken rather than strengthen service delivery capability for urban growth areas, that it would have the same problem for the surge capacity support for regional Victorian major statewide disasters—and goodness knows there have been enough of those in the last 12 years—and that it was also in direct contradiction to the learnings and findings from the 2009 Victorian bushfires royal commission. That is the view of the volunteers.

I have a couple of points on some of the detail in the bill. The government talked at length about response times, and the then minister was not above bagging the results in particular areas and, by inference, particular brigades. This bill is not at all about response times.

The current CFA model allows the CFA to work with local volunteers and station career firefighters at any station. That opportunity is under threat.

The current model allows for integration. In my own patch, Mornington is an integrated station, and it works well with those volunteers—well, it has up until recent times in any case. They have worked well with Mount Martha, with Mount Eliza and with Moorooduc. This bill is about separation; it is about undoing that integration.

As one of my colleagues said earlier today, it has the risk of increasing division.

Finally of course, there are the issues with the Firefighters Registration Board, the four people who will decide who is fit to hold the office of firefighter—one appointed by the minister and the other three effectively appointed by the United Firefighters Union.

This is a disgraceful, partisan attack on our volunteer firefighters and an attack on a proud organisation that has served this community incredibly well.

It is a blatant abuse of the power of government to advance the interests of a tiny minority at the expense of a very large majority. It is as near a corrupt use of the tyranny of the majority as I have ever seen in this place.

Should this legislation pass, and that unfortunately appears likely, this bill and the tactics that have been used to force it through will come back to haunt this government.

Mornington Police Station Flooding

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) My question is to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services.

In recent years the Mornington police station has had some issues with flooding. On 29 March 2016 there was a post from police media to Facebook advising the station had been closed because of flooding. Yesterday significant rain has unfortunately caused a repeat performance.

My office checked late this morning and were advised the station is still closed and the public are being directed to Hastings. When further inquiries were made at Hastings they said they were not able to say how long those circumstances would prevail.

It is a busy station. It serves a population of over 60 000 people. Hastings is at least 20 minutes away and of course Somerville police station is not open to the public, so it is time to get this issue fixed once and for all.

The question is: what actions has the minister taken to fix this long-running problem of flooding at Mornington to make the station fully operational and, most importantly, when will the station open again?